York County brothers Amir and Censare have a lot of odds stacked against them. They reside with an older brother, David Osgood, who is their kinship foster care parent. David is only five or six years older than Censare and Amir but "stepped up" so that his brothers could be together and live with family. The adjustment hasn’t been easy. Censare was briefly in respite following his first “You’re not my Dad” altercation with David. However, they were reunited and remain together.
In addition, Amir suffered a traumatic brain injury in October 2015. His injury has significantly impacted how he functions at home and at school. Amir has needed to change the way he does a number of things he used to take for granted, and receives more support to help accommodate for his challenges. The family is doing their best to survive these challenges.
But surviving isn’t good enough for Youth Advocate Programs (YAP): we want them to thrive, to reach their full potential in many ways, including economically. So York County YAP Assistant Director Joseph Studivant invited the brothers to participate in a pilot program called Thrival Corps. Funded by a local grant, Thrival Corps. is an innovative approach to helping high risk youth begin to plan for their economic future through exposure to the local job market and hands on learning of what it takes to have the qualifications and skills needed for different jobs.
Studivant recounts his first visit with the family to introduce the program. “I told them that the program will help them move away from death, incarceration and under- or unemployment toward life, freedom and future economic opportunity.” He laughed. “If that alone didn’t hook them, the financial incentive did.” Censare and Amir, like all youth who participated in the Thrival Corps Program, would earn $1200 each for successfully completing all of the service-learning projects.
On Wednesday, December 7th, Censare and Amir were recognized for successfully completing the 12 week program, along with 100% of the other youth who started the program with them. Their brother David, along with their Advocates, and other family and special guests, was there with pride to celebrate their achievement.
The celebration was also an Open House, an opportunity for others in the community to learn more about the program. Thrival Corps members learn about the role of education, work and healthy lifestyles in specific occupations and local industries through doing specific activities and creating connections to individuals who work in those markets. Thrival Corps connects youth with Opportunity Advisors, or individuals who are employed in different sectors of the local job market.
Opportunity Advisors meet with Thrival Corps members with their YAP Staff. In about 15 minutes, they discuss a very specific job-related topic, such as drug screening, getting along with others at work, credentialing and others. The Opportunity Advisor then assigns the member a follow up project that relates to their discussion. The youth complete the assignment, and then present their project to the Opportunity Advisor, earning them a financial stipend, along with a new positive connection to the workforce and information to help them prepare to enter it.
Thrival Corps is a modified version of its more robust parent YAPWORX. YAPWORX is the first and only workforce readiness initiative specifically designed to meet the needs of high risk youth in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems.
YAPWORX and Thrival Corps fill a much needed gap in the workforce readiness arena. According to a Civic Enterprise report, in 2011, there were over 6.7 million young people between the ages of 16 and 24 that were disconnected from school or work. The short and long-term economic impact of continued disconnection in terms of projected lost tax payments and safety net costs is in the trillions.
Despite Department of Labor emphasis that workforce services must be targeted to neediest youth, including young offenders, foster care and pregnant and parenting teens, most traditional programs struggle with not only getting these youth most at risk of disconnection from the market from starting their programs, but even more so, from completing them.
Yet it is with these youth that YAPWORX and Thrival Corps are designed to engage. In York County’s pilot, there were 12 at-risk youth who started the program. All 12 youth completed it.
At the Thrival Corps graduation celebration ceremony, members were invited to write three things they were thankful for on cut out leaves and tape them to the “Thankful Thrival Tree." Censare proudly walked up and placed his carefully on the branches. They said “life,” “family,” and “Thrival Corps.”