Creating Opportunity: Working Together to Build an Inclusive Workforce

In our last blog post, we identified the skills gap that contributes to America’s double digit youth unemployment rate. We also saw how grantee partner LeadersUp is closing the skills gap and connecting opportunity youth with career pathways. However, addressing skills alone cannot solve the workforce inequities we see today. While the Nation’s unemployment rate has improved, recent data shows that the unemployment rate for African American youth under the age of 20 is significantly higher than their white counterparts. Therefore, we believe a focus on racial equity must be part of the solution as well.

Monique“By addressing racial justice, we’re creating a more fair, just and inclusive economy.”
Monique Miles
Director — Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund
Deputy Director — Aspen Forum for Community Solutions

In less than 30 years, the demographics of our country are expected to shift. For the first time in our nation’s history, people of color will make up more than 50 percent of the U.S. population. This unprecedented change will coincide with the retirement of millions of baby boomers, most of which are white. This “graying of America”[1] will result in more employment opportunities available to an increasingly diverse next generation of workers. However, to make progress on reducing workforce inequity, we must ensure these opportunities are equally accessible to people of color.

For too long, these opportunities have not been equally accessible. Some groups, particularly young men of color, face additional barriers to entering the workforce. They are disproportionately affected by unjust systems that, we believe, harm more than help. These young men are at a higher risk of dropping out of high school, being involved with the criminal justice system and, ultimately, unemployment.

Thaddeus“If we don’t address systemic inequities and ensure all youth are ready to work, we’ll never be economically or culturally competitive with the rest of the world.”
Thaddeus Ferber
Vice President of Policy Advocacy — Forum for Youth Investment

We are committed to creating a more equitable society. A focus on equity not only aligns with our values, but we believe also creates a more competitive economy. Data from the National Equity Atlas shows us that a racially inclusive economy can lead to substantial GDP growth—more than $2 trillion per year. So it is important for us to support organizations like the Forum for Youth Investment and Jobs for the Future, which are working both individually and with others to create inclusive, fair and sustainable workforce solutions. Both are key contributors to the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions, a cross-sector collaboration of nonprofits, businesses, philanthropy and government agencies that have come together to address the Nation’s biggest challenges—such as creating racial equity in the workforce and expanding career pathways for young men of color.

jff“We must work aggressively to change trajectories for people of color who have not had access to the opportunities they need to build wealth and advance in our economy.”
Mamadou Ndiaye
Associate Director — Jobs for the Future

The following examples highlight how they partner with the Aspen Forum to address some of these barriers in the workforce.

Opportunity Works
Led by Jobs for the Future (JFF), in collaboration with the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions, the Opportunity Works initiative aims to connect opportunity youth of color with career and education pathways through partnerships with local organizations across the country. Using JFF’s Back on Track framework, these organizations convene a cross-sector collaborative in their communities to improve outcomes for young people—with special attention paid to those who are homeless, and in or transitioning from the foster care and/or juvenile justice system. Opportunity Works is funded through a federal Social Innovation Fund award with generous match funding from the Andrus Family Fund and other foundations.

In San Francisco, the Road Map to Peace collaborative uses Back on Track to work with gang-involved/violence-exposed youth and help them not only achieve their secondary credential, but also transition into community-based training programs that lead to additional credentials with value in the local labor market. In New Orleans, JFF’s framework helps the EMPLOY collaborative ensure that youth of color participating in “learn and earn” programs are trained to successfully meet local industry demands and sustain themselves and their families through high-growth careers.

Opportunity Youth Network
The Opportunity Youth Network (OYN) brings together national non-profits, businesses, philanthropy, and government—along with young leaders—to align efforts to achieve the collective goal of reengaging one million young people who are out of work and out of school. As co-host of OYN, the Forum for Youth Investment works to align efforts inside and outside of government to improve polices and increase funding for opportunity youth.

Additionally, the Forum fosters collaboration between initiatives focused on opportunity youth as wells as boys and young men of color through the Opportunity Youth/Boys and Men of Color Alignment Strategy Group. Since the work that impacts both populations is often one in the same, the group’s main goal is to align national and local efforts to improve outcomes for youth. They do this by mapping opportunity youth and boys and men of color initiatives across the country and identifying opportunities for cross-collaboration between organizations. They have also established “rules of engagement” for national initiatives, which are informed by local leaders who serve vulnerable populations.

