discussing our new YouthBuild Evaluation at the White House

Today CIRCLE released a major new report entitled Pathways into Leadership: A Study of YouthBuild Graduates, funded by the Knight Foundation and distributed  during the White House Summit on Community Solutions for Disconnected Youth. This was the outline of my comments at the White House (although I had to truncate for time):

You know YouthBuild as a set of local programs in communities across the country that enroll high school dropouts and provide GED classes, job training, community service opportunities, and leadership development. Previous research has found good effects on the participants’ education, employment, and (for the students who had criminal records) recidivism.

We studied something different: a leadership pathway that begins in the local programs when students are asked to help manage the organization and continues at the national level for alumni who choose to participate.

When I say “we” studied it, I mean CIRCLE along with 10 YouthBuild alumni who were our co-investigators.

Surveying and interviewing alumni who were involved with the alumni programs, we found a gigantic difference between then and now.

Then: these were “disconnected youth,” outside of school of college, jobs, and civic organizations. None had high school degrees. Most struggled with violence and depression. Half expected to die before age 30, many before age 25.

Now: these are civic leaders. Some hold public office or serve as pastors. About one third are professional youth workers. All expect to live to a ripe old age and feel they have a lifetime of service to contribute. They are optimistic, satisfied, and dedicated. “I’m important to me community and my community is important to me … I build everything off that premise” is how one person summarized things.

We draw two lessons:

  1. Leading and serving others is integrally connected to succeeding and flourishing in life
  2. To lead and serve requires opportunities that must be deliberately built and maintained, and very few organizations other than YouthBuild are building those opportunities for disconnected youth.
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About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.