Recognizing Youth Service Professionals by Prioritizing their Professional Development

By Kathryn Nichols, Consultant, National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth at the Institute for Educational Leadership

Group photo of all YWLA graduates holding their certificatesIt’s National Workforce Development Month – a time to recognize the contributions of workforce development professionals who play a vital role in preparing and assisting youth and adult jobseekers to be successful in finding and maintaining employment. For over a decade, the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth (NCWD/Youth) has been working to promote the value of and further grow a professional development system for youth service professionals in the workforce development system. This work includes partnering with agencies and organizations across the U.S. to plan and deliver training and technical assistance to youth service professionals in order to develop their competencies to work effectively with all youth.

Over the past two years, NCWD/Youth has been supporting professional development for youth service professionals in Washington, DC through an initiative called the Youth Workforce Leaders Academy. This ten-month professional development opportunity is co-led by the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates and the Institute for Educational Leadership (NCWD/Youth’s host organization) with support from the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region’s Greater Washington Workforce Collaborative and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy.

The Academy engages a cohort of 15 professionals in monthly day-long learning sessions focused on best practices for assisting youth in transition to employment, postsecondary education, and adulthood. The Academy’s professional learning community model provides a rare opportunity for participants to develop a strong network of peers from other local organizations and agencies. This affords opportunities for peer-to-peer learning and opens doors to building collaborations and better coordinating services to youth in the city.

Training in core competencies for youth service professionals combined with peer-to-peer learning and networking has proven to be a powerful professional development vehicle for youth service professionals. As one Academy participant put it, “It has been very valuable to meet other people doing similar work in the city. I enjoy learning about their strategies that work and learning about their programs.”

In the human services sector, it’s easy to take professional development for granted and hard to make time and space for learning new or improved strategies and skills for doing the work. But it’s so important and can be so impactful when we provide high quality professional development opportunities. When asked to describe the benefits of completing the Academy, another participant shared, “I have grown so much as a professional through YWLA. Through the connections I’ve made with other youth workforce professionals and the immense amount of resources, both tangible and intangible, I am a much stronger, more aware, more thoughtful professional. I have gained confidence in my work and an amazing amount of knowledge, skills, and abilities that I didn’t have or didn’t know I had just a few months ago.”

When it’s all said and done, the real value of professional development depends upon professionals taking what they learn back to their organizations and using it to improve their work with youth. Academy graduate Martin Copeland, Curriculum Outreach Manager at Urban Alliance, recently shared with us how he’s using what he gained from the professional development opportunity:
dsc_0768“As Urban Alliance embarks on a HUGE project to rewrite our entire curriculum, I find myself referencing things as I speak to my partner-in-writing. ‘How do you think students with disabilities will respond to this activity?’ ‘I think we should have an assessment included in each of our workshops moving forward.’ Then I think, ‘Where has all of this come from?’ “

“THANK YOU SO MUCH for all that you put into YWLA and for the opportunity to learn and to be so connected. This was more than I ever thought it could be. As we write, my YWLA binder is right at my side!  You all are the best!”

The benefits of professional development are evident in these comments. Investing in the development of those working with youth in the workforce development system can improve the quality of services and programs leading to greater results for youth. In addition to recognizing all that youth workforce development professionals do this month, let’s also recommit to supporting their development by making high quality professional development for workforce development professionals a priority in all our communities across the country.

Learn more about YWLA from our host organization, the Institute for Educational Leadership and from our partner, the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates!

Read more about the 2016 graduates and their Capstone projects!

Related professional development resources for those in the workforce development system:





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A Capital Trip by MJ Smyth

The following blog is a cross-post from

Every year, the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL), which leads the Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program (RAMP), holds an Annual Meeting in Washington D.C. for youth participants and coordinators. This year, the meeting took place from Wednesday, August 3 through Friday, August 5. This is a meeting in which youth from the 10 RAMP sites throughout the country come together and participate in activities, training, presentations of high tech projects, a tour of our Nation’s Capital, a college tour, and career exploration. The following is one Albany RAMP youth’s Washington D.C. experience. 

Have you ever had a chance to go on an adventure to somewhere… different than what you’re used to? That’s a great feeling, isn’t it? It was for me, anyway. This is my story of an adventure that I very much enjoyed, a trip to Washington D.C.

A little backstory before we begin, my name is MJ Smyth, and I was invited to the RAMP annual meeting in Washington D.C. I went with my site’s coordinator, Elijah, and my good mate Anthony. The trip was three days, August 3rd, 4th and 5th. It was a splendid vacation and I got to relax, something I rarely get to do anymore. So, without further ado, let us begin, appropriately, at the beginning…

It was about 6 AM, on Wednesday, August 3, when my mother woke me up to tell me to get ready for the trip. As I had already packed the night before, I was well aware where everything was. I took a shower, washed up, made my bed and got ready to leave. Less than an hour later, Elijah pulled up. He had just gotten back from his own vacation (ironically), so he was ready for the LONG drive to Washington. After saying goodbye to my mom, I got into the car. Now I won’t bore you with the mundane details of the car ride, because I was listening to music like seventy-five percent of the way, so in all honesty, I have no clue what happened between Anthony and Elijah.

We got to D.C. about 2:30 that afternoon. It was a good feeling to stand up. I hadn’t done so since we stopped at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Jersey almost four hours prior. We took our baggage and went to the lobby. Now, the first thing I wanted to do was get to the room that Anthony and I would share and change my clothes, but as we were already late, we’d have to postpone that idea. Instead, we had to head into the room where everyone was meeting. I was anxious but confident, Anthony and I had been working on a video game (I know, awesome right?), and we knew it would steal the show.

Now, two things going forward; first, I am not going to be addressing any other youth by their names, as that could put them in an uncomfortable position, and no one likes that. Secondly, am only going to be pointing out the few that I remember, it was quite a bit ago as of my writing this and not everything is exactly perfect.

