Nonprofit asks officials for $618,000 to start youth jobs ‘system’

jwise@newsobserver.comMay 23, 2014 

— The president of Durham nonprofit MDC, David Dodson, went before the City Council, Durham County commissioners and Durham school board last week, to talk about “Made in Durham” – a “system” for moving young people into jobs – and ask for $618,000 to get it started.

He didn’t get the money, but he did get a lot of questions. And he needs to answer them quickly, as all three governing boards are well into budgeting for the 2014-15 fiscal year.

“I would hope we are not just going to try and reinvent the wheel,” said Commissioner Ellen Reckhow, “when we have so many irons in the fire.”

MDC, originally Manpower Development Corp., is a think tank created in 1967 through the anti-poverty North Carolina Fund. A statement on its website ( bit.ly/1lGfpND) says the agency is “focused on expanding opportunity, reducing poverty, and addressing structural inequity.”

Made In Durham ( bit.ly/1fIFNa3) would be a “demand-led, employer-driven system” of education-to-work “pathways” with the “aspirational goal” that “all of Durham’s young people will have a post-secondary credential with value in the labor-market value and a living wage job by age 25,” Dodson said.

“I don’t need to tell any of you we are very far from that,” he said. “This is going to require a new way of working with employers.”

Made In Durham’s primary target is people age 14 to 25 who have dropped out of school, been involved in the criminal justice system or are otherwise “disconnected” from mainstream paths from school into careers. Those disconnected youth represent about 15 percent of the target population of about 44,000, said Julie Mooney of the MDC staff.

A task force of business and institutional executives devised Made In Durham, Dodson said, along with school and local-government staff members. In a joint meeting with the council, commissioners and school board, Dodson spent an hour and a half describing the concept for Made In Durham.

He spent much of that time trying to explain how Made In Durham is different from programs that are or or have been already in place – such as DPS’s City of Medicine Academy and the Durham Center’s BECOMING Durham.

Existing programs, Dodson said, aren’t working at the “scale” Durham needs; and, “Made In Durham is not a program, is an effort to build a system ... to fill the gaps, which are significant,” he said.

Dodson asked the schools, the city and the county together to appropriate $303,000 next year and $315,000 in 2015-16 – for a total of $618,000 to go with $1.3 million over the two years from private sources.

“This seems like a lot of money going into building a system,” said school board member Leigh Bordley.

The bulk of that money would go for personnel. The plan to start Made In Durham involves hiring four employees during 2014-15: an executive director, an “employment engagement coordinator,” a “career pathways coordinator” and a “research and policy coordinator.”

Most of the officials at the meeting were hearing about Made In Durham for the first time and one, school board member Nancy Cox, was not amused.

“We are not being told anything we don’t know,” Cox said, “and I’m really feeling offended for the reality that Durham Public Schools deals with every day to suggest that we need this many people for something outside of what we’re already doing,” she said.

Mooney responded that Made In Durham would be a “soup to nuts” system involving more than just the school system.

Still, after almost two hours it was apparent the city, county and school officials remained unclear on just what they were being asked to support.

“We need way more specificity on what we are getting for the money,” Reckhow said.

“You’ve got a lot of questions,” said Mayor Bill Bell. “We need to get some responses.”

Wise: 919-641-5895

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