|Hope for Durham’s youth|
|Published Wednesday, February 19, 2014|
A report called “Disconnected Youth in the Research Triangle: An Ominous Problem Hidden in Plain Sight,” was conducted six years ago for the N.C. GlaxoSmithKline Foundation.
It concluded that roughly 40 percent of Durham’s youth and young adults are not on track to complete high school and gain employment by the time they are 25 years old.
Durham has between 4,500 and 6,000 disconnected youth.
A new initiative, Made in Durham, will educate and train youth to improve their employability. Although it is still in the planning stages, organizers have conducted research and included community and corporate stakeholders to design a program that will help youth who are on track, behind or disconnected.
“We work in communities, with communities, to help community leaders research and learn about the real problem, the real situations, conditions in their communities that they might not really realize and to look at the data, the numbers, and then we help them find the solution that they think is right for their community,” Communications Director Richard Hart.
As Hart accounts the history of MDC and what the project signifies, he sits comfortably in a conference room with 22-year-old Ivanna Gonzalez, a 2013-14 Aurty Fellow with MDC, and tells her to chime in as she has been working on the project.
MDC is a nonprofit organization that has been around for 47 years. Hart says the key to improving people’s socioeconomic success is education.
“We connect people’s needs with the community’s economic needs,” he said. “We do research, we identify problems, we help people find solutions; but we also help them implement those solutions on the ground, and a lot of places don’t do both.”
Gonzalez said one of the bigger important pieces is that the Triangle and Durham areas are thriving economic regions. They are in the top 35 in job growth in the country. But Gonzalez notes that when you look at the numbers for ages 14 to 24 in this region, the economic reality does not match up.
“Young people are not fairing as well as they could be and should be, given that they live in this thriving area,” he said. He says it’s really about giving young people the equality and the opportunity that is here.
Jessica McQuaig, a 17-year-old intern at MDC (above), walks into the conference room with a stylish black and white houndstooth hat. Hart says that the reason they hire younger staff is because the program is geared towards the youth.
Born and raised in Durham, McQuaig is the youngest of five siblings, and is a junior at Northern High School. She interned at Youth Opportunity, which is known as YO:Durham.
“A friend suggested the program to me because she attended the program last year. I went to the office and got a form and read about it, and it sounded like a really great opportunity for me because it was really hard for me to find a job,” she said.
McQuaig said she applied to four different restaurants and grocery stores. “I went to three places in person inquiring about a job, but all of them said I have to apply online. Applying online is impersonal, and all I got was the runaround. It didn’t help that I was under 18 either,” she said.
McQuaig says she and her mother liked that they taught business etiquette and how to write a resume.
“What I liked about the program is that they teach us how to interview, how to act in a work environment. They help us find internships and therefore find jobs and experience, and that’s what really attracted me to this program,” she said.
People who are interested in the progress of the initiative can stay informed through its website: http://www.mdcinc.org/projects/made-durham.
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