Upon walking into the room, I noticed a sort-of cold impression, as if everybody already seemed to know each other, except for this one kid sitting at another table, but I’ll get to him later. Now, Anthony is the type of kid who wants to make friends with everybody. He does exceptionally well in that aspect, he is likable and kind. Case-in-point, the first thing he did was make friends with a girl from California. We had been in there about ten minutes, literally! I, on the other hand, had quite the opposite effect on the youth. I was trying to come off as mature, and as Anthony had made a rather inappropriate comment I was looking more mature, if more distant one of us.

After Anthony and I had joined the rest of the youth in a mentorship meeting, we were FINALLY able to get into our hotel room. While Anthony unpacked and got comfortable, I hopped onto my bed and plugged in my electronics. My tablet, which hadn’t been charging properly in a long time, actually started charging correctly. I was overjoyed. Soon, I noticed that the television in our room was a Smart T.V. So, I connected my tablet to it and watched some YouTube videos on the big screen. Anthony came back as soon as I began watching some Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. We had a blast watching one of my favorite episodes “The Foot Soldiers Are Revolting!”

Soon afterward, we went up to Union Station and had dinner at one of the restaurants there, Johnny Rockets’. I just had some french fries as I wasn’t too hungry. After dinner, we went to F.Y.E. Anthony found a fake sword and wanted to buy it. Elijah was surprised, as was I, but it was something he wanted, so he got it. Upon returning to the hotel room, Anthony and I watched some more Turtles, and when I wanted to discuss the issue of our presentation with Anthony, but he passed out before we could continue our discussion. As I didn’t want to disturb his sleep, I just took a shower, used the bathrobe, and watched “Friends” before passing out, at four in the morning, having to get up in less than two hours.

The next morning I was exhausted, and Anthony could tell. I was still acting the same as I was before, but more genuinely tired and irritated. That didn’t affect Anthony at all, seemingly. It was later when I could tell something was wrong, but I digress. Today was day two, and that meant it was college tour day. We would be touring George Washington College. Anthony and I were split apart for the college tour, and I met a young man from Texas. He and I discussed the college at length and decided it wasn’t our speed. You see, my friend from Texas wants to be an airplane mechanic. I want to be a public transportation operator, so our jobs would be in a somewhat similar field. Of course, his job would be significantly more important than mine. In any case, the college tour was rather interesting, but the most enjoyable part would be after lunch, the pool party!

After the college tour, Elijah, Anthony and I headed a block down to Walmart. As Anthony had a lot of snacks, and I had exhausted my resources on the drive to D.C. I wanted to get some munchies to last me the remainder of the trip. So, that was the point of that mission. I went to get some Pop-Tarts, Hawaiian Punch, and a Giant Hershey’s Cookies and Cream bar. All the while, Anthony was looking rather glum and I wanted to know what was up.

When we got back to the hotel, we had a bit of time before the pool party, so I asked Anthony what was wrong. He didn’t get into too many details, but I could tell he was having a bit of trouble with his relationship. I told him some good advice, which anyone can take: “If this was meant to be, you’ll patch things up, if it wasn’t, she’s not the one.” Anthony gave me a hug, and we went up to the pool. This, however, would not be the last time today Anthony would be having these problems.

When we got to the pool, everyone was already there playing pool volleyball. Anthony and I got on opposite teams, so it was myself, the young man from Texas and a young man from Michigan, against Anthony and the California kids. Now, I hadn’t been in a pool for almost two years prior to this, so my team was at a disadvantage. However, we had great fun and ended up winning anyway. Soon afterward, everybody except for myself, Anthony and the kid from Texas remained. We had a lot of fun in the pool just hamming it up and throwing each other around. There was one more thing on the itinerary for that day, the D.C. Tour!

About an hour or two later, Anthony and I were on a tour bus with everyone else. Elijah got on too, so it was going to be an enjoyable trip. The tour guide was very interesting, and showed us several sites, but as soon as we got to Capitol Hill, Anthony started walking away. Some of the adults started chasing him, but he wasn’t talking. After a long period of sulking, I was finally able to get him to listen to me, he was overly upset about his girlfriend. By the end of the day, however, he was feeling better, just in time for our presentation. Back to the tour, however, something interesting that happened was that I cracked my limited edition Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles watch in front of the White House. I hadn’t been that angry in a while. Toward the end of the day, we stopped at the Lincoln Memorial. Stopping at the steps, I looked out into the horizon. Something told me that my worst years were over. It was a positive feeling. After that little epiphany, we went back to the hotel to get ready for our presentation.

Finally, the big day came. Anthony was ready, I was dressed up fairly professionally and we were ready to knock out this presentation. As the third and final day started coming to an elegant end. Finally, it came to our presentation. As everyone watched attentively, Anthony and I gave everyone a blow-by-blow of the game and what it was about. The result? Standing ovation! We were loved by everyone. Things went great. Anthony was overjoyed and I was happy myself. This was a crowning achievement in my heart, and his as well.

So that was my trip to Washington D.C. I hope that you enjoyed reading, hearing or however you acquired the knowledge about it. I am certainly blessed to have a program like R.A.M.P in my life, and if you ever get the chance to join up. I implore you to do so. You have no idea what you’re missing. I’d like to recite a line one of the youth said during this trip “Say no to drugs and say yes to jumping!” Farewell.


Learn more about RAMP and check out some of the related publications:

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The Summer Job

The following blog is a cross-post from the New York Association of Training and Employment Professionals (NYATEP) and appeared in the August, 2016 issue of “Workforce Buzz”. The blog is written by Colin Williams, an NYATEP Summer Intern.

Each summer NYATEP hires at least one “summer youth” intern, this year we have brought back Colin Williams who recently graduated from Bishop Maginn High School in Albany, and is headed to college this fall in Rhode Island. We think a critical aspect of summer youth work is having our interns contribute directly to the work products of the office, therefore we asked Colin to compose two articles for upcoming issues of the Workforce Buzz, that reflect his unique opinion and point of view as a young adult. Below is his first article on what a summer job is like for a youth.

