Creating Opportunity for Youth

Dec 13, 2023

Pictured above at Norwalk Art Space Café (left to right): Rhea Henry, Workforce Development Coordinator, Norwalk ACTS; Jesse Buccolo, Deputy Director, Norwalk ACTS; Novelette Peterkin, CEO, The Carver.

Fairfield County’s Business Collaborative for Education Equity invests in research to support career development pathways.

Many Fairfield County students face substantial obstacles to preparing for meaningful careers as a result of economic, health, housing, and educational inequities. These conditions have created a significant gap in livable wage employment in Fairfield County. A staggering 48% of Norwalk’s workforce earns less than the minimum livable salary of $42,000 per year. 1

Black and Latino young adults between the ages of 14 and 24 without a high school or postsecondary degree — known as opportunity youth (OY) —are disproportionately affected. In 2022, approximately 35% of Black and 38% of Latino students in Norwalk did not enroll in college during their first year after high school, compared with an average of 30% at the district level and 28.2% at the state level. 2

The Fairfield County Business Collaborative for Education Equity (BCEE), a strategic partnership between the Community Foundation and local businesses, aims to increase education equity across the pre-K through 12+ journey. After evaluating feedback from local nonprofits, the BCEE identified a need for more data and insights on how cross-sector collaboration can create sustainable career pathways for opportunity youth. In response, in 2023 the BCEE initiated a research study titled Building Tomorrow’s Workforce: Equitable Education and Career Pathways for Opportunity Youth in Fairfield County. The study incorporated insights and data from Norwalk organizations running youth education and workforce development programs, as well as more than 40 interviews with stakeholders across Fairfield County.

The findings were unequivocal: A collaborative approach to expand support services coupled with reduction in hiring biases is necessary to transform Fairfield County’s workforce and create a more prosperous local economy. Nonprofits, employers, educational institutions, and government agencies must pool their resources and expertise to create the conditions for opportunity youth to succeed.

The benefits of such an approach extend beyond young people. Successful implementation could lift nearly 9,600 opportunity youth out of poverty, saving almost $3 billion in taxpayer dollars and nearly $9 billion in social costs over the youths’ lifetimes. It would also enable employers to fill vacant positions and increase economic productivity.

“Opportunity youth in our region, particularly young residents of color, continue to face high levels of unemployment and underemployment,” said Jesse Buccolo, Deputy Director of Norwalk ACTS and a nonprofit contributor to the study.

“If we want to close our region’s livable wage gap and create a more equitable economy, we need to provide pathways to success for those who need it the most.”

Deputy Director, Norwalk ACTS

Through the study, the BCEE hopes to inspire more cross-sector engagement and collaboration to unlock the potential of students in Fairfield Countyand beyond. Stakeholders can use this resource to develop data-driven action strategies — such as mentorship programs, wraparound services, and decision-making support for OY during life and career transitions.

“These insights have tremendous potential to reshape the trajectory of young lives in our community,” said Novelette Peterkin, CEO of The Carver, another nonprofit contributor to the study. “By leveraging this valuable resource, we envision a future where every young person in Fairfield County can achieve their full potential.”

Learn more:

1 ALICE threshold: Represents the bare minimum cost of household necessities to live and work in the modern economy. At the same time as the publication of the BCEE paper, the new ALICE thresholds were being released. The updated report can be found here:
2 National Student Clearinghouse (