Youth Initiative: Youthprise

Youth Initiative: Youthprise

Last year, with the pandemic raging, thousands of high school students found themselves out of work, and without unemployment compensation. For low-income students, this was potentially devastating, for both them and their families.

Minneapolis-based Youthprise got to work. With the support of Minnesota attorney general Keith Ellison, Youthprise worked with a group of mostly low-income BIPOC high school students to get that compensation reinstated. To represent them, Youthprise retained the pro bono services of Gregory Merz, a partner with high-profile Minneapolis-based law firm Lathrop GPM.

The arguments Merz filed persuaded the Court of Appeals to rule unanimously in support of the Youthprise case. In fact, the court issued its decision the same day that Merz presented his arguments, awarding the much-needed compensation.

For Youthprise, whose services are as diverse as the young people with whom it works, that was just one of the more notable success stories in a remarkably busy year.

Each year, Youthprise awards $4 million to $8 million to organizations serving Minnesota’s Indigenous, low-income, and racially diverse youth. It supports programs and initiatives that build workforce skills, promote youth entrepreneurship, and expose youth to career pathways.

When the pandemic hit, Youthprise went into even higher gear. It secured emergency funding to distribute five rounds of Covid-19 Emergency Response grants totaling over $1 million to more than 85 grantees. One Youthprise program, the Nutrition Team, provides meals to families in need. Last year, when the virus shut down its usual meal site services, the Nutrition Team pivoted to pick-up, serving 2 million meals in 2020.

Another Youthprise initiative, the Minnesota Afterschool Advance (MAA) program also scaled up to help low-income students in 213 cities across Minnesota. Designed to help them afford after-school programming, MAA pivoted during the pandemic to help distribute Chromebooks for distance learning, with no out-of-pocket cost to families. It also funded tutoring and other academic opportunities to mitigate learning loss after schools stopped in-person classes.

Youthprise’s board reflects the communities that are its focus. The majority of its directors are people of color, and 50 percent of board slots are reserved for youths ages 16–25. The board and board-level committees are co-chaired by youth and adults.

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