At the ripe age of seventeen all you really need is a car and a full tank of gas. For teenagers, these two individual images represent a freedom that has been limited since the time of birth. The exciting feeling of being able to go wherever you want to go is now in your grasps and the ability to do whatever you want to do (for the most part) can be achieved. Unfortunately, these symbols of teenage liberation cannot be produced without the presence of green slips of paper that fit perfectly into a traditional wallet. Enter: The Summer Job.

Summer work has always been considered one of the largest elephants in the room around the dinner table during the months of April and May. We know we have to tackle the daunting tasks of filling out applications and creating resumes. In my opinion, at the core of what makes it daunting is not in the actual application; instead the fear of rejection. Generally, as Millennials were raised in a society where everyone receives a trophy, the concept of losing is foreign to us. Now when there is an opportunity where we might lose (i.e. not get the job), we become scared, and without the right support it might just mean we do nothing at all, paralyzed.

Once we move past the stage of fear we enter the stage of waiting. This means that all of our applications are in and we are waiting for the call or email back. The sad truth of this matter is that often these calls never come. The even more depressing truth is that down the road, these calls will come even less. Pressures like the minimum wage, automation, and older people taking part-time work in retirement or just to make ends meet, mean looking for work in the summer is a lot different than when our parents had to do it. Congratulations, you got the job. What’s next? Well, for starters you will be getting up early in the morning and getting home late at night. After all, you want to make money, right? Wrong. Your paycheck will not be as large as you thought it would be after taxes are taken out. That’s alright; you will have a chance to meet new people including that very loud woman who is yelling at you for not bagging her groceries fast enough. Sometimes summer jobs are not always what we expect. In fact, summer jobs tend to be less about the money and more about the learning experience. You will learn dependability. You will learn that not everything is handed to you on a silver platter. Most importantly, you will learn basic people skills. All of these learned forms of human capital will outweigh the short term physical capital in the long run.

After all was said and done, you finally bought that car and filled it up with unleaded juice. You can do anything now. You have confidence because you conquered your fear, you are happy because you beat out all of those other applicants, and you are smarter now that you learned a few life lessons. The only question now is, where should you go?

Check out some related resources from NCWD/Youth that can help youth make a successful transition to summer employment!

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A Collaborative Learning Community to Benefit Youth and Young People with Disabilities

Photograph of Jessica Queener The following blog is a cross-post from, the official blog of The blog is written by Jessica Queener, Communications and Outreach Manager at the Youth Transitions Collaborative and the National Youth Transitions Center. NCWD/Youth’s host organization, the Institute for Educational Leadership is a proud member of the Youth Transitions Collaborative!

The Youth Transitions Collaborative (YTC) is a community of organizations that share the goal of empowering youth and young people with disabilities to create a self-directed path to adulthood and employment, and to participate in and contribute to society. The National Youth Transitions Center (NYTC) provides a single location in the nation’s capital for modeling cross-systems collaboration and improving the transition services available to youth and young people, their families and communities. As an innovative “collaborative community,” the NYTC provides opportunities for nonprofits serving youth and young people to build capacity, create new partnerships and benefit from its national agenda. This national agenda is comprised of policy and advocacy efforts, innovative research and cross-sector collaborations that stimulate new thinking and learning across the country.

The NYTC is the focal point of the Collaborative’s community. This by-invitation-only membership group, facilitated by The HSC Foundation, is comprised of over 50 regional and national organizations with a commitment to serving youth and young people with disabilities. These organizations are united by shared values and a desire to be stronger together, providing direct services, expertise and guidance for the Center. The Collaborative also serves as the basis for The HSC Foundation’s efforts to build the capacity of nonprofit organizations serving the disability and youth communities, and to create a cohesive community among these organizations. They also participate in a variety of programming initiatives that provide further opportunities to partner on topics including advocacy, career preparation and employment.

Programming Initiatives

Work Early, Work Often

Work Early, Work Often” is a video-based campaign created by the YTC’s career preparation and management working group. Together, the three-part video campaign highlights the importance of work and work-based experiences on an individual’s transition to adulthood, particularly for young people with disabilities. Each storyline focuses on a different subject and narrative, told from the perspective of key audiences that are part of the transition journey. Currently, only 20.6 percent of youth and young adults with disabilities participate in the labor force, compared to 69 percent of individuals without disabilities (U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy, 2016). The campaign includes videos for:

  • Young Adults with Disabilities: Hear from a young professional how her early work experiences helped lead to long-term success.
  • Employers of Adults with Disabilities: Listen to employers discuss how exposing young adults with disabilities to real work experiences can help to meet the needs of a business and improve their bottom line.
  • Parents/Caregivers of Young Adults with Disabilities: Watch a powerful story unfold as a mother describes “letting go” when her son entered the world of work.

To watch the videos individually or as a series, or

Advocates in Disability Award

The Advocates in Disability Award (ADA) program honors a young person with a disability between the ages of 14 and 26 who is dedicated to positively affecting the lives of people with disabilities and their families in the U.S. The program also supports an innovative project developed by the award recipient that benefits the U.S. disability community. The selected recipient is awarded $3,000 in recognition of past disability advocacy and will receive up to $7,000 in additional funding for their proposed project to benefit the disability community. The ADA is presented annually by The HSC Foundation and the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation.

The 2016 ADA Award Recipient                                 

Sara Luterman, who was diagnosed with autism and partial blindness, began her advocacy work after graduating from Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland in creative writing. In addition to creating NOS Magazine, a blog about neurodiversity news, culture and representation, she currently works as a program assistant at the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD), sits on the board for the Association for Autistic Community and acts as a part of the Individual Advocacy Group to help protect the rights of adults who need assistance living independently. Her writing has also been featured in The Guardian and The Atlantic and she served as an expert on a HuffPost Live segment about Hillary Clinton’s autism policy.

Federal Alliance

The Alliance between the YTC, the U.S. Department of Labor’sOffice of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), the Maternal and Child Health Bureau and The National Alliance to Advance Adolescent Health (Got Transition) has focused on improving health care transition and employment of youth and young people with disabilities. The Alliance Partners have created acareer and health checklist for youth and young people with disabilities that was released in July 2015 in coordination with the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Career development is a critical step to employment for youth with disabilities, which addresses how youth prepare for going to work and having careers. Many young people, particularly youth with disabilities and chronic health conditions, don’t have the opportunity to gain work skills and practice work (National Collaborative on Workforce and Development, 2015).

