Fighting Poverty with Passion
The first thirty days in New Orleans has been a whirlwind. I have always heard grand rumors about southern hospitality and can now say all the rumors are true. Four days into my service I had my birthday (thanks Mom and Dad). My fellow VISTAs, most of whom I had never met, greeted me with a happy birthday sign on my door (thanks Alle!), a happy hour event, and dinner full of Sangria and way too much paiaya (You’re the man, Christian!). On a personal level, everyone I have come across so far, be it co-workers or community members, have welcomed me in with open arms and I am looking forward to developing some long lasting relationships.
Every morning my work day begins riding the historical St. Charles Street Car. Commuting with the street car has been a fun way to get acquainted with the city and its people. I head to Central City where my partner site, the Partnership for Youth Development, and the great staff work everyday. From day one I felt like a member of the PYD Family. Whether it was Shelly’s impression of babies, Eric’s tales of home brewing, Nicole and Allison’s home renovation stories, or Kathleen’s anecdotes of New Orleans, I knew I was joining a team of experienced and authentic people who would make my service year one to remember.
So, what exactly is Partnership for Youth Development and what community work are we taking on? PYD is an intermediary, or “backbone,” organization that helps school-age children and youth in New Orleans maximize their learning opportunities and educational experiences both in and beyond school. By serving as the critical link, PYD strives to leverage resources to community based organizations that serve youth and fill any gaps between existing local youth systems in order to create a strong infrastructure that provides necessary support to the children and youth of New Orleans. Two current programs in particular serve as examples of what effective intermediary and collective impact projects look like.
The first program is YouthShift. Youthshift is the New Orleans Youth Master Plan designed with a collective impact approach for city-wide success for our young people and their families. Informing our work is the Kania & Kramer idea of how “large-scale social change comes from better cross-sector coordination rather than from the isolated intervention of individual organizations.” The Collective Impact Forum breaks down the collective impact process into five characteristics.
1. A Common Agenda: Coming together to collectively define a problem and create a shared vision to solve it.
2. Shared Measurement: Agreeing to track progress in the same way, which allows for continuous improvement.
3. Mutually Reinforcing Activities: Coordinating collective efforts to maximize the end result.
4. Continuous Communication: Building trust and relationships among all participants
5. Strong Backbone: Having a team dedicated to orchestrating the work of the group
The ultimate impact the Youthshift Collaborative seeks is improving academic, social, and behavioral outcomes for young people through an improved alignment of youth serving systems with ongoing accountability and communication. Collective Impact work involves organizations and individuals who already have jobs, services to provide, and projects to complete. Their primary focus can not be on maintaining the success and progress of collaborative efforts they are a part of. PYD serve as the strong backbone because their staff time can be dedicated to maintaining success of collaborative efforts. Collective impact is a young and emerging idea and is worth checking out: LEARN MORE!
The second collective impact project is Employment and Mobility Pathways Linked for Opportunity Youth (EMPLOY) which is designed to build an environment where Opportunity Youth, “the 6.7 million young people between the ages of 16 to 24 in the United States who are neither enrolled in school nor participating in the labor market,” are connected to career pathways. The role PYD plays, alongside the Cowen Institute, is serving that backbone function by bringing together direct service providers, economic development groups, local government foundations, grant making organizations, and employers to create solutions and pathways for New Orleans significantly high Opportunity Youth populations. There was a recent announcement from the Mayor’s office describing what addressing this issue has evolved into. Good work has been done, and we are far from finished, but we are moving forward as a city.
In the weeks ahead, I look forward to sharing more about myself and the specific work I will be doing. Since I know he reads the Tulane VISTA blog religiously, I have to shout out WHO DAT Jack for his great tour guide skills and unmatched chair dancing ability.
Until next time!