It is a common understanding that youth need to gain additional skills through educational, training, and work experiences. Yet, many of America’s youth are neither enrolled in school nor participating in the labor market. These youth are neither investing in their human capital or earning income. Their disconnection represents a significant loss of economic opportunity for our society. These young adults are known as ‘opportunity youth’. For the 16-24 age group, it is estimated that at least 6.7 million (17%) fall into this category. Some reports estimate that an individual opportunity youth imposes, on average and contrasted to other youth, a total taxpayer burden of $258,240 and a total social burden of $755,900. Yet, the economic potential of an opportunity youth cohort can be substantial. Considered over the lifetime of a cohort of 6.7 million opportunity youth who are aged 16-24, the aggregate taxpayer burden amounts to $1.56 trillion. The aggregate social burden is $4.75 trillion. In order to draw on the potential of opportunity youth, it will be necessary to make strategic and targeted investments. With such investments, their economic value is likely to be substantial.
The Meraki Program is a career readiness and entrepreneurial program that looks to invest in these youth. The word “Meraki” (mer-ah’-key) is a Greek word meaning “to put soul, creativity, and part of yourself into your work.” Our message to our students is that work is not only a means to provide for yourself, it is also part of who you are created to be. Each student has been gifted with unique talents and abilities; those gifts can be used to make their community a better place and to help them feel more fulfilled in life. We encourage each student to discover their strengths and passions and pursue a career where they can use those to contribute to their communities.
When young adults join our program as Meraki Fellows, they receive focused, hands-on training and development for 16 weeks in the following areas: nonverbal and verbal communication skills, time management, professional dress, ownership, resume building, interviewing, tracking and managing a budget, and over 300+ hours in an authentic learning environment.
Zephaniah is currently in his second semester at Coahoma Community College. After Meraki, Zephaniah hopes to attend a four-year college where he can earn his degree in Music Education and then go on to pass his love of music to students as a high school choir director. During his time at Meraki, Zephaniah hopes to further his customer service skills and get more involved in the community.
Shakiya is currently studying to pass her GED exam. After Meraki, Shakiya hopes to enroll in cosmetology courses so she can fulfill her passion of working with customers and helping them feel beautiful. During her time at Meraki, Shakiya hopes to gain new customer service and professional skills that will provide her success in her future career.
Tiarra recently completed her alternate route education program and earned her high school diploma. After Meraki, Tiarra wants to enroll in classes that prepare her for nursing school. During her time at Meraki, Tiarra wants to learn more about financial literacy and budgeting, as well as increase her communication and customer service skills.
Princess is currently taking classes at Coahoma Community College. After Meraki, Princess wants to continue her education by taking cosmetology classes or veterinary science classes. During her time at Meraki, Princess hopes to further her communication skills and learn professional skills that will support her school and career goals.