ODEP provides national leadership by developing and influencing disability employment-related policies and practices affecting an increase in the employment of people with disabilities. A sub-cabinet level policy agency within the Department of Labor, ODEP recognizes the need for a national policy to ensure that people with disabilities are fully integrated into the 21st Century workforce.

HEATH Resource Center

The HEATH Resource Center, managed by The George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development, is an online clearinghouse of post-secondary education resources for people with disabilities. It serves as the NYTC’s official resource site. HEATH gathers, develops and disseminates information such as self-directed learning modules on topics like self-advocacy and post-secondary options, quarterly newsletters highlighting the latest research, guidance on financial aid for students with disabilities and many more up-to-date resources.

Because the Future Needs Everyone

Youth and young people with disabilities often confront serious obstacles as they transition from adolescence to adulthood and from school to work. By having timely interventions and supportive services, these challenges can be transformed into moments of opportunity. NYTC is committed to helping young people with disabilities achieve their greatest level of independence and accomplishment. The Center brings together the resources of multiple organizations to provide transition-related services, research, evaluation, best practices, public policy guidance and innovative projects. The success of their collaboration is measured by the number of young people empowered to thrive in the workplace and in their communities.

To stay up to date on the latest youth transition information and resources, please follow the NYTC on Facebook and Twitter.

If you have any questions about the NYTC or the YTC, contact Jessica Queener at

Posted in Community Partnerships, Inclusion, Transition | Comments Off on A Collaborative Learning Community to Benefit Youth and Young People with Disabilities

Student Takes a Right Turn

The following blog is a cross-post from the official blog of the U.S. Department of Labor. The blog is written by Lisa Fitch, an executive assistant for Playa Vista Job Opportunities and Business Services (PVJOBS) in Los Angeles, CA. PVJOBS is one of the sites in IEL’s Right Turn Career-Focused Transition Initiative, based on NCWD/Youth foundational materials like Making The Right Turn: A Guide About Improving Transition Outcomes For Youth Involved In The Juvenile Corrections System.

Armonte Patton in his cap and gown at graduation, speaking at the podiumFor Armonte Patton, the joyful May graduation day stood in stark contrast to a somber August day that set his life on a spiral four years ago.

“My grandma passed away,” he told the graduating class of Mission View Charter School during his commencement speech. “It happened when I was at football practice. The pain really brought me down.”

Armonte’s grandmother had been his guardian, raising him for years. Since his mother was addicted to drugs, Armonte moved in with his father, who was often in and out of jail.

Depressed, Armonte started hanging out with the wrong crowd, and he even lost interest in the varsity football team, where his talents had helped lead Westminister High School to two championships.

“I became accustomed to a lifestyle of crime,” he told his classmates and guests at graduation. “I started smoking, hanging out late, and ducking and dodging the police. It was like walking through the gates of hell and I didn’t seem to notice, but everyone else did.”

To complete his high school education, Armonte attended Mission View Charter School, which is housed in the offices of Playa Vista Job Opportunities and Business Services in South Los Angeles. Mission View staff in turn connected him with the PVJOBS Right Turn program for coaching and career services.

PVJOBS has operated two consecutive U.S. Department of Labor-funded programs since 2012, including the Right Turn program, which addresses employment barriers of court-involved youth while helping them attain in-demand skills they need for career success.

The program serves young people 14 to 25, like Armonte, by providing case management, academic coaching, occupational training, career pathway planning and mentoring.

Youth are viewed as active participants throughout the entire process; their input, needs and desires are the driving force to developing their individualized career development plans, which provide an outline of what the participant will accomplish throughout the program. These plans list areas of interest, network links, career exploration recommendations, goals, steps and a timeline for completion.

The Right Turn program made all the difference for Armonte, who rediscovered his motivation to excel and who also encouraged other young people in the program to stay in school. He’s also looking forward to working out this summer with the football team at El Camino Community College, where he’s enrolled for school this fall. Ultimately he would like to transfer to a four-year university and pursue a career as a probation officer, in order to help other young people get their lives back on track.

Armonte shared his plans during his graduation speech and smiled with pride.

“So as you leave out those doors today,” he told his classmates. “Just remember: pain is temporary, but accomplishment is forever.”


Posted in Career Exploration, Career Preparation, Community Partnerships, Guideposts for Success, Juvenile Justice, Mentoring, Transition | Comments Off on Student Takes a Right Turn

Building on Success: Celebrating the Launch of the New Right Turn Program Sites

Headshot: Patricia GillBy Patricia D. Gill, Senior Program Associate, National Collaborative on Workforce & Disability for Youth at the Institute for Educational Leadership

Last December, NCWD/Youth’s host organization, the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL), was proud to announce the selection of four new sites across the country for its Right Turn Career-Focused Transition Initiative (Right Turn). The Right Turn program model uses an individualized, strengths-based approach to connect youth who are involved with, or at-risk of becoming involved with, the juvenile justice system to the career preparation, continued education, and additional wraparound services necessary for them to positively reconnect to their communities and obtain meaningful employment opportunities. The four new Right Turn sites are Lawrence Hall Youth Services in Chicago, IL; The Children’s Cabinet in Reno, NV; Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, NY; and Peckham, Inc. in Lansing, MI.

Today, as this second round of sites are enrolling youth, IEL wanted to provide a little more information about these new sites, share updates on the success of the first five Right Turn sites, and highlight some enhancements to the Right Turn model.

