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Vulnerable Youth Project

As the most vulnerable youth in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula are struggling in school; lacking readiness for post-secondary academics; and living with environmental stress in a multitude of areas, the Vulnerable Youth Project is tackling their issues head on in effort to improve quality of life and stimulate better outcomes. 
Michigan Nightlight: In your view, what makes your program innovative, effective or remarkable?
Vulnerable Youth Project’s Program Director Amy Quinn: One thing that is very different about our program is that it’s an intermediary, so it allows us to have a multiplier effect.
Since we don’t provide direct services, we can leverage the strength of all the organizations that do; because of that, we are able to work on social issues, such as environmentally disadvantaged youth, on a macro level. We are working toward developing a holistic support system from birth to career readiness -- mostly through the work that nonprofits have already done. We want to coordinate youth-centered support without creating a lot of new programs or additional work for the
We are trying to reduce the fragmentation of vulnerable youth support so that all youth in the Upper Peninsula can thrive.
nonprofits, because nonprofits have such demands on them for services. We are trying to reduce the fragmentation of vulnerable youth support so that all youth in the Upper Peninsula can thrive.
What was the best lesson learned in the past year?
Relationships, relationships, relationships! It takes a lot of time to establish critical relations, rapport and trust with key community leaders, especially when you are working in a new area. We’re doing it in phases.
We have developed a strong network in Baraga County, because we have pulled together to gain the trust of key community leaders there. They have learned a lot --about 20 of them have now spent the equivalent of a full week in education and training centered on vulnerable youth issues and the state of the youth in their county. We’re going to keep expanding on that network. 
What was the hardest lesson learned in the past year?
It was the realization of how much time it takes to truly achieve collective impact. We have learned it and have learned to accept it because we want to make sure that the work we are doing with these community leaders is sustainable as we move on to develop this in other areas in the Upper Peninsula. Because of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation grant, we are planning
Most youth development work takes place in urban areas for inner-city youth, but we hope to take our learning experiences and document them for other rural areas all over the nation to use.
bring this model to six counties over the next three years. That is roughly half of the Upper Peninsula.
What really differentiates this program?
There is no other intermediary focusing on youth development in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The Upper Peninsula is predominantly rural. Most towns and cities are at least an hour’s drive apart from one another, and the largest city here, Marquette, has a population of only 20,000 people. So, there are fewer resources, but the smaller population does make it easier for us to connect our youth with community organizations.
Most youth development work takes place in urban areas for inner-city youth, but we hope to take our learning experiences and document them for other rural areas all over the nation to use.
What are the keys to success for your program?
Again, I have to go back to relationships. We cannot be successful if community partners do not buy into this project, and it takes a lot of road time to meet face-to-face with them to build the trust to get them on board.
We present our work to school boards, civil clubs, juvenile courts, tribal leaders and corporate groups, such as Chambers of Commerce, to name a few. In October, we are also going to hold a vulnerable youth learning track focus – an educational program with breakouts – at the annual U.P. Nonprofit Conference in Marquette.
What will the grant award from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation allow you to accomplish, change or improve? How many Upper Peninsula youth do you expect to help because of it?
We have a total child population of 60,874 according to the 2010 census. We plan to expand our efforts to half of the U.P., so we can easily say that around 30,000 of them will benefit. We hope so. It’s what we are working toward.
It’s just amazing to me, because we were going to do this work whether we got the funding or not, and I had no idea how long it would take us to get the money. We would have had to spend lots more time on fundraising to have enough to funnel toward salaries, because we would need more work from the agency, as well as capacity-building that includes strengthening current programs that nonprofit partners offer or to help fund new programming that they want to launch. 
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  • Great Lakes Center for Youth Development
    Great Lakes Center for Youth Development provides youth-serving and nonprofit organizations with expertise, training and learning opportunities so that all youth can thrive in healthy communities across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.


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