We know that there is still very much to do to create opportunities that are available and accessible to all young people. We are excited by the work of these partners and we look forward to seeing their collective impact translate into opportunity for millions of youth.

Thank you for reading our Creating Opportunity blog series. Please feel free to share on social media. Check back soon for new content by the Andrus Family Fund.


[1] The “graying of America” refers to the growth of the Nation’s older population (ages 65 and older). According to a 2014 U.S. Census report, by 2050 this group will make up more than one fifth of the entire U.S. population. This projected figure is more than double what it is currently.

Healing, Hope and Care: Models for Transforming the Lives of Vulnerable Youth, Part II

The Andrus Family Fund recognizes the role that healing, hope and care play in developing young people as well as fostering strong, vibrant communities. exalt and RYSE are good models of how this approach is being used to transform the lives of vulnerable youth.

“Because of past trauma, some of these young people are on survival mode. We emphasize the need to build students’ self confidence, focusing on their strengths. All young people have the right to thrive and explore their passions. That’s why we focus on helping them build their best possible self, healing along the way.”
Danielle Brown Fuller,
exalt Executive Director

exalt is based in Brooklyn, New York and works directly with court-involved youth. By reaching youth at a critical crossroads, exalt inspires lasting behavioral change by teaching youth to believe in their self-worth. exalt empowers their youth by developing life skills—such as how to communicate in the workplace—needed to avoid recidivism and reach their personal and professional goals. exalt’s program is responsive to the needs of young people, supports those who are motivated to change and acknowledges the barriers they face—all within a nurturing environment.

Unlike other programs, participation in exalt is completely voluntary. They believe the non-compulsory nature of their program is the reason why it is so well received by youth. Even before students are accepted into the program, exalt staff will meet with them to gauge their commitment to the program and themselves. This screening process is meant to put students at ease and motivated to change their behavior even before they set foot in a classroom.

While classes meet after school, the lessons taught at exalt cannot be found inside a traditional classroom. exalt’s core curriculum is designed to help students develop four core skills: critical thinking, creative problem solving, communication and resource management. These lessons resonate with students because they are taught within real-life situations they can relate to and connect to their lived experience. Additionally, exalt tackles the injustices stacked against their students head-on—educating them on the school-to-prison pipeline and the systemic injustices that feed it. By helping students understand these connections and realize their potential, exalt is actually counteracting the pipeline for its students.

“exalt brings out the confidence in you; it gets you to try to better yourself so that you can grow to be who you want to be in life.”
Imanii, exalt youth

Putting students on a path to employment is another important aspect of the program. Through partnerships with employers across a variety of industries, students obtain paid internships. Some students have completed internships at organizations—such as the Innocence Project and Criminal Justice Initiative—that are reforming the very criminal justice system they are a part of. Many times, this is the first job a student has had. For some, these internships have led to additional internships and permanent jobs.

Even after youth graduate from the program, exalt continues to work with students through its open door policy and alumni networking events (i.e. educational support, career exploration, college enrollment, alumni internship, etc.) that support their continuous well-being.

We are excited to be working in collaboration and supporting exalt as they raise awareness about their innovative approach to youth development, build their capacity to share promising practices and expand internship opportunities for students and alumni.

On the West Coast, another grantee partner is using its own integrated approach to transform vulnerable youth.

“At this center, youth are actually telling us what they need and we’re making it happen.”
Kimberly Aceves, RYSE Executive Director

RYSE is a youth center in Richmond, California built on the principles of social justice, youth organizing and community transformation. The center’s current response to this trifecta is a burgeoning Youth Justice program called the Restorative Options and Reentry Project (ROAR). They take a trauma-informed approach to youth development that aims to curtail involvement in the juvenile system, provide reentry supports, increase educational and employment opportunities. This model incorporates four core initiatives:

Intervention – Youth touched by the justice system can participate in an integrated 8-week program. Upon completion of the program, youth may have their arrest charges dropped and record removed.