At the orientation meeting, the four new sites learned more from IEL about the foundations of Right Turn, including NCWD/Youth’s Guideposts for Success for Youth Involved in the Juvenile Corrections System and Individualized Learning Plan work, and the major components of the Right Turn model, including career-focused mentoring, workforce preparation, education and training, restorative justice service learning projects, and a full range of supports. In addition, each site had an opportunity to share the diversity of expertise they bring to the work. For example, Onondaga Community College will deploy its deep background in education and credentialing to help youth gain the qualifications they will need to work in high-demand industries. Lawrence Hall will bring its history as a child welfare agency dating back to the Civil War to inform its launch of Right Turn on Chicago’s South Side, where these types of services and supports are in high demand and short supply. Meanwhile, Peckham and The Children’s Cabinet will bring their extensive experience with comprehensive programs similar to the Right Turn model to hit the ground running and help other sites do the same. Site collaboration and cross-systems cooperation will be key to the success of these sites.

These new sites will also have the advantage of building on the success of the first five sites: Playa Vista Job Opportunities and Business Services (PV JOBS) in Los Angeles, California; Goodwill Industries of Houston in Houston, Texas; KentuckianaWorks, The Greater Louisville Workforce Investment Board in Louisville, Kentucky; Oasis Center, Transitions Program in Nashville, Tennessee; and Peckham, Inc in Lansing, Michigan (a returning site). During the first two years of Right Turn, these five sites enrolled 1019 youth, including 956 (94%) who were currently or previously involved with the juvenile justice system of which 659 were directly referred to the program by the juvenile justice system. Each youth worked with their case manager to develop an Individualized Career Development Plan (ICDP) which included a wide-range of services, supports, and opportunities to help youth reach their personal and career goals. Some of these services and opportunities included: work readiness training and life skills counseling (95%), leadership development activities (88%), career-focused mentoring (80%), job placement services (70%), academic counseling (69%), college-bound activities (62%), and restorative justice projects (54%). Right Turn’s holistic strengths-based and career-focused approach achieved impressive short-term outcomes in two years, including:

  • 82% of out-of-school participants ages 18 and above were placed in jobs, post-secondary education, or occupational training
  • 81% of youth ages 17 and below remained in school for 12 months or more
  • 67% of 17 year olds who were out of school at enrollment returned to school

In addition, the five initial sites are making great progress towards longer-term outcomes including:

  • 53% of youth ages 18 and above attained an industry-recognized credential
  • 50% youth ages 17 and below have received a high school diploma or GED so far
  • During quarterly follow-up, 84% of participants were still working or attending school.

In addition, at 12 months into the program only 10% of youth had recidivated, this is well below DOLETA’s 20% performance measure for this group where recidivism is often as high as 55%.

The new sites hope to mirror (or even exceed) the success of the original five sites. To help them do so, IEL has enhanced the Right Turn model in several key ways. First, as the job market continues to get more competitive and specialized, it becomes more important than ever that job-seekers have relevant experience and qualifications to match up with the jobs in their local labor market. Therefore, there will now be a greater emphasis on Right Turn youth acquiring credentials, certificates, or other documented qualifications relevant for the high-demand industries in their community, as well as gaining work experiences that lead to employment.

Second, as many advocates, organizations, and government agencies across the country are examining new strategies for reforming the criminal justice system, Right Turn sites will be required to have formal partnerships with their local juvenile justice system and non-profit legal services. Extensive research shows that diversion (an alternative to being charged, convicted, or incarcerated) leads to better outcomes for youth and their communities, all at a lower cost to the taxpayer. Therefore, sites will work with their local juvenile justice system to serve as an official diversion option for youth who are facing a pending charge. In addition, if a youth already has a conviction on her record, it is important to explore her legal options for expunging or sealing those records in order to give her a chance at a fresh start. Right Turn sites will now partner with local legal services nonprofits to explore expungement options for youth whenever possible.

As the initial sites continue to support over 1000 youth in remaining in school, retaining their job placements, and reaching those long-term outcomes critical to their personal and career success, IEL’s new sites are beginning to enroll youth. The second phase sites are busily recruiting mentors, identifying new legal services partners, establishing or strengthening relationships with every level of the local juvenile justice system, and working with the public workforce system and employers to identify the job training programs that will lead to in-demand credentials in the local market. There’s nothing more exciting for a site (new or old) than that first day a youth walks through the door and begins the youth-led, forward-looking process of making a “Right Turn” onto a path of education, employment, and success!

Related Resources:

Posted in Career Exploration, Career Preparation, Collaboration, Community Partnerships, Guideposts for Success, Individualized Learning Plan, Juvenile Justice, Mentoring, Transition | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Building on Success: Celebrating the Launch of the New Right Turn Program Sites

Purple Day for Epilepsy

Purple and Green Earth Reads "Supporting Epilepsy Around the World." Text to the side in purple reads "On March 26 wear PURPLE to support awareness of epilepsy worldwide. Visit

The following blog is by Erin Seiler, a youth leader with NCWD/Youth’s Youth Action Council on Transition (YouthACT) Team Seize Control. YouthACT is a national project for youth ages 12-25 geared toward getting more youth with disabilities involved as leaders in their communities. Team Seize Control’s supporting organization is the Epilepsy Foundation Eastern Pennsylvania (EFEPA)

There are many ways to explain Epilepsy. It’s a seizure disorder, a misfiring of the nerves, a thunderstorm inside your head. However, very few people actually look to see what’s behind the definition. Very few people dare to dig deeper than that four- or five-word sentence because behind that veil, lies more than 65 million faces and within each and every one of those faces lies a story of someone who struggles with Epilepsy. As one of those faces behind the veil, I would like to tell my story so that maybe, just maybe, one day that veil will be lifted for the whole world to see.

On a rainy afternoon, in the summer of 2002, a herd of six-year-olds surrounded an old television set in Goddard Day Care. Walking into the small room, one of the counselors turned off the lights as I sat down next to my friend, Rachel. This is the last thing I remember before waking up in a room of white walls on a hospital bed. My mom and dad were sitting in two small black chairs beside me. Overwhelmingly confused, I wanted to ask what had happened. Unfortunately, a tall man in a doctor’s lab coat entered the room before I ever got the chance. He asked my parents if he could talk to them privately in the hallway. As they walked away, I attempted to make out what they were saying, but it was no use. Peeking out from the corner of the latex scented wall, I watched my parents’ faces as the hope and curiosity slowly melted away. Sadness, confusion, nervousness, and dismay took its place.  This was a face I would become all too used to seeing. Later on, I would learn that I had had a seizure.

