In 2015, 10 years into its recovery from Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans was facing a different kind of problem — far too many of the city’s youth (ages 16 to 24) were neither working nor in school.
“We had the third highest rate of what they call ‘opportunity youth’ in the country,” said Cate Swinburn, president and co-founder of YouthForce NOLA. “The thing was, 60 percent of those students had high school diplomas, they were just running into other problems like with financial aid, or they were struggling with a lack of direction.”
Former president and executive director of the Washington D.C. Public Education Fund and a longtime educational consultant, Swinburn created YouthForce NOLA in 2015 with the ambitious goal of making sure all high school students graduate with the skills and support they need to go on to college or secure a good job.
“We work with an incredibly strong network that includes the City of New Orleans, the Urban League, Greater New Orleans, Inc., Junior Achievement of Greater New Orleans and NOLA Public Schools, on behalf of 25 open enrollment high schools,” said Swinburn. “Together we provide youth with internships, soft-skills training and access to industry-recognized certification programs in high-wage, high-demand fields.”
In only five years, the number of high school students earning industry-recognized credentials in New Orleans has increased 875 percent, nearly 800 have received work experience, more than 10,000 attended soft-skills programs and more than 5,000 have engaged with employers during YouthForce’s annual career expos.
Swinburn said the key to success lies in collaboration.
“This is too big of a job for one organization to do,” she said. “Together we can make sure these kids succeed in work and in life.”