15 YEARS OF POSITIVE IMPACT
Fifteen years ago, our nation was struggling. Rising oil prices caused significant inflation and unemployment was increasing rapidly. General Motors reported the largest-ever financial loss, property prices continued to fall and the conditions created hardships for many businesses and individuals. In 2008, then President George W. Bush and the House agreed to a $700 billion bailout and the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act was signed into law. Another $150 billion stimulus package was created to try to manage the financial burden for individuals and families.
At the same time, there was a large Michigan school district that was failing and the students were negatively impacted. So what do you do when the impact is just as challenging and more immediate closer to home? If you are a group of dedicated community leaders, you get together and come up with a plan to ensure that these young people have the education they need to be prepared for success in future careers.
That is part of the origin story of Jobs for Michigan’s Graduates, also known as the JMG program. Leaders within the Benton Harbor area recognized that due to the financial issues with the local school, the youth weren’t receiving the education and opportunities they needed for prosperous futures. This group agreed to fund a pilot program that was based on the Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) curriculum. The first specialist was hired to go into Benton Harbor High School and the JMG program was launched. In that initial 2008-2009 school year, 76 youth were taught career-focused education in a way that engaged, connected with and inspired these young people to gain the skills necessary to be successful in the future.
The results of the initial JMG program in Benton Harbor were astounding and the positive impact was so noticeable within the first year of the program that one leader within the community, former CEO of Whirlpool Corporation, David Whitwam reached out to meet with Kinexus Group CEO, Todd Gustafson to inquire about the costs of keeping the program running. Gustafson said “I let Dave know the costs associated with the program and the very next day I got a call from his assistant telling me to come over to his office. When I got there, much to my surprise, there was a check for the amount needed to fund the program for the next year. It was a very generous seed that gave us the opportunity to continue to grow the program and its impact. We will be forever grateful to Mr. Whitwam for his vision, commitment and financial support.”
In 2009-2010, the JMG program received accreditation from Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) and the program continued to flourish. In 2010-2011, the JMG program expanded across Southwest Michigan. Three new Michigan Works! became affiliates in 2011-2012 and were brought on to partner with our small team to expand the programming into 4 new regions. In 2013-2014, the State of Michigan approved a $1 million pilot grant for expansion and the program grew to serve more than 400 youth that year.
In 2014-2015, five new Michigan Works! affiliates were brought on to deliver programming and the reach doubled to serve more than 800 youth. Each year, as more and more youth were positively impacted by the JMG program, we began to grow additional service areas across the state of Michigan. During the 2015-2016 year, the Annie E. Casey Foundation awarded $570,000 toward LEAP programming to engage systems-involved youth and the numbers grew to over 1,500 youth served!
To support continued growth and innovative program development, in 2016-2017 the nonprofit Youth Solutions was formed to continue to deliver the JMG programming with a bigger vision to create more opportunities across the state of Michigan for youth to receive career-focused education. In 2017-2018, Youth Solutions established a Board of Directors that developed a five-year plan to serve 6,200 youth annually, which would more than double the current number of 3,034 youth being served at the time.
As the progress continued, there were definitely challenges that had to be faced. In 2020-2021 the COVID-19 Pandemic hit and it forced the Youth Solutions team to get real creative because they were determined not to let this setback undermine all of the progress that had been made with Michigan’s youth. The team got innovative, quickly shifted to virtual learning and set out to create digital tools that would effectively reach more youth than before.
In 2021-2022, the creativity continued and Youth Solutions launched Youth Solutions (YS) Select, which includes additional services that would support further expansion of the JMG program. And proudly, as we arrive to the present day, Youth Solutions has now partnered with all sixteen Michigan Works! agencies throughout Michigan and serves nearly 4,500 youth through the JMG program. Collectively, Youth Solutions reaches over 6,600 Michigan youth, inspiring and connecting them to a future beyond imagination.
“Although we are incredibly proud of what we’ve accomplished in the last 15 years, there is more to be done,” said Gustafson.
There is definitely more to be done. The state of Michigan has a dropout rate that is above the national average. In 2022, 8.19% of Michigan students dropped out of school, which was an increase over the prior year. As of February 2023, 85% of active job postings across the state require candidates to have a high school diploma or higher. Youth who drop out of high school face greater challenges throughout their future.
Ensuring that young people across the state complete their education is critical. Without a high school diploma, Michigan youth are 1.6 times more likely to be unemployed, 1.6 times more likely to live below the poverty line and 3.5 times more likely to be incarcerated than their peers with a diploma.
At Youth Solutions, through our JMG program and beyond, we are committed to inspiring youth through engaging educational experiences and connecting young adults to career-related experiences that open their eyes to a world of possibility for future employment and personal achievement. We are proud of all that we have accomplished over the past 15 years and are dedicated to continuing the pursuit of our purpose in support of all youth across the state of Michigan. We wouldn’t have been able to accomplish this much without the dedication of our team, the support of our affiliates, and the funding from our state. We are also incredibly thankful for the generosity of our donors and funding partners who have enabled us to achieve more, faster than we would have without their financial commitments.
Look for our 15-year anniversary of JMG announcements, acknowledging those who have played a role in our achievements and ways that can get involved, including our annual giving campaign, Building the Future, that kicks off August 22, 2023.
We hope that you will continue to support our efforts and follow our progress for the next fifteen years!