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Shifting the Odds for At-Risk Youth

The Promotores program links at-risk youth with counselors who help young people navigate issues like poverty, unemployment, and lack of affordable housing.

This story highlights the work of the Social Innovation Fund, established by the bipartisan Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act in 2009 and administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Alison’s* daily struggles while raising two young children made her dream of a college degree seem unobtainable. But things began to turn around when the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) in Washington, DC connected her with a Promotor.

The Promotores (Spanish for “advocates”) program was developed by LAYC to help meet the needs of young people like Alison. The program links at-risk youth to non-traditional counselors, Promotores, so that they can provide hands-on guidance on local issues like poverty, high unemployment, and lack of affordable housing. Promotores work to help young adults finish high school and go on to higher education, secure and retain employment with long-term career potential, and overcome difficulties with housing, life skills, and more. They connect youth to programs and services and establish long-term relationships with them, often lasting for four to six years.

Promoting a Path to Success

For Alison, her Promotor helped her apply for financial aid and scholarships, and she was accepted to Trinity University in Washington, DC. Alison’s Promotor then helped her apply for the necessary benefits to provide for her children, so that Alison could focus on her education. Alison also enrolled in a volunteer work program, where she was placed at a DC-area hospital and later was able to secure a paid position.  And with her Promotor’s help, she applied for and received a placement in an apartment for her family through a transitional housing program.

Alison is now in her third year as a full-time college student, works part-time at the hospital, and cares for her children.

Lessons Learned and Duplicated

The Latin American Youth Center received a Social Innovation Fund grant through Venture Philanthropy Partners for almost $1 million over a two-year period.  With this funding, LAYC is expanding its work to reach hundreds more individuals in the National Capital Region.  

Launched in 2010 and managed by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the Social Innovation Fund invests money in nonprofits and foundations, so they can accelerate the work of high-impact organizations and replicate their approaches in new localities and markets. 

The work of organizations like the Latin American Youth Center can help increase our understanding of what works to tackle our most pressing social needs. They provide a glimpse into what can enable more young adults to get on and stay on the path to success – and, hopefully, turn the odds in their favor.

*Alison’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.

Alison’s story highlights how social innovators are strengthening our communities and addressing social needs across the country.  We hope stories like this inspire you to think creatively and take action in your own community.

Jonathan Greenblatt is Director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation.