In 2008, the Valley of the Sun YMCA in Phoenix, Arizona, recognized the need among young adults went beyond the programs already being offered. Because of this, they launched the Y Achievers Youth Workforce Development Program. “The Y Achievers program gave us the opportunity to provide young adults with the support and guidance they need to achieve their full potential in school, career and life,” said Shelby Tuttle, the director of communications at the Valley of the Sun YMCA.
The cost-free program gives participants access to money for career training and funding for support services.
Yearly, the program serves 500 participants ages 16 to 24, and each of their experiences differ based on their individual needs and the goals they want to set.
Each participant has a career advisor who acts as a mentor. “Some of our participants are attending high school, some are completing their adult education diplomas and other participants are attending college classes,” said Tuttle. “Participants also have access to life skills workshops and field trips.”
Program members may also engage in a work experience (WEX) to gain valuable work skills. The WEX is a paid 200-hour internship that focuses on the career the individual is interested in or has gained training in.
However, the Valley of the Sun YMCA recognized their program and its benefits weren’t fitting the needs of everyone in the community.
The area has youth in foster care who needed more help than what the Y Achievers program alone was able to give. So, in response they created a Foster Program as an extension of the program in 2018. “We spent much of the first year of the program researching the issue of youth who were ‘aging out’ of the system,” explained Tuttle.
The Foster Program is also able to help outside of Y Achievers when necessary.
The Valley of the Sun YMCA’s Foster Program has created and conducted health, financial, college readiness, work readiness and mental health workshops specific to foster youth. The program has been able to do this by partnering with local colleges, businesses and professionals, as well as the Department of Child Services and other aging-out foster providers.
In order to help the kids address the distinct needs of each individual, the Y brings the child’s social case manager and their Y mentor together. “We often say, ‘It takes a whole village,’ and stand in the belief that a team working together and in tandem with a young adult is much more beneficial,” explained Tuttle.
The Y Achievers Program has had many success stories over the years, from the single mom or single dad trapped at home by barriers such as transportation, and lack of support or childcare, to the troubled youth who just needed someone to listen and acknowledge their value.
The Valley of the Sun YMCA saw a need in their community and took action to fulfill it. They understood the value of being open and creative to filling these needs for the young adults throughout their community. They didn’t stop at just a GED program; they created a step-up program, asking participants to step up, or help someone take that step up toward lifelong success.