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Thursday December 8th

"Our State, Our Work" program helps youth across state find living-wage jobs post-pandemic

<p>Anita Brown-Graham, the director of ncIMPACT Initiative, is the lead coordinator for Carolina Across 100. Photo courtesy of Jon Gardiner.</p>
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Anita Brown-Graham, the director of ncIMPACT Initiative, is the lead coordinator for Carolina Across 100. Photo courtesy of Jon Gardiner.

Lifting COVID-19 restrictions doesn’t mean that the effects of the pandemic have dissipated, especially for young adults looking for employment. 

"Our State, Our Work" — a two-year Carolina Across 100 program that helps youth in North Carolina find living-wage jobs— offers a solution. 

Carolina Across 100 is a five-year initiative intended to assist all 100 counties in North Carolina in growth and recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic. “Our State, Our Work” is the first program in that larger initiative. 

Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz launched Carolina Across 100 in March 2021. Anita Brown-Graham, the director of ncIMPACT Initiative, and her team lead Carolina Across 100. The ncIMPACT Initiative coordinates the initiative.

The Carolina Across 100 initiative announced on June 1 that they selected 13 teams that represent 37 counties in North Carolina to work on expanding education and employment pathways for young adults as part of "Our State, Our Work."

The program intends to help opportunity youth, which are individuals ages 16 to 24 who are not working or attending school.

The national unemployment rate for this age group almost tripled from the spring of 2019 to the spring of 2020, according to a 2020 report by the Economic Policy Institute. 

Even before the pandemic, Carolina Across 100 noted that opportunity youth had a higher percentage of people living in poverty than non-opportunity youth in 2019.

“I think that we know that the remote learning presented some challenges — being disconnected from the actual school setting, meaning going to the schools, made it more challenging to stay connected to some of our youth,” Paula Benson, a community leader in Wilson County for “Our State, Our Work," said. 

The 13 teams will meet in mid-June and will hold their first forum at UNC in mid-September. 

Throughout the program, the 13 teams will meet in forums to discuss and learn with other communities, gather resources and visit participating counties to facilitate the program’s implementation. 

Benson said she hopes that “Our State, Our Work” will allow opportunity youth a way to help strengthen the workforce in the state.

“We're fortunate to have really strong relationships in the Wilson community. And many of those relationships are demonstrated through the partnerships that already exist between the private sector and the public sector,” Benson said.

Jess Dorrance, the program lead coordinator for “Our State, Our Work,” said she was excited to see that UNC was impacting young people and serving the state.

Dorrance added that the program will boost the visibility of already existing career development programs so that more people can utilize them. It will also offer opportunities such as certifications from Microsoft and Google.

Brown-Graham said that the program is very committed to North Carolina and its history. 

“So in so many ways, this program, for me, reflects a multi-generational DNA for UNC-Chapel Hill,” she said. “I think about every crisis moment in our state, whether that was post-Civil War, post-World War, I can look to ways that the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill stepped up to support the state in recovery.”

Brown-Graham added that COVID-19 had made clear that some infrastructure wasn’t as strong as it seemed. She hopes that the “Our State, Our Work” program will create a long-lasting system and will allow young adults to find living-wage jobs.

“I have been blown away by the response of UNC-Chapel Hill students to this work — I expected a lot of support, but I didn't expect this much support,” Brown-Graham said.

To learn more about “Our State, Our Work” and to see if your county is a part of it, visit the Carolina Across 100 website.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled Anita Brown-Graham's name on the second reference. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error. 

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