In 2016, Get IN Chicago supported an innovative mentoring and workforce development pilot program with Westside Health Authority (WHA).  Called Project AVERT (Avoiding Violence through Employment, Readiness, and Training), the program provides employment readiness and training for high-need youth populations in the Austin community: those with gang affiliations, justice system involvement, histories of violence, or who are disconnected from school.

Unlike many youth job programs, Project AVERT also includes intensive mentoring, case management, and employment guidance to help these young people find jobs and keep them.  This wraparound support has allowed staff to identify potential barriers to employment and address root causes early on.  For example, when staff realized that some participants were failing drug screenings, they added drug testing and counseling to their curriculum.  As a result, their participants now attend interviews in a better position to secure employment and succeed in roles they attain.

Graduates from Westside Health Authority's Project AVERT program, whose pilot was supported by Get IN Chicago, pose at their graduation.

With the pilot support from Get IN Chicago, WHA has been able to demonstrate and build capacity for their youth employment department, securing two additional grants to serve high-risk youth with similar workforce services.  The program’s outcomes have been promising and illustrate the potential benefit of linking wraparound services to workforce initiatives for this population.   So far this year, Project AVERT has recruited more than 100 young people, and staff report successfully connecting 100% of the summer cohort to temporary or permanent employment  at companies such as Wendy’s, Portillo’s, and Jewel.  Not only are these positions first jobs for many of the participants, but they are crucial first steps on the path toward long-term employment and brighter futures.  Given these findings, WHA is planning incorporate aspects of AVERT into their SYNC mentoring program.

WHA shared the following story about how Project AVERT made an impact on one young man:

Success Story

Kevin* is a 16 year old, justice-involved youth who dropped out of high-school last year and recently had a baby with his 14 year old girlfriend. Kevin first came to us through a referral from his Probation Officer.  When introduced to our program, his girlfriend was pregnant with the baby, and he was in a panic about how he would be able to provide for his new family.

Because Kevin’s priority was making money to feed his family, Project AVERT staff made an agreement with him: if he went back to school, our staff would help him find employment. Kevin agreed and is now working while attending GED courses, connected through an onsite program offered by Malcolm X College.  Upon completion of the courses, AVERT will offer Kevin test fee assistance to obtain his GED certificate.

Kevin also struggled with lack of clean clothing, so AVERT staff provided him with a care kit of pants, shirts, and  a winter coat, in addition to transportation assistance for work and classes. Kevin was so appreciative of the help that he invited the staff to the baby shower to celebrate his first child.  To his surprise and amazement, the staff actually showed up and brought gifts. AVERT staff has been proud to support Kevin’s growth during his time in the program, and his Probation Officer has also reported that tremendous improvement.

*name changed