Purple ballons over a purple tinted beach with the word Aware on a bannerA seizure is much like an unexpected thunderstorm in the brain. Electrical signals are constantly firing throughout the brain in order to tell your body what to do. A seizure occurs when there is a misfiring or multiple misfirings of those signals within the brain. When people think of seizures, they often imagine someone on the floor with limbs flailing everywhere. This is called a tonic-clonic seizure, or more commonly known as a Grand mal. However, this is only one type of seizure. There are up to 40 different types of seizures that exist. A seizure can be different for each person. Losing consciousness happens often, but not all the time. A person can be somewhat aware or conscious while experiencing a seizure.  This can vary depending on the type of seizure someone is experiencing. In the United States, 1 in 10 people will have a seizure in their lifetime.

After a year had past, thoughts of that seizure had all but faded into oblivion. That is, until one morning, right before school. Thick purple covers engulfed me as I laid sound asleep. All of a sudden, I heard my mom’s voice frantically yelling out my name like a distress signal. Utterly confused, I woke up to ask her what was happening. It was as if I had given her a heart attack just from being in a deep sleep. When she called an ambulance, I thought she was being ridiculous! “I just overslept. I’m sorry!” I said. I quickly realized there was no changing her mind no matter what I said. Strapped to a gurney, they rushed me to the hospital, where I was diagnosed with Epilepsy.  What, from my memory, seemed like waking up from a deep sleep, was actually waking up from a tonic-clonic seizure.

Although I started having seizures much more frequently, I never quite got used to the intense look of fear in my parents’ eyes. I remember one night around midnight when my parents were leaning against my bed as if there was some kind of psychoanalysis going on that I didn’t know about. I was confused and it took me a moment to remember who they were, but I felt fine. Then, they asked me what my name was and for some reason it just wasn’t coming to me. I was starting to panic. They asked me my name and I couldn’t remember. My parents were screaming with worry “What is your name?!” and for the life of me, I couldn’t remember who I was.

What I was experiencing here was something called the postictal state. The postictal state is the altered state of consciousness someone experiences after they’ve had a seizure. The symptoms during postictal state vary heavily between each person. Sometimes there is a loss of a voice or a stroke-like mumbling. There could be feverish symptoms or vomiting. It could even be as simple as dizziness and exhaustion.

As the years went by, I was put on numerous medications and countless different doses, sometimes changing every week. I like to laugh at the fact that I can remember the side effects better than the names of the medications. Most kids are anxious to turn 16 or 18. I was excited to turn 12 and 15 because those are the ages my doctor told me I might grow out of Epilepsy.

There is currently no cure for Epilepsy. There are, however, medications that can attempt to keep seizures under control. If the first two medications are not successful, there is a decreased chance of that person’s seizures being controlled. Unfortunately, this is the case for much of the population. In fact, one-third of people with Epilepsy are drug-resistant to all treatments. Some kids grow out of Epilepsy, but, for the most part, it is lifelong.

When I was in junior high, to be honest, I didn’t really remember much. The one thing that does strike my memory, however, is a constant flow of teachers telling me to stop daydreaming. I would always get confused by that term because I never remembered having a dream. Figuring that the teacher was right, I just brushed it aside and attempted to get more sleep. However, as the months went by, the “daydreams” started to happen more frequently. I was starting to fall behind in school when a regular EEG appointment answered my questions. I was having a new kind of seizure called absence.

Absence seizures are lapses in consciousness that often occur with staring. Because they begin and end rather abruptly, they can go undetected for months. They are often mistaken for daydreaming. After an absence seizure, a person will most likely continue what they were doing before.

Purple background with white lettering reading "Everyone Wear Purple"Very few people contemplate the topic of discrimination related to disability. I will never forget the first time my dad told my friends’ parents I had Epilepsy. Their faces were completely frozen. Gradually, as word spread around, I was getting invited to less and less parties and sleepovers.

People are afraid of what they don’t know or rather what they think they know. There is an endless list of myths about Epilepsy. Some common myths are that Epilepsy is contagious or people swallow their tongues while seizing.  Epilepsy is the 4th most common neurological disorder and yet, somehow, I believe it is one of the most feared and unknown. It can affect any age, race, gender, or economic status. 150,000 people are diagnosed with Epilepsy each year. Sixty percent of Epilepsy cases have no known cause.

Erin and a group of friends all wearing purpleSo, here I am, six years later, a sophomore in college, writing a piece about a disability called Epilepsy that is hidden behind a veil of ignorance and fear. More than 65 million people worldwide live with this incurable and often misunderstood disability. Through education and awareness, this veil can be eliminated. On March 26th, the world will celebrate Purple Day, a worldwide awareness day for Epilepsy. So, show your support, spread the word, wear purple, and upload a picture using this hashtag #epilepsyawareness.

Related Resources: 

Also take a look at the YouthACT co-written publications:

Learn more about YouthACT  and check out some of other blogs written by current YouthACT participants and alumni:


Posted in Accommodations, Advocacy, Disclosure, Education, Guideposts for Success, Health, Inclusion, Self Advocacy, Self Determination, Youth Development, Youth Leadership | Comments Off on Purple Day for Epilepsy

Health Care and Community College: An Often Overlooked Need


The following blog post is by Kathryn Nichols, an intern with the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth (NCWD/Youth) at the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL).

While they may not realize it, the structure of high school provides students with access to physical health services. There is a school nurse who is available if students are starting to not feel well. Students are required to turn in immunization records which encourages regular health maintenance at least at its minimum levels. Teachers see students every day which gives them the opportunity to take notice when something seems a little out of the ordinary for one of their students and then check in with them to make sure they are feeling well.

