Change Maker: Youth Think Tank


The Problem

5.5 million U.S. youth ages 16-24 are not in school or working according to Opportunity Nation.

Who Are They?

There is no typical profile. Many have dropped out of high school (estimated number of high school drop-outs is 1 million). Often they are justice involved. Some are foster kids who “aged out” of the system (aged 18 or over). Others are teen parents who quit school.

Every racial group is represented among these disconnected youth who desperately need an opportunity to work or to finish their education and become re-engaged with society.

What Is Being Done

Henry Street Settlement recruits disengaged youth through its Young Adult Internship Program. This 14-week program, tailored to 18-24 year olds, connects these youth to jobs and education. The program serves 3 cohorts of 35 youth annually. By the end of the program, most are employed and enrolled in a GED course by the end of the program.

But finding and recruiting youth is difficult. These young people often live on the margins of society, where their access to employment networks and social capital is limited. Henry Street wants to help them, but first they have to find them.

So new strategies are being developed. In partnership with the NYC Department of Education’s Career & Technical Education arm, Greg Rideout, Henry Street’s Deputy Program Officer for Education and Employment Services, received assistance with recruitment efforts from the best minds in the business, other youth.

Greg was selected to be a Project Mentor for students at the Academy for Software Engineering, a new Career and Technical Education (CTE) school in an innovative Youth Think Tank program. His cohort of students was given a real-world problem: How do you connect disengaged youth in NYC with Henry Street’s program?

Change-Maker: Youth Think Tank Program

Students in Greg’s program were challenged to use technology to solve the problem. The premise was that most disengaged youth have access to smartphone technology, even if they do not own a home computer. The ASE students designed an app that works like a dating service. Smartphone users create a profile with their information and preferences for employment. The app matches their preferences with employers looking for people like them.

What ASE students knew, from their own experience, was that employers are reluctant to hire 18-24 year olds because of their lack of experience. This can be discouraging for applicants. But the app gave the job seekers a sense of control over the process. They could see the employers that were hiring and learn more about them if they were interested.

The app also gave the smartphone users an opportunity to create a resume using a pre-loaded template. This facilitates sending resumes and updating resumes with new email addresses or personal information. It makes getting a job that much easier.

In late August, the ASE students demoed their ideas for Greg. They are currently in the process of building storyboards to prepare for beta testing their app idea.


From your perspective, what is the largest contributor to disengaged youth?

Greg: I think many youth struggle to find a secondary education program that suits their needs and also struggle to prioritize their education with many other demands in what are often very tumultuous personal lives.

The educational programs you lead at Henry Street Settlement emphasize both social and emotional development as part of a holistic way of educating children. What is gained by educating children through this lens?

Greg: It develops key soft skills and character traits that tend to insure greater success both in educational programs and the world of work, including interpersonal skills, grit, determination, persistence, and the ability to ask for help.

When you were approached to be a Project Mentor for the Youth Think Tank program, what were your first thoughts?

Greg: This would the perfect opportunity to advance an idea about an app that would increase Henry Street youth program accessibility that has been stalled for more than a year now.

What would you say to an employer who expressed reluctance in hiring an 18-24 year old?

Greg:  Don’t let age fool you.  They bring energy and a perspective that will undoubtedly be a value add, regardless of your industry.

What did the kids in the Youth Think Tank program teach you?

Greg:  They reminded me, more than taught me, of the importance of a youth voice in youth programming, from the slogans they created, to the use of swiping left and right to indicate the like or dislike of a certain employer or sector featured on the app, to overcoming the issue of where a youth should save their resume for future use.

What role do you think technology will play in the future as far as connecting disengaged youth to employers?

Greg: In this day and age, technology will undoubtedly factor in to this connection, as young people use smart phone technology to connect to all people, places, and things in their lives.