Worcester To Participate In Youth Leadership Program

SNOW HILL – Gov. Larry Hogan has chosen Worcester County to participate in a new program that addresses disparities among the population’s youth.

Worcester County Health Department’s Local Management Board (LMB) – a division that connects local resources for families, children and youth – will act as a coordinator for the program, gathering data on individuals ages 16-24 and presenting it to community members for input and suggestions that solve the discrepancies.

Jessica Sexauer, LMB director, said nearly 24 percent of Worcester County youth between ages 16-24 are either not in school or not working, higher than state and national statistics. The new program, entitled “Maryland Governor’s Office for Children Disconnected/Opportunity Youth Results-Based Leadership Program,” will allow local agencies to utilize county resources that will improve outcomes for “opportunity youth” – those with potential value to the economy and community.

“The biggest thing it means for us is the opportunity to have input from youth, families and the community members that it impacts,” she said.

The team – LMB, Worcester County Core Service Agency, the Health Department and the Department of Social Services – will take the information and establish what funded programs will look like in the future to address the program’s goals.

Worcester County was one of 10 counties, or areas, across the state to be selected for the program.

Worcester, Talbot, Montgomery and Baltimore counties as well as Baltimore City will be the first cohort to meet in four, two-day sessions throughout the year.

The second cohort – Calvert, Cecil, Harford, Washington and Wicomico counties – will begin its sessions in May.

The goal of these sessions, Sexauer said, is to create plans that will make a difference by December of this year. She added by Fiscal Year 2019, all funding they receive from state will target the identified areas.

The new program is a joint effort between the Governor’s Office for Children and the Annie E. Casey Foundation to “ensure that young people are on a pathway to education and employment”.

The state has established four benchmarks for disconnected youth through 2017 – to reduce disconnected youth, childhood hunger, youth homelessness and the impact of incarceration on families, children and community members.

“We may not focus on all four areas … because if we have good community support, we want to make sure funds are going to areas that need further growth,” Sexauer said.

She explained that officials in Worcester County can already identify problems that limit employment and educational opportunities for youth, but fail to compare them with other counties in their cohort. She said transportation, rural and seasonal employment barriers are some of the issues the region faces.

“We are the most unique county by nature of Ocean City,” she said. “The county has a good understanding of what is happening here, but we brush up against how we compare to other counties. We are not the same as Baltimore, but we do our best to make sure differences are known.”

Sexauer said the data will allow partners within the cohort to have deeper conversations about underlying issues.

“The team working on this initiative through the cohort will be reaching out to other local partners, youth, and families, to take a deeper look into the disparities and needs of this population,” she said in a statement. “It is the hope of the LMB and partners to bring community members together by using a framework that would identify the county’s target population for opportunity youth and how to make the best impact for improving outcomes.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.