Partnering for Ramsey County Youth
1 Jun 2022
News, Workforce Stories
The COVID-19 pandemic brought new stress points and intensified existing issues for families across the nation. Significant complex issues like unstable housing situations, employment crises and challenging educational environments emerged, further limiting the ability of families to step out of constraints of insufficient financial means.
A collaborative partnership of community organizations has come together under one Ramsey County initiative called YouthWorks! to address these issues.
“Our viewpoint is to bring forward support to the families and youth of the area,” said Mary Sue Hansen, Executive Director of Suburban Ramsey Family Collaborative, one of the YouthWorks! partners. “There are so many organizations with people wanting to serve the community and YouthWorks! is an excellent initiative to help everyone work better together to deal with the community’s emerging needs.”
YouthWorks! is a county-wide employment awareness initiative to assist individuals, primarily between 14 and 24, who have had difficulties finding jobs. Various community-based agencies, educational organizations, city partners and foundations have come together to focus on creating a campaign of resources, activities and events to connect youth and families with employers, work opportunities and essential community relationships.
The power of YouthWorks! collaborative nature is the ability to leverage the strengths of many groups, which would not be possible for any one group alone. Some benefits YouthWorks! provides for youth struggling to find career pathways due to justice involvement, poverty, trauma and other significant barriers are:
- a weekly awareness of new and emerging youth training, employment and other opportunities in the community.
- cross-marketing through multiple networks, ensuring under-served and under-supported youth are hearing about opportunities from service providers.
- personally connecting with employers to advocate for the area’s most marginalized youth.
- creating a ‘buddy system’ for youth workers to brainstorm solutions not yet tried, re-engage youth and remove barriers.
- illuminating system gaps that prevent youth from accessing services and recommended systems changes to address those barriers.
- creating a conduit between youth and service providers to legislators and county commissioners to advocate for policy change.
“Ramsey County is leading Minnesota in redefining methods to address issues youth and families face today,” said Peg Thomas, the Sundance Family Foundation executive director. “YouthWorks! is a fulcrum of learnings and problem-solving in these areas and it is a joy to be a partner in the effort.”
While the collaboration participants have been active in their roles for years, YouthWorks! has developed a heightened pace in dealing with these issues since the COVID-19 pandemic. Many new and existing community needs, like employment uncertainties and housing instability, reached critical levels as families and youth struggled through hardships in the past two years.
“We had to get more in touch with how they are struggling so we can address their needs,” said Hansen.
Before the pandemic, local efforts to address employment and poverty focused on those individuals who had been in the workforce but were no longer. With the hardships presented by COVID-19, it quickly became apparent that the focus needed to shift to helping youth and young adults gain entry into the workforce. As a result, YouthWorks! leaders began meeting weekly to learn more about the issues facing youth and young adults today.
“Those weekly meetings with follow-up minutes reach more than 300 area guidance counselors, nonprofit job navigators and government agency workers to get on top of the changing landscape of youth and employment brought about by the pandemic,” said Hansen. “The expansion also created a quadrupled work pace.”
One result is the Multiple Wage Earners Jobs & Training Database, updated daily by the Suburban Ramsey Family Collaborative. The listing includes opportunities for youth and adults, such as current job fairs, hiring events, workshops, counseling and more. An example is a recent virtual Financial Health & Wealth Creation Resource Fair for Youth, Adults and Families, which led attendees through options to gain employment, start careers and achieve financial stability.
“The environment found in these fairs is very relational with a community of upward mobilizers sharing and learning,” said Hansen. “We had over 100 people attend, our largest attendance to date.”
The Sundance Family Foundation is another critical YouthWorks! partner with a significant contribution through its weekly “Zoomerkammer” webinars. The organization’s mission is to accelerate youth development and strengthen family stability by focusing on youth-serving organizations as essential intermediaries in building pathways to 21st-century in-demand careers with sustainable wages and articulated training. It began running the weekly webinars about two years ago, with more than 250 different speakers representing service, job and training providers offering their knowledge and opportunities to employers, high school counselors and others. The organization maintains a detailed speaker catalog for anyone to view specific presentations.
“YouthWorks! has been a successful mix of solving larger, institutional problems, as well as for individuals,” said Gabe Epstein, Program Manager with the Sundance Family Foundation.
Employers can gain significant benefits through participation as well, said Hansen.
“They are grateful to be more closely tied to service providers because they are looking to hire,” she said. “There are many steps individuals have to take to be hireable, however, and our collaborative partners help them get to that point.”
Serving the community
The Sundance Family Foundation and YouthWorks! follow a career pathways model called Earn & Learn, based on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, Strategy 8.b.1. The model focuses on four areas of career exploration, short-term credentials through education and training with paid internships, job placement with apprenticeships and progressive on-the-job paid training and job retention support. YouthWorks! leaders are optimistic about the progress in these areas that their current endeavors address.
“YouthWorks! exists to determine better methods to serve our local youth and community,” said Hansen. “Especially with the impact of the pandemic, we all need each other more than ever!”
“It is natural for everyone to tend to work in our silos, but the role of YouthWorks! is to get the resources and tools to those who help youth directly,” said Thomas. “Those we reach through YouthWorks! have the opportunity to impact the lives of hundreds and even thousands of individuals with whom they interact.”