Reentry Programming – For young people that have spent time within a facility, ROAR provides holistic reentry support, which includes individualized plans to fit the needs of each young person.

Hospital-linked Violence Intervention – In order to interrupt cycles of community violence RYSE engages young people that have been harmed by crime at their bedside. More than just a hospital visit this includes assistance with medical follow up, victims of crime compensation application, navigation with and between legal, medical, educational, and other systems, and aid in securing material and well being needs.

Career Development – With a focus on helping young people dream their own futures ROAR focuses on the booming technology industry in the Bay Area. They arm participants with skills they needed to become part of the technology sector.

By providing stabilization, recovery and healing, ROAR believes that it can transform the lives of young people and the communities they come from. We are proud to partner and learn from their model.

In the final installment of our first Healing, Hope and Care blog series, we will see how grantee partner The Reset Foundation is using trauma informed interventions as an alternative to incarceration.


Katrina is an experienced and respected leader with more than 15 years of experience working on a national and regional level. She has worked in the non-profit and philanthropic sector, including serving as AFF’s Program Officer. Currently, Katrina is testing how partnerships between philanthropy and government can work on behalf of our most vulnerable youth and their families as the Director of Strategic Partnerships at the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services. Connect with Katrina on Linkedin.

Healing, Hope and Care: Models for Transforming the Lives of Vulnerable Youth

Children and youth do not grow up in programs and services; they are nurtured in healthy, vibrant communities. However, in order for them to thrive, it is critical for programs that serve our most vulnerable youth to understand and recognize that young people have experienced all types of trauma—directly or indirectly—from the physical of effects child abuse and neglect to the psychological damage of abject poverty to the long lasting impact of mass incarceration in their neighborhoods. For older youth, the mental scars that these types of trauma leave behind require a model that has healing, hope and care as the focal point of the approach.

From a clinical perspective, this approach is widely known as Trauma Informed Care and is usually applied to child serving systems such as child welfare and juvenile justice. However, Dr. Shawn Ginwright, Associate Professor of Education and Africana Studies at San Francisco State University gives us an alternative way of thinking about the power that this model can have on young people. He describes healing as the process of restoring health and well being to individuals and communities. He emphasizes that this kind of healing for young people can foster a collective optimism and a transformation of spirit that, over time, contributes to healthy, vibrant community life. [1]

The Andrus Family Fund recognizes the role that healing, hope and care play in developing young people as well as fostering strong, vibrant communities. AFF recently supported like-minded organizations that:

  • Meet young people where they are and ensure that the environment that they are in is safe, collaborative and utilizes culturally appropriate practices.
  • Utilize a positive youth development approach and build on the strengths and resiliency of young people and their communities.
  • Implement programmatic practices that do not re-traumatize young people.
  • Train and hire staff that understands, recognizes and can respond to trauma.
  • Have trauma informed principles and practices as a core to the development and implementation of their programs and services.


Common Justice
is a grantee partner that shows us how this approach can be used to transform the lives of vulnerable youth.

“Ending cycles of violence requires attending to all victims’ pain.”
– Danielle Sered, Director of Common Justice

Common Justice has an unique approach to working with our most vulnerable youth. By working directly with both the young people who commit violent felonies and their victims, they are able to address the issues that caused the crime to happen in the first place as well as create a safe space where all parties can heal and move past this trauma together.

Common Justice provides an alternative to incarceration while still holding young people accountable for their actions. Through compliance with an intensive 15-month violence intervention program as well as “payback” in the forms of community service, financial restitution and/or school/work commitments, they avoid serving time behind bars.

Additionally, Common Justice provides young men of color—who are 10.5 times more likely to be robbed or assaulted—the support services they need. Traditional victims’ services do not often recognize this reality; Common Justice does. They do this by acknowledging their trauma, humanizing their suffering and responding with cultural- and age-appropriate options not offered by the traditional criminal justice system. By engaging with young people in this way, Common Justice gives those harmed by crime a greater sense of closure and healing.

