Collaborating on Success

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The Youth Opportunity Center (YOC) at YouthLink, part of the City of Minneapolis and Hennepin County’s initiative to end homelessness, will celebrate its fifth anniversary in 2016. In that short time, this unique model of collaboration has grown from five service providers, before the YOC’s inception, to twenty-seven today, with others on the horizon.

The YOC is a one-stop-shop approach to helping youth exit homelessness. Whether youth need to access basic needs like food and hygiene, get state IDs and benefits, meet with GED tutors, access health care, apply for college, find employment, or apply for housing, YouthLink and the Youth Opportunity Center can partner with them every step of the way.

Says Marney Thomas, Director of Partnerships and Community Engagement at YouthLink, “Having so many partners onsite helps youth navigating their journeys to independence much easier. As they work on education goals, they can be having real-time conversations with employment partners, making their track from learning to earning more streamlined. Flexibility like that creates new opportunities.”

Dr. Heather Huseby, Executive Director of YouthLink adds, “Every YOC partner brings unique expertise. There’s no duplication of services among agencies here. Resources are shared to build the very best outcomes for the young people we serve. Collaboration is THE core of what we do.”

The Youth Opportunity Center helps youth navigate a complex web of services, whether they’re familiar with YouthLink, or first-timers who aren’t sure where to turn for help. Says Regina, one of YouthLink’s Welcome Center staff, “As soon as a young person walks in YouthLink’s door, I feel confident telling them, ‘you’ve come to the right place.’ We can help them find the right answers, right here, just by having all these YOC partners on site.”

But there’s still room for growth. “We’re seeing more and more youth accessing our morning drop-in services, specifically for ages 18-23. We want to make sure we balance our programming with helpful resources in the morning. This is such a critical age group to work with, they are really at a tipping point between long term homelessness and stability. Having the ability to build a network of resources relevant to them is key to success, and we can add new partners wherever we see gaps”, says Marney.

In the past year, YouthLink and the YOC have been able to bring legal services, educational opportunities, health services like HIV testing, new volunteer services, and more to our morning drop-in hours. With 68% of youth accessing services beyond basic needs, and 474 unduplicated youth accessing our morning drop-in services last year, the demand for a supportive network of services in one location seems clear.

This innovative approach to community building has gained national attention, as well as national funding. Visitors have come from youth serving agencies from all over the country to see how this system works. With this continuing dedication to collaboration, we can’t wait to see where the next 5 years will take us.

To learn more about YouthLink and the Youth Opportunity Center’s partnerships, visit

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