LEAP Fellows Continue Focus on Youth Engagement and Leadership

Posted September 27, 2021, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

A multiracial group of young people form a circle, each putting a hand in the middle--one on top of the other.

The Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion recent­ly select­ed its sec­ond cohort of young-adult fel­lows who will sup­port Learn and Earn to Achieve Poten­tial (LEAP)™, a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar ini­tia­tive to boost employ­ment and edu­ca­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ties for young peo­ple ages 14 to 25 who are home­less, in fos­ter care or have been involved in the crim­i­nal jus­tice system.

In the com­ing year, the eight new­ly select­ed fel­lows will work with their local LEAP part­ner­ships, Casey staff and oth­er youth-serv­ing orga­ni­za­tions — includ­ing the Nation­al Youth Employ­ment Coali­tion and Oppor­tu­ni­ty Youth Unit­ed — to:

  • gal­va­nize oth­er young peo­ple to shape and par­tic­i­pate in pro­gram­ming focused on civic engage­ment and youth leadership;
  • cre­ate strate­gies that will enable LEAP to bet­ter serve young peo­ple, by offer­ing new ideas to help cul­ti­vate skills for the work­place and beyond; and
  • sup­port new and exist­ing ways for young peo­ple to become lead­ers in their communities.

The LEAP Youth Fel­low­ship builds on ongo­ing youth lead­er­ship work at each of the nine LEAP part­ner­ships, where par­tic­i­pants across the coun­try have sup­port­ed and pro­mot­ed local pro­grams. The first group of fel­lows, for exam­ple, were inte­gral in a par­tic­i­pa­to­ry research process with MDRC to eval­u­ate the LEAP ini­tia­tive. They helped devel­op the inter­view guide, shar­ing impor­tant per­spec­tives about racial jus­tice and the effects of the pan­dem­ic on youth; ana­lyzed data; and used the find­ings to shape lessons and rec­om­men­da­tions about sup­port­ing per­sis­tence and engage­ment in edu­ca­tion­al and career pathways. 

If I could use one word to describe my expe­ri­ence as a LEAP fel­low, it would be enrich­ing’,” says Prince Rig­gins, a mem­ber of the first fel­low­ship cohort. The [pro­gram] gave us space and moti­va­tion to take care of our­selves dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, while also striv­ing to meet our per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al goals. It was a chance to net­work with oth­ers who are also dri­ven towards improv­ing their com­mu­ni­ties and sup­port­ing a bet­ter qual­i­ty of life for youth and young adults, espe­cial­ly youth and young adults of color.”

The sec­ond cohort of fel­lows were select­ed based on their expe­ri­ence with com­mu­ni­ty ser­vice and peer engage­ment, as well as their desire to build lead­er­ship oppor­tu­ni­ties for young peo­ple in their com­mu­ni­ties. Par­tic­i­pants will receive train­ing in lead­er­ship skills and have oppor­tu­ni­ties to net­work with civic lead­ers and youth advo­cates across the country.

The Casey Foun­da­tion rec­og­nizes that young peo­ple are the experts in their own lives and should be ful­ly engaged in deci­sion-mak­ing that affects them,” says Dina Emam, a pro­gram asso­ciate with the Casey Foun­da­tion’s Cen­ter for Eco­nom­ic Oppor­tu­ni­ty. Our youth lead­er­ship oppor­tu­ni­ties build on the lessons of our Jim Casey Youth Oppor­tu­ni­ties Ini­tia­tive® and what we’ve learned about the impor­tance of authen­tic youth engage­ment as a strat­e­gy for pro­mot­ing equi­ty and inclusion.” 

The 2021 fel­lows are:

  • Tiffani Melia, Port­land, Maine;
  • Jaime Jimenez, Chu­la Vista, Calif.;
  • Tyeisha Thomp­son, Lin­coln, Neb.;
  • Edgar Aguilar, Los Ange­les, Calif.; 
  • Jaqua Pat­ter­son, Bronx, N.Y.;
  • Yahan­na Mack­bee, Min­neapo­lis; Minn.;
  • Raenne Hatch­er, Mesa, Ariz.; and
  • Zory­na Lealai, Anchor­age, Alaska.

We are delight­ed to wel­come the sec­ond cohort of the Nation­al LEAP Youth Fel­low­ship pro­gram and to sup­port their devel­op­ment and growth as lead­ers with­in the ini­tia­tive and in their com­mu­ni­ties,” says Emam. Our youth fel­lows are inte­gral mem­bers of the LEAP com­mu­ni­ty whose voic­es and per­spec­tives are cen­tral to deci­sion mak­ing, strate­gic direc­tion and the suc­cess of the initiative.”

LEARN MORE ABOUT LEAP’S PAR­TIC­I­PA­TO­RY YOUTH RESEARCH

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