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Philadelphia Youth Network connects students to their dream jobs

The Eagles continue to support nonprofits that work to reduce barriers to opportunity and end racism. In support of Black History Month, the Eagles are proud to recognize the work of one of these nonprofits each day.

"I'm so tired of people telling me what I can't do, what we can't do. There's got to be something that can be done, what can be done."

Philadelphia Youth Network President and CEO Chekemma Townsend cried out those words when the nonprofit that she oversees had to pivot due to the pandemic. Sure, but didn't every organization have to go digital? Yes, but Philadelphia Youth Network supplies job opportunities and internships through the WorkReady program for 8,000 teenagers and young adults each year. Fortunately, Philadelphia Youth Network's group of around 140 partners answered the bell and over 6,100 youth participated over the summer with 85 percent of the jobs administered virtually and the rest in safe, spaced-out environments.

For most teenagers, a job is a luxury for some extra spending money, but for many of Philadephia Youth Network's members, those paychecks help their families with essential needs. And during the pandemic, those checks were even more important.

According to Philadelphia Youth Network's most recent annual report, the unemployment rate for 16-to-25-year-olds was the lowest in 50 years a year ago at this time, just 7.7%. Two months later, after the pandemic shut down most of the globe, the unemployment rate skyrocketed to its highest ever recorded at 27.4%.

Townsend and her team were concerned that the youth would become disconnected from pursuing their career goals in the virtual world. Since its founding in 1999, Philadelphia Youth Network has worked with its partners to create over 225,000 job opportunities. These professional chances are in a wide variety of fields, designed to inspire the youth to learn about potential career paths and choose one for themselves. Students are not only exposed to on-the-job training but learn the path it would take to obtain a job in a particular area. It "demystifies the process," Townsend says. Philadelphia Youth Network alumni are employed in several professional realms from medicine, engineering, teaching, entrepreneurship, and some even returned to the nonprofit that opened the doors for them in the first place.

Based on post-employment surveys, 94% of participants feel more prepared for the future and 92% are more prepared to set career goals.

Philadelphia Youth Network purposely aims to help those from vulnerable positions in an effort to free them from the traps that lead to multigenerational poverty. Townsend explains how people benefit from social capital and if the youth are in broken homes or exposed to a limited array of educational and workforce opportunities, it's hard to imagine something bigger and better.

"It's very challenging to know what is possible when you don't have real examples," Townsend says. "We want to have them make informed decisions."

Philadelphia Youth Network is narrowing its focus to further extend aid to youth who are in the juvenile justice system, the foster care system, and those who are young parents.

"Equity is not about giving each person the same thing, but tailoring the solution so that there is a fair set of conditions for everybody who's participating," Townsend says. "We have always been focused on equity, but it also forced us to look at where is privilege or where has bias been really hidden in the system."

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