When transitioning to college, students are often responsible for their own health care for the first time. Many times students are not prepared to transition to health care independence successfully. While it is well-known that community colleges often need to provide extra academic supports to their students in order assist them in successfully transitioning, community colleges also enroll young people who are more likely to be uninsured and the supports that they need are often overlooked. Health concerns among students can add more stress to what may already be a stressful situation as they are transitioning to independence at adulthood. A student may not know where to go to get care and how she will pay for it if she does go somewhere. 69% of students who dropped out of college before completing their program said that health insurance would have helped them “a lot” to be able to complete. If a health issue or illness causes a student to miss class multiple times, it may be very hard for him or her to catch up on coursework. A student who is sick, in pain, or who is in a constant state of worry over how he will pay for his next prescription cannot be expected to be able to focus on coursework and succeed. This student may decide that he needs to work more in order to pay medical bills or to drop out of college in order to cut back on expenses.

Not all community colleges have the resources to provide their students with a student health insurance plan and a student health clinic, but colleges can connect students to the resources that are available to them and the organizations that can help them. Some community colleges have partnered with organizations such as Enroll America in order to not only make information on health care enrollment available but also to hold events for the college and the surrounding community to become informed and get assistance in enrolling. Coastline Community College in California has partnered with a local health care agency to provide primary and urgent care to its students. Students pay a health fee at enrollment and then are provided with access to a wide range of services through Memorial Prompt Care. By providing information to their students and making these connections, colleges can help to ensure that their students’ health needs are being met and that students are not leaving college due to health concerns that could have been addressed and treated.

Related Resources:


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Point, Process, Product: Developing Resources with Youth

Headshot: Jennifer Thomas

By Jennifer Thomas, Youth Development Specialist at the Institute for Educational Leadership’s Center for Workforce Development

The National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth’s (NCWD/Youth) Youth Action Council on Transition (YouthACT) recently published By Youth, For Youth: Employment, YouthACT’s third resource designed to aid youth in transition. It was important to NCWD/Youth that the youth and their adult partners on the council worked in partnership while also ensuring youth voice was at the forefront. In order to complete the brief with these important values in mind, we had to consider supports the youth might need and assist all YouthACT participants in identifying clear steps and strategies when working together. Clarifying the purpose, identifying the process, and discussing the product were key elements in pulling off the completion of the By Youth, For Youth: Employment InfoBrief.


It was important that YouthACT participants knew the purpose of the brief. NCWD/Youth informed the council that we needed their help in developing resources for youth when making decisions about their transitions to adulthood. We also made sure they were aware we wanted to create a document for all youth, including youth with disabilities and other disconnected youth (youth in the juvenile justice system, foster care system, out-of-school youth, etc.). We asked the teams to help us come up with documents that they would want to share with other youth and to be willing to share this brief with their peer networks. Having a clear purpose also helped the youth and adults reflect on their own experiences, enabling them to share their perspectives more openly. This helped individuals think about the supports they would need and staff think about how to create a safe space, especially for the youth.



In order to begin developing By Youth, For Youth: Employment, it was important to help YouthACT figure out a topic to cover, so we had brainstorming sessions via teleconference. The youth and adults were encouraged to freely list the topics. Then, we helped YouthACT narrow down the possibilities. Afterwards, we worked with YouthACT to develop an outline to identify the main points to cover. It was important that we mention creative jobs for one youth and finding your dream job for another. Next, we asked individuals to select parts to write, encouraging them to work in pairs or in groups if they preferred. Additionally, we took this time to make them aware that the document they were creating would be edited and may not look exactly the same once finalized. We helped the council set due dates for their parts. During the point in the process where council members were writing, reminders were sent regularly and some youth were provided assistance fleshing out their thoughts. Council members were then given the opportunity to review the final document and suggest any edits.



We followed up with YouthACT to get their input on the design of the brief. “How do you want the information arranged?” and “Should this brief be a tool youth can actually use or write/type in?” were among the many questions asked. “There should be pictures of youth working different jobs,” was one response. Participants wanted youth using the brief to have additional resources and to be able to note when they completed important steps. They also felt very strongly that youth’s experiences should be incorporated. As a result, in each section, there are tips and information, a checklist, URLs to additional resources, and a quote from a youth involved in YouthACT. There are also pictures of youth in various employment settings.

If you are going to incorporate youth-adult partnership and/or true youth voice when developing resources, know that it may take more work, but it is so worth it! Clarifying the purpose, identifying the process, and discussing what the product should be will definitely encourage youth to engage in resource development. Supports may be needed and parameters (i.e., expectations of all involved) need to be introduced as soon as possible. Discussions among the group are also really helpful. So go ahead: create a safe space and get your hands dirty creating resources with youth!

Check out the final product: By Youth, For Youth: Employment and take a look at the other YouthACT co-written publications: Guiding Your Success and Hitting The Open Road After High School: How to Choose Your Own Adventure to Success!

Learn more about YouthACT and check out some of other blogs written by current YouthACT participants and alumni:

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National Mentoring Month 2016 – In Real Life  

Headshot: Elijah Fagan-SolisBy Elijah Fagan-Solis, RAMP Program Coordinator in Albany, NY

In celebration of National Mentoring Month 2016, YOUTH POWER’s Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program (RAMP) site in Albany, NY wanted to share a personal, ‘in real life’ story that shows the power of mentoring in youth’s lives. The story highlights interview questions asked separately by Mentoring Coordinator Elijah Fagan Solis, with mentor Christina Narkon and mentee Alexander Hamm on their mentoring relationship. Christina, who recently moved out of the area, is a young professional who formerly worked with the New York State Senate Republican Campaign Committee. Her mentee, Alexander, is now a senior attending night school within the Albany City School District. RAMP is a program of the Institute for Educational Leadership based on NCWD/Youth foundational materials like the Guideposts for Success and Paving the Way to Work: A Guide to Career-Focused Mentoring for Youth with Disabilities

How did you both get involved in RAMP?

AH – Daphnne (Brown, Families Together in New York State’s Director of Family Involvement and Outreach) introduced me to RAMP when I was 13 years old. She gave me the opportunity to get extra work done for school.

