Center for Youth and Communities receives Walmart grant
Published: Monday, August 27, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 18:08
In early June, the Walmart Foundation announced that more than $20 million in grants would be dispersed to six nonprofit partners, including a $5 million gift to the Heller School for Social Policy and Management Center for Youth and Communities, which aids programs that prepare youth for college and working life via research, policy work and technical assistance. The Center, which operates in all 50 states, will be able to employ, educate and support nearly 3,000 students in cities across the country using the funds, according to a press release from the Heller School.
According to the BrandeisNOW press release, eight cities nation-wide will benefit from Walmart’s gift that Brandeis has distributed. With this grant money, government and nonprofit agencies that implement strategies to keep youth productively engaged in at-risk communities in Arizona, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan and California will receive $800,000 each for their programming.
The other five nonprofit partners —YMCA of the USA, the National Recreation and Park Association, the National Summer Learning Association, Innovations in Civic Participation and Building Educated Leaders for Life—will provide similar programming. The Brandeis CYC will serve as the national program office for the Walmart funding, a position the Center was nominated for, based on its 30 years of experience with summer workforce development.
“We are a broker,” said CYC Director Susan Curnan in an interview with the Justice, explaining the role of the CYC in the youth summer employment community. "We’re running the program … [and] we re-grant the funds to program operators in this case in each of the seven cities.”
In deciding how to distribute the $5 million from Walmart, members of the Center set up a competitive process and searched American cities for programs that they could fund, based on poverty, unemployment and drop-out rates, according to Curnan.
After interested groups sent in their proposals, the Center put together a national review panel of experts to evaluate the applications. The chosen seven, expanded from the goal of only five organizations after realizing the extent of the need, were then required to participate in a program on the Brandeis campus before funds were dispersed.
Regardless of national location and specific issues, the chosen programs all embrace the theme of what Curnan described as “employ, educate and support.” The programs, which employ at-risk youths during the summer, also work to educate them for the post-high school world as well as provide mentorship for these youths.
This is not the only collaboration between the CYC and Walmart: according to BrandeisNOW, the CYC will coordinate the Walmart Summer Youth Employment Initiative with the White House Summer Jobs Plus Initiative, which will educate the youth population in order to prepare them to enter the workforce.
This is not the first collaboration between the CYC and Walmart, either. Curnan explained that in 2011, Walmart asked the CYC to evaluate the investments that they had made in a number of communities, and the Center prepared a report in response.
Additionally, the CYC is serving as the national program office for the corporate coalition to address hunger in America, where Walmart and a number of other corporations are pooling money to fund different programs nationwide. According to the press release, the Walmart Foundation has dedicated itself to philanthropy, making a “historic” pledge of two billion dollars in the next two years to fight hunger throughout the United States.
Through these projects, Curnan said, the Center has cultivated a very positive relationship with the company. “What we appreciate very much about Walmart,” Curnan said, “is that they are very thorough and very serious, thoughtful grant-makers and they do their homework before they move forward on anything."
Aside from its collaboration with Walmart, the Center is currently coordinating 17 different projects, mostly studies, stemming from a variety of different financial backers. For example, there is both a study concerning the implementation and outcome of Detroit’s after-school programs, funded by the Skillman Foundation, a private grant-making foundation, and a General Electric-funded longitudinal study of the national “College Bound” college access program .
The CYC website explains that these studies seek to evaluate different programs launched with the intention of helping increase youth education and life-readiness, and help the programs better serve their community’s youth population.
This endeavor, to better serve youth populations in at-risk communities, is one that the Obama administration lauded in a June publication from the White House Council for Community Solutions. According to the report, “The population of opportunity [at-risk] youth is large and eager to take charge of their futures, but at the same time, it has complex and diverse needs. The benefits of reconnecting these youth to education or employment are enormous and require urgent action from all sectors.”
At Brandeis, the Center for Youth and Communities has seen first-hand what the White House references in its report.
Curnan explained that many students who participate in these programs have meaningful remarks about the impact of the program on their lives. For example, a young man from Chicago asked a member of the Center to “please tell Walmart that they saved my life and the life of my friends.”
This comment came from an interview conducted during one of the most homicide-ridden years in recent history in Chicago, as the homicide rate from January to June outpaced deaths in Afghanistan during the same time period by 58 percent, according to a July 18 article in the Christian Science Monitor.
“That might sound like hyperbole or something sensational,” Curnan said, “until you look at the neighborhoods and realize that this is reality and that’s really something.”
The CYC, thus far, has suggested that Walmart fund a five-year study to analyze the role that these kinds of programs play in youths’ lives during their high school years. While it is not yet known whether or not Walmart will fund such a study, the CYC has shown an interest in how the program-employed youths are spending their summer money.
According to Curnan, it's a short list. “We’re not talking about the latest sneakers, we’re talking about food, clothing and shelter,” she said. Most of the youths involved in the program are happy enough to contribute to their family’s income, without making purchases for themselves.