Grantee Spotlight

Eight Million Stories

SER's newest initiative, Eight Million Stories, is aimed at disrupting the cradle-to-prison pipeline. The single greatest predictor of future incarceration in the juvenile justice system is a history of disciplinary referrals at school. As a result of schools' overuse and disproportionate application of exclusionary discipline, we find young boys of color tracked into the school-to-prison pipeline and cycling through juvenile correctional facility programs. Once incarcerated, juveniles are unlikely to return to school, and their criminal records affect their likelihood of employment. Youth (ages 16 to 24) who neither work nor attend school represent a growing segment of the population known as "opportunity youth/young adults" (OYYA). One in five (22%) Houston OYYA do not have a high school degree, highlighting the importance of creating pathways to opportunity that re-engage this population and allow them to have marketable credentials. In supporting this population, it is important to have wrap-around services, alternative credentialing and education programs, and innovative training programs. Eight Million Stories represents one key component of the work being done to support this population.

Within this program, SER works with justice system-involved youth who face multiple challenges. Eight Million Stories seeks to establish an alternative education program, establish appropriate re-entry strategies to support students in returning to their communities, and curb unnecessary referrals from schools to the justice system. By leveraging SER's strengths in bundling interventions, utilizing a strengths-based coaching model, and collaborating with employers and other service providers, youth will be empowered with the skills they need to become successful in postsecondary education and/or the workforce.

In this collaborative initiative with the Harris County Juvenile Justice Department (HCJJD), SER will be co-locating staff at Harris County Education Transition Center (ETC), a juvenile probation non-residential facility, to provide education, career coaching, occupational training, and other services to currently institutionalized and recently released youth. Youth that are still on probation/parole also utilize this facility as a day-time drop-in center for GED tutorials and meetings with their supervision officer, so by providing SER services on-site, SER can help those already in the process of transitioning back into the community to do so more effectively by co-enrolling in SER services.

In its pilot year, SER is planning to serve eighty 16-17 year olds. The plan is to continue expanding capacity within residential facilities. The program model consists of:

  • 2-week mental toughness
  • 6-week paid occupational skills training (construction and office administration career tracks)
  • Ongoing GED classes and tutoring
  • 8-week paid on-the-job training (OJT)

 At the end of the 16-week program, students receive nationally recognized credentials. SER's network of committed employer partners is critical in helping young people find an OJT placement and ultimately a full-time job. Once employed, SER continues to provide support through ongoing career coaching and mentoring.

Moving forward, SER has ambitious goals. By 2020, Eight Million Stories hopes to bring its OJT and re-entry components to residential facilities such as Youth Village to complement its vocational education. Although this program currently focuses on intervening with justice-involved youth, prevention is a key piece that they hope to incorporate into their work. To this end, SER's vision is to curb unnecessary referrals and provide the needed supports and resources for this high-need population. Vanessa Ramirez, Chief Operating Officer, shares the following ways we can all support the work being done to help system-involved youth and dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline:

  • Commit to being informed. This is a complex problem involving a number of barriers and systems that youth are navigating through. We need to know what is happening in the schools and juvenile justice system, but we also need to understand the youth perspective and learn from their stories.
  • Commit to coordinated efforts. When nonprofits work in silos, young people lose. We need to leverage our key assets and strengths and collaborate so that youth benefit from all we have to offer.
  • Commit to sharing data. There should be a high level of transparency so we can truly understand the situation and learn how to address it.
  • Commit to action. Encourage parents and community members to be involved in the political process (i.e., school board meetings) and bring this issue to the forefront.

Rockwell Fund, Inc.'s most recent grant to SER was for general operating support. Our focus is on middle school dropout prevention, and it will be critical to address the disproportionate application and overuse of discipline policies that push and keep students out of school. Eight Million Stories addresses this key population and helps them rewrite their story by re-engaging them in education and the workforce and redefining their pathway to success.


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