Pathways out of poverty in Denver - Mile High Youth Corps poised to get Stimulus Funds

Authors: Barbara Grady

5/19/09 Update: Great news! Denver's Mile High Youth Corps learned late last week that it will be receiving a huge Recovery Act grant to expand its Youth Corps Leadership & Conservation Program! The Corporation for National Service awarded it $832,831 to expand its own and help five other Youth Corps programs around Colorado. Together, these six Youth Corps groups can engage an additional 241 youth in projects that conserve energy and protect public lands while preparing them to succeed in the workplace.

When La’Kyla Byrd cleared trails and tended to trees in Denver’s City Park this past year as a member of Mile High Youth Corps, she also cleared a path for herself and three siblings out of the violent and drug-infested neighborhood of their childhood into college and service-oriented futures.

Mile High Youth Corps’ effectiveness in forging green pathways out of poverty may be why it is likely to garner some of the Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant money in coming months. Denver-based Mile High Youth Corps (MHYC) places 150 youth each year into green jobs in land and water conservation, energy-efficiency and construction. It creates leaders out of many of them, such as La’Kyla, who led a conservation crew and will teach a GED class next season. 

“I definitely want to keep community service as part of my life,” said the 21-year-old who steered her three younger siblings into MHYC programs and its GED classes. “I’ve seen the harm, the problems in our community,” she said, “I didn’t want us to go in that direction.” 

Kelly Causey, MHYC’s executive director, said such successes may be why the Corps has received indications that it will be selected for at least some of the five grant programs to which it applied.

“We have a track record for delivering on our performance measures so they seem to be confident that they can count on us to fulfill the goals,” Causey said of the Recovery grants decision makers. “Also, we meet several Stimulus goals at one time - green jobs training, employment, serving various youth populations targeted by the funding.” 

During 16 years of engaging youth in employment opportunities that teach skills and help the planet, MHYC has been a recipient of various state and federal grant programs and a partner with numerous non-profits. When the Recovery Act was unveiled, MHYC approached it as an opportunity to expand its existing programs to reach yet more youth. It turned to its various partner agencies and organizations and together they leveraged their strengths to seek Recovery funding.

For instance, as a long time participant in AmeriCorps, MHYC applied to the Corporation for National and Community Service to expand its AmeriCorps program and offer positions to at least 20 more youth. MHYC‘s AmeriCorps Leadership and Conservation program is where La’Kyla found her calling and from which she received a college scholarship. MHYC applied through its Governor’s Commission and expects to hear by the second week in May.

Secondly, MHYC joined the City of Denver in applying for a “Justice Activities Grant” proposing a green jobs program for former gang members and youth getting out of the juvenile justice system. The Recovery Act’s Justice Activities Grants are administered through the states, so the Denver Safety Commission applied to the Colorado Department of Criminal Justice with MHYC in its proposal. 

Thirdly, MHYC was invited by a local non-profit, named Sun Power, to participate in a proposal to the Weatherization Assistance Program, which is funded by the Department of Energy but administered by the states. Sun Power included MHYC in a multi-million dollar proposal to the State of Colorado to do weatherization work in low-income neighborhoods. MHYC would expand its existing program of hiring and training young people to join Sun Power crews in installing energy efficiency devices in homes.

Unemployment among young adults in the Denver area has spiked with the recession. But such programs open a lot of doors, Causey said.

“Through the Corps and these stimulus funds, youth now have this opportunity to serve their communities, earn an education award and learn technical skills in green jobs,” she said.

In its fourth application, MHYC is a partner with the City of Denver in a plan to use ARRA energy-efficiency block grant funding for energy audits in moderate- to low-income neighborhoods. The plan is to expand MHYC’s energy-efficiency audits to households that don’t fit the income guidelines for DOE weatherization assistance yet could still benefit from saving on utility bills.

Lastly, MHYC continues to work with local workforce centers in the five-county area surrounding Denver to seek Workforce Investment Act summer youth employment funding to provide green jobs and green job training for low-income young adults.

“My advice is to stick to what you do best. We picked the things we know how to do,” such as energy-efficiency work and AmeriCorps youth leadership training in conservation, Causey said.

“I would say to folks (who are seeking Recovery funds) to think about what you really do well and go after that funding. Do not go after funding that is for something you have not really explored before,” she cautioned.

Causey said that given the short time frame in which these federal grant decisions will be made, it really helps to have programs up and running and to build on already established relationships. 

“The time for applying for grants is so fast, it helps to already have a good relationship with organizations with whom you might do the work or get the funding,” Causey said.

If it succeeds in receiving these grants, Mile High Youth Corps would be providing green jobs and green job training to an additional 100 youth over the next two years bringing the total number of youth it serves to as many as 250 a year. 

“These are pathways to prosperity,” Causey said. “Youth are at an important juncture of figuring out what kind of life they want to pursue, what they want to do. That is why connecting them to meaningful opportunities is so important,” she added. 

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Photos used with the permission of Mile High Youth Corps.

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