The UNC Friday Center will host Nov. 29 the inaugural Statewide Summit on Re-engaging Opportunity Youth, a conference designed to share the impact Carolina and community partners have made on youth across the state after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Community teams from 37 counties across the state will share success stories from youth, discuss statewide challenges to youth education and employment, highlight local programs that provide youth assistance and outline plans for sustaining the work.
The Our State, Our Work initiative, a two-year project designed to provide living-wage employment to youth across the state, is the flagship program of Carolina Across 100, a five-year initiative to address challenges exacerbated by COVID-19. Our State, Our Work has reached 4,403 individuals — called opportunity youth — aged 16–24 who are not employed or enrolled in school. Anita Brown-Graham ’91 (JD), the Gladys Hall Coates Distinguished Professor of public law and government and director of the ncIMPACT initiative, said the obstacles the group have encountered have been educational disruptions due to COVID-19, economic instability and mental health.
“This group lost their jobs, as they were likely working in hospitality or fast food,” she said. “That stuff closed almost overnight, and they all had to move to remote learning. We know from national data that the number of young people that are not in school or working shot up. After the pandemic, these young people weren’t returning to school or work as normal, and we wanted to work with communities to fix that.”
Almost 150,000 young adults in North Carolina are disconnected from both school and work, according to Brown-Graham. The community teams have pledged to reach an additional 6,400 so-called opportunity youth by 2025.
“At Carolina, central to our mission is a focus on serving the many communities we touch,” Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said in a statement. “Through Our State, Our Work, Carolina Across 100 has focused on forming collaborative partnerships with leaders from across the state to better connect young people with education and living-wage employment opportunities.”
At the summit, attendees will hear from participants who have benefited from the program. Notable among them is a 17-year-old from Clay County, who faced housing insecurity and was disconnected from education and employment.
The Our State, Our Work Achieve HIGHTS team, community partners and Carolina leaders serving in Jackson, Haywood, Macon, Swain, Graham, Clay and Cherokee counties worked with local partners in Clay County to aid her. The Bridge Academy Adult High School program and Tri-County Community College allowed her to land a job, receive support for transportation and, with community assistance, find housing for herself and her sisters.
The summit will feature experts from Carolina Demography, the applied demography program of the Carolina Population Center, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, who will provide updates on opportunity-youth data trends and implications. Another panel will offer insights into policies affecting the success of or barriers faced by young individuals seeking to reconnect with school and work.
Open to the public, the event invites communities and employers across North Carolina to learn and collaborate, with the aim of replicating and amplifying the local impact of programs such as Our State, Our Work. Registration for the summit closes Nov. 17 at 5 p.m. Additional information is available on the Carolina 100 website.
— Cameron Hayes Fardy ’23