A Future Filled with Opportunity

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In his 23 years, Johnnie has seen a lifetime of struggle. Drugs, weapons, gangs, arrests, jail—these had all been part of Johnnie’s daily life, stretching back to his middle school years. When he was 16, Johnnie decided it would be easier for his grandmother, who raised him, to care for his younger siblings if he left her home and tried to make it on his own. Johnnie began to spend his time in downtown Minneapolis during the day and shelters each night, where survival became a vicious cycle of trying to stay safe while avoiding arrest.

YouthLink staff were familiar with Johnnie because he accessed services at YouthLink and the Youth Opportunity Center (YOC). Then, through YouthLink’s partnership with the Downtown 100 Initiative – which focuses on the 100 individuals who have the most frequent involvement with the criminal justice system in the downtown area, learned he was on the Initiative’s “top 100” list. Johnnie was connected to Anne, a YouthLink case manager who specifically worked with the young people on that list who were experiencing homelessness.

As Johnnie began to work with Anne and other staff, they connected him with YOC partners, who helped him get on a better, safer track. Johnnie says, “They all saw potential in me, I guess. I’m quiet, but I’m a deep thinker, and they gave me a chance to talk about things.”

With the help of YouthLink staff, Johnnie began to access as many resources as possible at the YOC—from employment services to assistance registering for health insurance. “Everything was right at my fingertips. Everyone was there to help me. I just had to be an equal partner and do the work, too.”

For ten months now, Johnnie has been arrest-free, and employed. He works as an intern at YouthLink, and as a Peer Outreach Worker—spending three days a week walking the streets in downtown Minneapolis handing out information on resources and encouraging young people to come and see what the YOC has to offer. He’s getting help with his education goals, too, and recently started school at Minneapolis Community and Technical College to earn his degree in theatre and business.

“I’m ready to work for my life now. I can see my future. It’s not a done deal—I know that—but I’m on my way.”

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