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Crowdfunding, Solar Power, and Youth Employment

Michele Clark is being honored as a Champion of Change for her accomplishments as a crowdfunding pioneer.

Michele Clark

Michele Clark is being honored as a Champion of Change for her accomplishments as a crowdfunding pioneer.

The Youth Employment Partnership (YEP) is Oakland, California’s most experienced and effective youth employment-training agency. YEP is in its 40th year of providing workforce development services to youth from Oakland’s most distressed neighborhoods, by embracing innovation whenever possible and leveraging resources to better serve the needs of its teen and young adult clients.

YEP procured its award-winning 36,000 square-foot training facility using highly innovative, nontraditional financing through a partnership with a local corporation, Give Something Back. YEP trainees renovated their building using materials reclaimed and recycled from the decommissioned military base through a large-scale deconstruction project utilizing Youth Build and Welfare to Work participants. The project not only produced invaluable vocational and employability skill training, but also provided the materials needed to complete the agency's facility.

In addition to the economic and vocational development projects based at the training facility, YEP operates two cafes at the Oakland International Airport. By working at these Training Grounds cafes, teens and young adults learn customer service skills and the principles of operating a successful social enterprise. Consistent with our living classroom model, YEP also utilizes vacant, distressed houses as training opportunities, leading the way in training at-risk youth in green construction techniques to renovate houses for low-income families in our community.

In YEP’s quest to convert our training facility to sustainable green energy, we were introduced to Solar Mosaic, a company that presented an innovative crowdfunding strategy to finance the construction of a 46 kilowatt solar power array on our roof. Not only does the system provide enough inexpensive, renewable energy to power existing operations, but it will also handle the energy required for the computer education center and industrial training kitchen planned for completion this year. Consistent with the agency mission, YEP uses the solar system itself as an opportunity to provide a hands-on resource for training youth on the installation and maintenance of photovoltaic systems.

Michele Clark is Executive Director of the Youth Employment Partnership.