We applaud Common Justice for their work with young men of color, generating alternatives to incarceration that actually foster safer communities and continuing to be an innovator of transformative impact.

In Part 2 of our Healing, Hope and Care blog series, we look at how grantee partners exalt and The Reset Foundation use trauma informed interventions to approach their work.

[1] Ginwright, Shawn. “Hope, Healing, and Care Pushing the Boundaries of Civic Engagement for African American Youth”. Liberal Education. Spring 2011.


Katrina is an experienced and respected leader with more than 15 years of experience working on a national and regional level. She has worked in the non-profit and philanthropic sector, including serving as AFF’s Program Officer. Currently, Katrina is testing how partnerships between philanthropy and government can work on behalf of our most vulnerable youth and their families as the Director of Strategic Partnerships at the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services. Connect with Katrina on Linkedin.

A New Year’s Reflection on Ferguson and Staten Island

As we paused this week to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his incredible legacy, we also paused to consider all of the work that still needs to be done. Fifty years ago, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into Law. Half a century later, we know the importance of this act and how it helped define so many of the gains for communities across the United States. The Civil Rights Act helped define our collective national identity. And yet, as we said goodbye to 2014, we were forced to look at the structural inequity that continues to define the lives of whole communities. We were made to see over and over again how this work of civil and human rights continues to need our diligence and commitment. We see that we are from the Beloved Community that Dr. King so beautifully spoke of time and again.

As AFF digs deeper into our new program areas, we see this work as part of our mission and vision for a more just society. Earlier this month, Phil Henderson, President of the Surdna Foundation and I co-authored the following letter to inform our communities of our personal and institutional commitments to equity and social justice in our grantmaking and continued engagement with our grantees.


The holiday season—from Christmas through the first few days of a new year—is a time when many of us pause, visit loved ones, recharge and reflect. As we turn with hope and optimism toward the year ahead we must not forget the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York. Nor must we forget that there are whole communities in the United States that are not always protected by our laws. Our justice system has profoundly and systematically failed them, depriving them of a fair shot at success.

The Surdna Foundation and the Andrus Family Fund are saddened by these deaths and others like them that are avoidable. We care about and advocate for just and sustainable communities. We care about the well-being of communities touched by our work as well as people in communities we may never know. And we care about the men and women in uniform, like New York City Police Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, who are called to protect our communities and all too often killed in the line of duty. Because, we know that all of our futures are inextricably linked.

However, we know that caring is not always enough. We stand in solidarity with organizations advocating for reforms to the juvenile and adult justice system, and underscore their efforts to remind Americans that some of the most revered institutions in our democracy are unfairly impacting the life experiences and opportunities of people of color.

Through the work of the Andrus Family Fund (AFF), an independent grantmaker launched in 1999 by the Surdna Foundation, for example, we are challenging the “school-to-prison pipeline,” wherein a disproportionate percentage of young people of color are isolated, punished and pushed out of public schools and into the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems.

We believe everybody deserves more than one chance at a successful life, so AFF’s work helps to ensure that young people, including those in or aging-out of the foster care system, or impacted by juvenile justice systems, have another opportunity for a positive future.

Working with partners like the Executives’ Alliance to Expand Opportunities for Boys and Men of Color, a collaboration of foundations focused on changing conditions for young people of color, AFF is helping to create a pathway to a more stable and sustainable life. Partnerships like this and many others are connecting young people to the caring communities, proven services and vital skills that they so sorely missed earlier in life.

We believe that reform of the juvenile justice system is imperative, but that the enormity and complexity of the challenges highlighted by the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner demand that we work on multiple fronts. To address a series of interrelated and systemic challenges, Surdna and the Andrus Family Fund are working each day in partnerships with many outstanding organizations and inspiring leaders toward fostering just and sustainable communities in which people participate in creating their own futures. And, where they have essentials upon which to build those futures, including access to quality jobs, a working infrastructure including reliable transportation, a healthy environment, opportunities for creative expression and cultural nourishment.

We strive toward a more equitable society, and to get there, understand that we must pursue social justice in all that we do.

Phillip Henderson
President, Surdna Foundation

Leticia Peguero
Executive Director, Andrus Family Fund