While we celebrate the thousands of individuals who recently graduated from high school, we cannot forget about the thousands who did not. Even among the graduates, many won’t seek vocational, technical or trade credentials, pursue a traditional degree or begin a career. EmployIndy estimates 30,000 people in Indianapolis, ages 16-24, are not enrolled or employed. And they are disproportionately people of color. 

This demographic of disengaged young people is often called “opportunity youth,” but what opportunity do they have? It’s tempting to apply the “bootstrap mentality” that if you work hard, you can be successful, but we know environmental stressors and systemic racism often disrupt individual ambition. A person’s place, race and identity should never be barriers to success for anyone in Central Indiana.

These young people are at a critical moment in their lives and need our city’s support more than ever. Imagine the possibilities if 30,000 people pursued a degree or certificate and/or joined the workforce. The economic impact is profound for an individual, but the ripple effect is even greater. 

An individual’s success has positive generational impact, and even more immediate, positive economic impact on the community. Education and employment decrease a person’s likeliness to be incarcerated or to use government supports. Educated and employed people are more likely to have stable housing and contribute to the growing economy, too. 

We, the eight advisors of the Community Leadership Innovation Fund at Central Indiana Community Foundation, are discouraged by the growing number of opportunity youth in Central Indiana and have committed $400,000 to create the first Opportunity Youth Collaborative to connect this population to education and/or employment. Five organizations will participate in this collaborative: EmployIndy, Indiana Black Expo, Groundwork Indy, Martin Luther King Center and Hamilton County Youth Assistance Program. 

We urge you to join us in supporting these 30,000-plus young people in our community by volunteering as a mentor, creating employment opportunities, or by making a financial gift to one of these organizations. This population is vital to the current and future success of our community. We cannot ignore the barriers confronting these individuals. Let’s step up, Indianapolis. These young people need us.

Advisors of the Community Leadership Innovation Fund, a fund of Central Indiana Community Foundation:

Lori Efroymson-Aguilera, Efroymson Family Foundation 

Marianne Glick, Glick Philanthropies

Greg Hahn, chair of Central Indiana Community Foundation, Bose McKinney, Evans LLP  

Jay Merrell, chair of Hamilton County Community Foundation, Industrial Dielectrics

Myrta Pulliam

Cindy Simon Skjodt, community volunteer

Charlie Sutphin, Netherleigh Enterprises, LLC

Milt Thompson, board director of The Indianapolis Foundation Bleeke, Dillion Crandall Attorneys

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