CN – I got involved in RAMP during my undergraduate career. I had been working in an elementary school and I was helping to run a youth ministry program, so a friend (who was a mentor at the time) suggested I look into RAMP!


Alexander, with RAMP being career-focused, what career are you interested in?

AH – I’m interested in going to a law school and focus on criminal law. I also have thought about being a veterinarian.

Alex and Christina smiling with Marine Corps Devil Dog Mascot. "In real life" written across the bottom of the photo in gray. Do you two remember the first time you met?

AH – I remember when I first met Christina she was really big on teaching me manners.

CN – I will never forget the first time I met Alexander! I was brand new to the program, and as soon as I walked in he briefly paused from chatting with everyone to point at me and declare that I would be his mentor.


How has your relationship changed since that first day?

AH – Since we first met, our relationship has grown to be stronger. I feel as if I could ask Christina for advice if I need it.

CN – My relationship with Alexander has surely grown over the past few years. We first bonded over his search for a job. We built his resume together and I went with him to apply at various establishments. Now, I visit him at his place (or places!) of work. We discuss more in-depth issues now, as well. Just last month, I showed Alexander how to register to vote and we discussed politics, our civic duties, and various things that showed up on the Albany City ballot this past November. It is so interesting watching Alex grow from a student at Albany High to an adult who has intelligent and informed opinions about his community and how it can be better run.


What do you talk about or do when you are together?

AH – When we are together we talk about how I can better myself and better ways for me to budget my money. Last time we were together we talked about Republicans and Democrats and voting; I am now a registered voter.

CN – We talk about tons of things! We discuss everything from current events, to social media etiquette, to Alexander’s short-term and long-term goals in regards to his education, career, finances, and more


What goals have you been able to accomplish together as mentor and mentee?

AH – One goal me and her have worked on together would be treating people with respect and having manners. She told me being rude wouldn’t get me far with job opportunities and other things in life. With school, she told me I could argue with as many teachers as I want but it’s not going to change the fact that I have to graduate at the end of the year. Christina also helped me with dressing for an interview, and even brought me to places so I could apply for jobs. Her tips with interview clothing and manners helped me to get the job I have today.

CN – The first thing Alexander told me (and he told me over and over) was that he wanted- no, NEEDED- a job. Within a few weeks of meeting, we built his resume and started searching for jobs for him. He has since held a variety of jobs including managerial positions!


Do you approach life and school differently since Christina has been your mentor?

AH – Yes! It all falls back on the arguing with people, like a boss at work or teacher at school. No matter how I feel about them, I still need to do what I need to do and I can’t let anyone bring me down. Also, because of Christina, I now take notes at school and go home and study them, which I never did before.


Christina, how has mentoring Alexander changed your life? Has he taught you anything?

CN – Had I never been Alexander’s mentor, I would surely be a different person. He has taught me so much about how I approach life. I have never known Alexander to be pessimistic; he is a go-getter, and brings humor and an energetic dynamic to every situation. I try to hold this same approach now.


Tell us about one of your favorite memories together.

AH – One of my favorite memories is doing the Coca-Cola and Mentos experiment with her. I thought it was funny trying to get the Mentos into the bottle and the different solutions that we tried but didn’t work – it just brought our bond closer. Also, when we went to go pick up the application for Wendy’s, she helped me answer questions I wouldn’t have known and let me put her down as a reference. It meant a lot to me.

CN – I can’t pick just one favorite memory! I think my favorite memory has been getting coffee with Alexander and showing him how to register to vote. So many young people don’t even care about this important civic duty. It was amazing discussing this process with him! I think he might be more into politics than I am!


What has been most beneficial to you by having Christina as a mentor?

AH – Most beneficial? Woo! Oh man… Being able to put her down as a reference for a job, being able to say I’ve known her for about 3 years and have someone who could say I was a hard worker helps. Also, she helped me get to RAMP when I needed. Helping me get through school, my homework, talking me out of and diffusing situations that were hard like getting suspended and, helping me find alternates to stay out of trouble.


Christina, what do you like about being a mentor?

CN – Being a mentor has given me an opportunity to guide someone not much younger than me on the very tumultuous journey called life. I am so grateful that I get to be someone in Alexander’s corner. Every time he has told me that I taught him something, or I helped him achieve something, I get a sense of happiness that cannot be obtained elsewhere!


Do you plan to continue your relationship even though you both are now states away?

AH – I hate the fact that she is states away! Nothing will change our relationship though. I plan to stay in contact with her and I know I can contact her whenever I need her. When I graduate, I hope to invite her to my graduation.

CN – Since I just relocated quite a few states away, my main goal is to keep in touch with Alex. Most importantly, I want him to continue to know that I will always have his back and that I will always be available to give him guidance. In my opinion, distance shouldn’t and will not affect mentorship!


Do you have any big plans for the future?

AH – I look forward to graduating high school, going to college and law school, and pursing my law dreams.

CN – My plan here in Georgia is to actually make working with youths like Alex a full time career! Until then, I have recently taken a position as a Lead Teacher, allowing me to educate while mentoring less experienced teachers. My experience as a mentor is something I tap into daily, if not hourly, as I train and guide other teachers. There is a powerful mentoring effect demonstrated by research and the experiences of young people, just like Alexander, who are connected to a mentor. Mentoring is linked to improved academic, social, and economic prospects for people, and ultimately strengthens our community. Personally, it has been a joy to watch Alexander grow up physically, socially, emotionally, and mentally before my very eyes as he continues to strive towards his career aspirations and reach goal after goal after goal. He has been steadily employed for over a year, most times at two locations, has made thoughtful decisions when it comes to his friends and social life, all while completing his high school education by attending night school, a decision he made to stay out of trouble and focus on his course work. His story is why I do what I do as a Mentoring Coordinator. I couldn’t be more proud and plan to be cheering him on at his graduation.


Related Resources

Posted in Advocacy, Career Exploration, Career Preparation, Communicating with Youth, Community Partnerships, Events, Mentoring, Youth Development, Youth Employment, Youth Leadership | Tagged , | Comments Off on National Mentoring Month 2016 – In Real Life