How Goodwill of Southern Arizona is Re-engaging Youth in School and Work

Tucson, AZ | Submitted by Lance Meeks

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In Pima County today, 11% of youth between the ages of 16 and 24 are neither working nor going to school. These “opportunity youth” are facing everything from food insecurity to homelessness, addiction and family problems. It’s something that the Arizona Education Progress Meter has targeted, with a goal to decrease the number of opportunity youth statewide to 7%.

But to be successful in the future, the team at Goodwill of Southern Arizona understands that a little guidance and support can go a long way. Goodwill operates two youth re-engagement centers specifically aimed at working with young people who are in need of obtaining their educational goals, employment training, and connections to community resources to get them back on track to meet their goals.

To make it all possible, the specially trained staff, with the assistance of community volunteers, work one-on-one with youth to identify the stumbling blocks and how best to conquer them. Accessing many community services or getting back into the classroom after time away would otherwise be too intimidating. Goodwill opened its first youth re-engagement center, METRO, located at 300 N. 4th Avenue, in 2014. Goodwill acquired space for the second center, Goodwill REC Youth Center, located at 1920 E. Silverlake, suite 207, in 2020 the Goodwill of Southern Arizona headquarters.

The primary areas of focus for youth ages 14-24 at the centers are:

Employment: Youth have access to computers in order to search for and apply for jobs. Staff members assist youth with job readiness skills, creating a resume, and practicing interview skills. Incentives are also provided for youth who obtain jobs.

Academics: The center’s academic coordinator and adult volunteers assist youth with connecting to appropriate educational programs, earning their GED, and identifying the best path to achieve any other goals they might have. Incentives are also provided for youth who obtain their GED, as well as helping youth pay for their GED exams. For those who want to pursue a high school diploma, Goodwill partnered with Grad Solutions in 2018. Initially, the program enrolled six students, but that quickly grew to 26 new students in the 1st half of 2019 and a total of 65 in 2019. students are provided a mentor in addition to their high-quality teachers, which is helping to ensure they stay on track.

Community resources: Staff assist opportunity youth with making connections with agencies and organizations in the community that can help them identify and access services, ranging from housing to mental health services. Each month, an event called 2nd Tuesdays is hosted to streamline the process of intakes, case management, provide individual mental health services, AHCCCS screening, assist with Nutrition Assistance applications, and connect with community resources. This event is a collaboration between Goodwill of Southern Arizona, COPE Community Services, and PPEP Integrated Care. The centers have also launched a virtual chat with the Tucson Police Department, to facilitate discussion between youth and law enforcement.

Community Service: Youth are also referred from the Pima County Juvenile Court in order to complete court their court ordered community service. Youth will complete a community service training and then they’re able to complete their community service at the Fourth Avenue Goodwill Retail Store. Community service opportunities are currently on hold due to COVID-19.

Trauma-informed services: As youth are enrolled, staff have been trained to create an individualized trauma-informed safety plan. This helps to identify what services the youth might benefit from and provide direct referrals to the community organizations that offer them. Many of these services are available right in the center. So many of their youth face troubling experiences, which can impact behavior, so this is critical to the operations of the center.

Recently the centers added collaboration with community partners to provide bereavement support for the members who have experienced loss. This is a much-needed addition to their programming.

The Arizona End of Life Care Partnership anchored at the United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona, in partnership with Tu Nidito, Goodwill of Southern Arizona, and the Pima County Juvenile Court Center, are proud recipients of the Vitalyst Health Foundation Systems Change Grant, a three year award totaling $175,000. This grant will support the work of Tu Nidito to create bereavement support groups for Opportunity Youth (individuals age 16-24 who are disconnected from education and the workforce) enrolled at Goodwill Metro Re-engagement Center. There are currently 23,000 16-24-year-olds in Southern Arizona who are not connected to education or employment and these groups will utilize customized curriculum developed in conjunction with a group of Opportunity Youth themselves.

These two centers receive funding and support from Goodwill of Southern Arizona, City of Tucson, United Way of Southern Arizona and Tucson, and from the Vitalyst Health Foundations Systems, The George Mason Green & Lois C. Green Foundation, Wells Fargo, and the 2019 TPCH Youth Homelessness Demonstration Project Grant Recipient. Other events such as Empowerment Series, Job Fairs, Resource Fairs, and Prevention Workshops are available.

In the last year alone, they saw more than 300 new users. Which means they’re now engaging with 700 area youth and helping them get back on track. Growth has been sustained and necessitated new staff and a new center, which puts Pima County on the road to more engaged young people.

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