Helping Youth Programs Build Brighter Futures
I’ve read and heard the numbers before: 11.7% of youth are disconnected in the United States, representing 4.6 million young women and men. Broadly speaking, this describes teenagers and young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not connected with school or work. There are countless factors contributing to this high number including adversity such as childhood trauma, unstable housing, community violence, and other systemic barriers disproportionately affecting disconnected youth.
This number has declined from its highest peak in 2010 (when 14.7% of youth were considered disconnected) and has developed a new name: “opportunity youth”. Formerly referred to as “at-risk youth”, the pivot to using “opportunity youth” was inspired by a collective desire to use asset-based framing and recognize the opportunity and potential held by this population. In alignment with this philosophy, Catalyst Kitchens recognized the enormous potential for increasing collaboration amongst youth programs in our network and decided to organize our first Youth Workshop last month.
In the Catalyst Kitchens’ membership network, 37.5% of our 70+ non-profit culinary training providers work with youth. Over the years, Catalyst Kitchens regularly held workshops at FareStart for visiting youth organizations to showcase FareStart’s best practices for youth programming. FareStart currently operates three youth programs: barista, culinary, and summer internships.
These techniques, however, represent the experience of just one organization in one community. To create space for a more inclusive dialogue, we decided to tap into our membership network and bring together youth programs from across the United States. Organizing a workshop like this had always been a dream for Renee Martin of Catalyst Kitchens and Dennis Bagneris of model member Liberty’s Kitchen in New Orleans. We decided it was time to develop a foodservice youth job training program workshop in partnership with Liberty’s Kitchen and Café Reconcile.
Of all southern states, Louisiana has the highest rate in the south for disconnected youth, making it the right place to be to gather youth empowerment programs. New Orleans is not only a city full of amazing hospitality and food, it also provides countless examples of how partnership and collaboration can provide services for youth and young adults.
Our 35 workshop participants heard from local New Orleans organizations on trauma informed care practices, building youth resiliency, mental health support, and staff training to support this population. The questions kept flowing from the participants, who had the opportunity to hear from past graduates of both programs and learn about alumni engagement initiatives such as the Youth Council at Liberty’s Kitchen. These programs support graduates after the program or ask for graduate input to inform the organization’s board strategic decisions.
The second day of the workshop offered the opportunity to participate in an accelerated course of our Train the Trainer Workshop, focused on coaching and evaluation skills. This one-day track provided culinary staff the opportunity to learn how to work with youth directly in a job training setting by sharing tools on providing good feedback, developing clear and useful case notes, and coaching. By the end of the two days everyone had more questions than answers, many determining how to integrate what they have learned into their organization.
"A-Ha!" Moments from the Workshop
I asked participants at the end of the workshop to share their “aha” moments and what practices have inspired them to make changes at their own organizations. Here’s what they said:
The importance of diversity and inclusion on a youth organization’s board to reflect the youth they are serving
Initiating alumni engagement initiatives such as a Youth Council or advisory board to use youth input in the organization’s decision-making process
“Code Switching” – how to understand what kind of communication works best for your audience
Integrating trauma informed care into staff onboarding for programming and training staff
Employer partners sensitivity training
Workshop confirmed the work they are currently doing
Benefits of using the Catalyst Kitchens’ network as a resounding board
Our team certainly learned a lot from this first Youth Workshop and recognizes that this dialogue does not end in New Orleans. We hope to keep the conversation on best practices in youth development moving forward. Working with youth and young adults evolves each year. While data shows that the number of disconnected youths is decreasing, we understand this population is becoming more complex and an increased access to shared resources, tools, and partnerships is needed. We are committed to continually developing our knowledge and expertise in this field, not only to affect change in the youth and young adult we are serving, but to increase the efficiency in our foodservice job training programs.
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