If Charlotte, North Carolina is ever to increase economic mobility for young people currently living in poverty, we will need to collaborate in unusual, unfamiliar, and uncomfortable ways.
As an in-school youth provider to Charlotte Works since 2012, MeckEd has provided more than 13,000 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) high school students attending high-need schools with college and career readiness opportunities. , such as job matches, career roundtables, university tours and internships. We’ve offered over 1,000 paid internships through partnerships with over 150 Charlotte-area businesses and industries.
We were able to break down barriers to opportunity by providing transportation, career clothing, social skills training, food, childcare, career equipment, books, medical expenses and school fees for certification programs. It’s not enough.
In a bold experiment designed to pave the way for a bright future for young people at four CMS high schools, MeckEd has partnered with the Charlotte Area Fund (CAF) to tackle the root causes of generational poverty and create a systems approach to change.
In addition to all of the supports provided to students through MeckEd’s Career Pathways program, the CAF has provided needs-based resources to several families of youth in our program. These resources for expenses such as rent, car repairs, or medical bills may seem like a “band aid,” but they are a strategic attempt to free up students so they can focus on their own path ahead.
More recently, the CAF stepped in again to support our ongoing efforts to transform lives. CAF recognizes that there is no economic mobility without mobility. Transportation remains a significant barrier to success, especially for our Career Pathways participants who struggle to travel to internships, job shadowing, or simply commuting to and from our offices for soft skills training.
In the summer, many college students that MeckEd serves in enrichment programs require transportation. We wondered aloud about buying a van to help get our program participants where they need to be. This need, along with the need to provide family supports in addition to direct youth services, resonated with CAF leaders. In fact, they donated the funds that allowed MeckEd to purchase and insure a 12-passenger van.
MeckEd and CAF are committed to achieving shared results through smart strategic partnerships. Intentional and systemic collaborations are a step in the right direction, but they are not easy to orchestrate. First, we must align and coordinate our efforts to increase our individual and collective impact. To do this effectively, we believe Charlotte needs to invest in asset mapping that would allow program providers, nonprofits, and funders to answer a simple but elusive question: who does what, where?
Additionally, if collaboration is to normalize, it will need to be underpinned by evidence, which can only come from collecting, analyzing, and sharing best practices and impact data. A research budget should be built into each collaboration and supported by partnerships with public and private colleges and universities as well as public and private funding.
Finally, all of us in the nonprofit community recognize that there are costs beyond the costs associated with running individual organizations that are associated with collaboration itself. Nonprofits should be able to cross the tracks voluntarily without hurting themselves financially.
All of our children, especially those who need us most, deserve a fair chance at a bright future. It’s time to lean in, open our minds to what’s possible, and provide the tools, resources, and supports needed to exponentially increase our individual and collective impact. Why? Because we are better together.