Inside Fremont’s Connected Youth Initiative

fremontRecently, Nebraska Children and Families Foundation announced a $300,000 award over two years to the Fremont Area United Way on behalf of the Fremont Family Coalition. The funding will be used to build a Connected Youth Initiative (CYI) system to serve young people in need in Dodge County.

“We are so excited to have the opportunity to work with the Fremont Family Coalition on this important project,” said Troy Gagner, Nebraska Children’s Connected Youth Initiative lead. “The partnerships they’ve built and the plan they’ve put together have the potential to make a major impact on the youth and young adults who need the most help.”

“We are honored to be a recipient of these funds” Donna Meismer, Fremont Family Coalition’s coordinator said. “This will allow us to continue to support approximately 100 youth per year in the Dodge County and immediate surrounding areas. Through collaborative community efforts, we will address areas of need such as daily living, housing, permanency, employment, education, health and stability.”

What is the Connected Youth Initiative (CYI)?

CYI is based on the successful practices of existing initiatives in Omaha, Lincoln and the Panhandle. The initiative targets youth ages 14-24 who are considered “unconnected” – either because they’ve aged out of the foster care system, are exiting the juvenile justice system, are homeless or near homeless, or simply lack the family supports required to transition successfully to adulthood. An estimated 643 unconnected youth live in the proposed service area.

In August 2015, Nebraska Children and Families Foundation received $2 million from the Social Innovation Fund (SIF) to expand this model to rural communities across Nebraska. These funds are now being used to provide subgrants to communities like Fremont. The SIF is a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency for volunteering and service programs. The SIF fosters public and private collaborations to evaluate and grow innovative community-based solutions that work. In just five years, the SIF and its private-sector partners have invested more than $876 million dollars in compelling community solutions. As a result of $295 million in federal grants and more than $581 million in non-federal match commitments, the SIF has made grants to 39 grant-making institutions and 353 nonprofits working in 40 states and the District of Columbia.

“The goal of these Connected Youth Initiatives is simple: To support unconnected young people to become self-reliant, contributing adults,” said Gagner. “Without the support of a family, the barriers to independence can seem insurmountable. The Fremont Family Coalition will use this funding to remove those barriers, and make success attainable for this vulnerable population.”

While each community’s CYI model will look different depending on the needs of youth and resources in the area, required components include:

  • Central Access Navigation – A coordinated approach that ensures CYI participants get access to all of the services they need in a streamlined, common-sense way. By coordinating services and helping youth navigate them through a central access point, the Families First Partnership can avoid duplication of efforts and effectively track the progress of young people.
  • Opportunity Passport™ – A nationally recognized financial literacy and asset-building program. Participating youth open Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) at a local bank, learn financial literacy skills, and save money for things like tuition, security deposits on apartments, or a car to take them to school and work. Youth savings are matched up to 4-to-1, helping them reach their goals more quickly.
  • Need-Based Funds – Emergency cash available to help youth keep small bumps in the road – like broken down cars, class fees, and utility bill surges – from becoming catastrophes.
  • Youth Voice – A council of area youth to provide input on how the CYI system should be set up and what services are most necessary.

Fremont Family Coalition’s proposed program

According to the Fremont Family Coalition, the greatest barrier encountered by the area’s unconnected youth is poverty. Of course, this brings with it a host of issues – access to housing, employment, education, transportation and health care – that contribute to a low quality of life for youth and the surrounding community.

“Some of the barriers older youth experience in our community are directly related to accessibility of resources, connection to employment, life skills, social skills, and overall health and well-being,” said Meismer.

To remove these barriers, the Fremont Family Coalition will use CYI funding to hire a Central Access Navigator to provide one-door access to a network of services including assistance accessing housing, health care, job readiness training, education and transportation. The coalition will add staff coordinators to manage the broad-based partnership and ensure that services are delivered in a systematic way.

The Fremont Family Coalition is still building its network of partners. “The reality is we need our entire community to partner with us in this initiative,” said Meismer. “Right now, we have at least 6 local community partners that are wanting to support and empower youth, create lasting change, meet immediate needs and connect youth to resources. Fremont Area United Way will be the backbone organization that supports the initiative.”

“This funding will allow our community to address many of our local needs and build a system of central navigation to address many community issues, needs and supports,” said Shawn Shanahan of the Fremont Area United Way. “In order to build a healthy community you have to have providers, community willingness, partnerships and funding to support all the work. The piece that was missing for us to move to the next level was funds to support youth. We thank Nebraska Children and Families Foundation for their continued support to our community.”

The Coalition is still forging partnerships to round out the services available to the underserved, unconnected youth in the service area.

Nebraska Children and Families Foundation supports children, young adults and families at risk with the overall goal of giving our state's most vulnerable kids what they need to reach their full potential. We do this by building strong communities that support families so their children can grow up to be thriving, productive adults.

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Posted in Teen/Early Adulthood

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