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W.K. Kellogg Foundation announces entrepreneurial initiative for disconnected youth

Contact: Crystal Brown
Widmeyer Communications
(202) 884-7351

New Orleans – The W.K. Kellogg Foundation announces its support of a multi-year initiative that creates new pathways to employment for young adults. The initiative seeks to connect more than four million young adults with no high school diploma to meaningful career opportunities that match their talents and skills.

The Foundation’s $28 million investment will help fund the New Options Project, a philanthropic and entrepreneurial venture that creates multiple career pathways for disconnected young adults. This work will engage employers to recognize this largely overlooked pool of untapped talent.

New Options was developed to meet the needs of the rising number of disconnected young adults, a term referring to out-of-school 16- to 24-year-olds who are motivated to succeed but are unable to access meaningful work. Disconnected young adults are more likely to have parents who also did not graduate from high school and are 2.5 to 3 times more likely to have children. This enduring pattern has economic repercussions for their families as well as the country at-large; in 2008, the United States lost almost $319 billion in lifetime wages that could have been earned by high school dropouts who were failed by the system.

New Options addresses two sides of a universal problem: battling unemployment among young adults and meeting the demands of employers who require a qualified, entry-level workforce. The initiative targets young adults who face systemic barriers that hold them back from achieving conventional ideas of educational success. At the same time, New Options taps employers who lack the talent they need for entry-level positions. This work mobilizes employers and human resources professionals to match employer needs with the skills of young job seekers in their communities, thereby fueling the productivity of businesses and communities, including those hit hardest by the economic crisis.

“Our ultimate goal is to transform the way employers and the public think about disconnected youth, demonstrating their employment value and contributions to society while simultaneously disrupting the environment that allows them to remain so isolated,” said Nadia Brigham, program officer for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. “We want to build a bridge between CEOs, managers and human resources directors, and youth who have assets and passions to contribute to the workforce.”

Recognizing that a large-scale perception shift requires innovative approaches to meet the demands of varying job markets, New Options uses a unique “zone” strategy, with each zone focusing on an innovative tool or approach that will create market demand for social change. The zones test new ways of creating incentives for employers, schools and community-based organizations to work differently with disconnected young adults to affect stronger outcomes. They also identify specific barriers to pursuing meaningful career opportunities and focus on developing partnerships as well as high-impact, accessible tools to help communities overcome these obstacles—ultimately paving the way for multiple pathways to employment. Zones represent concentrated regions across the country, including the Baltimore/D.C. corridor, Chicago and New Mexico.

“If New Options is successful, employers across the country will recognize that the solution to many of their problems lies in this very population of young adults who are seemingly invisible to them, and our entire economy and society will benefit,” said Angela Cobb, director of the New Options Project. The Foundation’s investment in the initiative aligns with its commitment to funding programs that support vulnerable children ages zero to eight and their parents, which oftentimes includes disconnected young adults. The New Options work aims to break cycles of economic insecurity for both these parents and their children.

Corporate Voices for Working Families and Year Up, two organizations that are key participants in the New Options Project, will host a day of visits on Capitol Hill on April 14. Policymakers, senior executives and representatives from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the New Options Project will participate in meetings that focus on effective enterprising pathways.

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation is not accepting proposals against the $27.9 million already committed to this initiative.

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