Youth Opportunities Unlimited (Y.O.U.) Transforms Trajectories for Economically Distressed Youth

Youth Opportunities Unlimited (Y.O.U.) Transforms Trajectories for Economically Distressed Youth

Youth from economically distressed communities can face multiple barriers to success in school, many of which are non-academic. While studies have shown the presence of just two barriers can result in youth dropping out of school, Youth Opportunities Unlimited (Y.O.U.) finds teens in their school-based programs regularly face five to six barriers. Some of the most common include poor attendance, low academic performance, past suspension, probation and/or expulsion, lack of motivation or maturity, and having inadequate or no work experience.

Without ample resources to help them stay in school and graduate, these youth are vulnerable to becoming basic-skills deficient, disengaged, and failing to achieve his or her potential.

Y.O.U. aims to change these trajectories through school-based programs and workforce development initiatives that help youth graduate high school and prepare for post-graduation success. The organization’s programs focus on ensuring individuals are ready to pursue a path to economic self-sufficiency through mentoring, employability skills training, industry-based credential training, career exploration, jobs, and internships. The programs are evidence-based and seamlessly integrate case management, employment and internship components, along with an emphasis on data collection and analysis.

“Y.O.U. has been at the forefront of the nonprofit movement to use data to drive decisions, to continuously improve, and to judge success based on outcomes, not just outputs,” says Marc Nathanson, senior development executive at Y.O.U. “We are now serving youth more effectively by using data to improve programming, evidenced by the fact that we achieved an average 87% high school graduation rate and 82% post-secondary success rate over the last three years.”

Their workforce development initiatives include a consortium of workforce providers, co-facilitated by Cuyahoga County, that address the workforce preparation needs of Opportunity Youth (young, disconnected adults 18-24 who are not in school or working), and school-based programs like Jobs for Ohio’s Graduates, where Y.O.U. Career Coaches meet with students every day as part of a class.

Nathanson shared this inspiring story of Christy Carlton, a student who was impacted by a Y.O.U Career Coach:

“When Shannon Williams, Y.O.U.’s Career Coach at Lincoln West High School, first met Christy, she was homeless and living with friends. Her mother’s battle with drug dependency meant she was unable to support her daughter. Through Y.O.U., Christy was placed in a paid internship at Cleveland Public Theater. The money she earned afforded Christy the opportunity to pay for basic necessities and class dues. Y.O.U. also got Christy her first job, at the Cleveland Public Library. Ms. Williams drove her to get her social security card and to help resolve any potential problems relating to homelessness. After graduating in 2016, Christy enrolled at Cleveland State University, where she is currently studying education. Ms. Williams drove her to college her first day to make sure she had everything she needed. Christy’s goal is to teach students who like herself come from under-served communities.”

The Callahan Foundation is proud to support the work of Youth Opportunities Unlimited through a grant of $5,000 to help support their school-based workforce programs.

Upcoming Event: Participate and Volunteer at Y.O.U.’s April 24, 2019 Youth Career Olympics!

YCO 2018 Opportunity Fair (1)

Youth Career Olympics is the culmination of the work Y.O.U. school-based staff and volunteers do with their students throughout the school year. Beginning in the fall, approximately 300 students prepare for YCO by mastering skills such as job interviewing, public speaking and effective communication. The top 175 juniors and seniors compete in 10 business-themed events that demonstrate their newly acquired skills and knowledge.

The event helps connect the region’s business community with Y.O.U.’s youth, allowing local companies to offer students information on available education, military, and employment opportunities in Northeast Ohio, as well as the ability to network and make meaningful connections with businesses looking to fill open positions.

It’s also an opportunity for adults in the business community to volunteer and demonstrate they care about the communities’ youth. “Building relationships with at-risk teens is an evidence-based practice that is vital to helping them succeed and escape poverty,” says Nathanson. “Adults who participate are impressed by the energy, talent and determination of youth to succeed, often in the face of overwhelming barriers.”

Learn more about how you can help create endless opportunities for our communities’ youth by visiting