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Seizing the "Opportunity"

Updated: Mar 28

An Aspen Institute site visit was the perfect setting for a dynamic stakeholder discussion around reaching our community's opportunity youth.

“That was one of the best collaborative discussions on how to serve opportunity youth that I’ve been a part of.” - Actual quote from a community leader!

Opportunity youth (OY) are young people between the ages of 16 to 24 who are disconnected from school or work. We were pleased to join the HOT Behavioral Health Network in co-hosting and convening the recent site visit of the Aspen Institute to our community to help guide our community on how to best reach and support opportunity youth across a range of social sectors, from foster care, to justice involved, to at-risk in schools and beyond.

As an organization centered around bringing together diverse and expert voices to create systems-level solutions, the statement above from an exceptional local education leader – known for having a high bar of excellence – who participated in the convening of community partners was both affirming and encouraging.

It was fantastic to have an incredible communicator like Hannah Gourgey, PhD, (pictured far right) of the Aspen Institute share state-level data with community leaders representing key systems and those on the frontlines of our supporting opportunity youth in our community.

Alongside Dr. Gourgey’s wealth of knowledge in this space, our own Dr. Rhodes shared local

community data, and the Heart of Texas Behavioral Health Network team shared their work and collaborative efforts to date to support these youth. All partners acknowledged the good work being done across our community, and affirmed the need to help align actions, and develop community-wide messaging – and awareness – surrounding opportunity youth.

Grounded in quality research and data – an imperative for effective community work – we are able to gather the right folks to the table, invite them to pull up a seat and lean in to listen to each other, share expertise, and move the needle forward with a common agenda. That was exactly what happened at the recent opportunity youth collaborative convening.

We had a diverse group of partners represented in that discussion, who were ready to listen, learn, share and think about how we move the needle together. With school administrators, city leaders, law enforcement, foster care, youth homelessness leadership, behavioral health experts, business representatives and more, we began working towards defining a shared vision and common goals.  

Some of the early draft common goals identified include:

  • making opportunity youth disconnection/disengagement in Waco rare, brief, and non-recurring;

  • ensuring gainful employment is at the end of every path, regardless of obstacles faced or method of skill development;

  • secure outcomes for personal well-being, employment, satisfaction in life; and

  • a shared community ownership for those outcomes.

We are encouraged and excited for the chance to continue working with our community toward further defining our shared goals, identifying metrics to assess progress, and most importantly, aligning and expanding the work of our community partners on the frontlines to reach them in the most efficient and effective ways.  

Charis Dietz

Director of Marketing & Communications


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