Opportunity Youth Service Initiative

Who are Opportunity Youth?

Opportunity Youth - sometimes referred to as "disconnected youth" - are defined as people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither in school nor working. As of 2015, there are approximately 5.8 million young Americans who meet the definition of Opportunity Youth. These young men and women represent a social and economic opportunity: many of them are eager to further their education, gain work experience and help their communities. Not investing in the future of these youth means 6.7 million missed opportunities.

The Facts:

  • Males and females each make up roughly half of the Opportunity Youth population.
  • Studies show that about half the population of Opportunity Youth is white, meaning minority groups - particularly African Americans and Hispanics - are disproportionately over represented.
  •  About 30 percent to 40 percent of Opportunity Youth lack a high school diploma. In comparison, only 10 percent to 13 percent of "connected youth" lack a diploma
  •  3 out of every 5 Opportunity Youth say they grew up in a poor or working class family, meaning 2 out of every 5 are on a downward slope from a middle class upbringing.
  • Only 6% of children born into low-income families will make it to the top of the income ladder.

Why should we care about Opportunity Youth?
With every high school dropout, we lose future doctors, teachers, business leaders and scientists. America cannot compete globally if a significant portion of the next generation is left behind. Investing in education and job training for Opportunity Youth is far less expensive than paying for the social services these young people might otherwise need. Opportunity Youth cost America billions of dollars every year in lost productivity, lost revenue, increased demand for welfare services and crime-related expenditures. Over 60 percent of all youth crime can be attributed to disconnected young men and women. These crimes translate into billions of dollars spent annually on incarceration and victim services.

What can be done to help?
Studies show that about 75 percent of Opportunity Youth are hopeful or confident they will eventually achieve their life goals. More than half see themselves one day earning a college degree. The majority of Opportunity Youth are eager to find a way to advance their education while also earning money or learning job skills. Many service and conservation corps - like those advocated for by The Corps Network - offer youth participants mentors, work experience, job training and educational possibilities. Youth who participate in corps gain leadership skills, earn their GEDs or high school diplomas and go on to become successful, productive adults.

Read more about Opportunity Youth here.

The Corps Network Opportuntiy Youth Service Initiative (OYSI)

What is the OYSI?
The Opportunity Youth Service Initiative (OYSI) is a program designed to engage diverse youth and young adults (primarily ages 16 – 24 years old) from disadvantaged backgrounds in environmental stewardship projects. The OYSI is an AmeriCorps program made possible through a grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service. 

The OYSI addresses 3 Critical Needs:
1. Disengagement of disadvantaged and low-income youth and young adults from employment and educational opportunities.

  • There are 5.8 million youth ages 16 – 24 who are out of school and out of work. The OYSI addresses this problem by providing Corpsmembers with educational opportunities and hands-on job training

2. Labor market need for individuals with skills related to conservation and public lands restoration.

  • The OYSI creates a green-skilled, career ready workforce, which is desperately needed as the baby-boomer generation enters into retirement and leaves the U.S. Department of Interior and U.S. Forest Service with substantial human resources deficits

3. Lack of affordable housing.

  • 40% of U.S. energy consumption comes from buildings. Informational and financial barriers keep many homeowners from transitioning to energy efficiency. OYSI Corpsmembers address this problem by providing low-income individuals and families with home repairs and retrofitting that lead to more affordable, energy efficient housing.

OYSI locations:
The OYSI operates through 12 Corps programs in 13 states

Corpsmember Development:
Through engagement in environmental service projects, OYSI Corpsmembers develop an understanding of nature and appreciation for community involvement. Also, all of The Corps Network member organizations involved in the OYSI prepare Corpsmembers for future education and employment success by providing:

  • Assistance in transition to post-secondary educational institutions
  • Workplace readiness training
  • Professional certifications, including: OSHA certification; wildland firefighting; BPI Energy Efficiency Certification; HAZMAT certification; ADA Trail Design Certification


OYSI Summer of Service pilot project
(see fact sheet at right)

Youth are particularly vulnerable to falling off track during the summer when schools are closed. One way to confront "summer disconnection" is to engage young people in national service.

During the summer of 2015, three OYSI Corps enrolled a total of 82 teens and young adults in a 3-month-long AmeriCorps term of service. Over the course of the summer, the Corpsmembers engaged in a variety of community and environmental conservation projects, completing over 24,600 service hours. 

At the end of the summer, the majority of Corpsmembers reported having a clearer direction for their future and a sense of civic duty: 80 percent felt more aware of the needs of their community; 80 percent felt a greater responsibility to help their community; 75 percent wanted to pursue education beyond high school; and 71 percent wanted to pursue a career helping others. As AmeriCorps members, each of the Corpsmembers was eligible to receive a $1,195 AmeriCorps Education Award (scholarship) to pursue future education or repay student loans.

Based, in part, on the success of this pilot, the Corporation for National and Community Service formed a new initiative, Summer Opportunity AmeriCorps.