We’ve all heard it over and over—Connecticut is having a rough go of it lately.  While it’s easy to latch on to the negativity, for many of us, there is true frustration about the lack of conversation around what is working in our state.  Despite the headlines, there are still many who are proud to call Connecticut home.

What we should be focusing on are the bright spots and programs that are working to help find solutions to the challenges our state faces in 2016 and beyond.

Two years ago we decided to come up with a real world solution to stem the flow of young people leaving the state by addressing some of the underlying causes of the exodus — a lack of career path jobs, student debt, and disengagement from the community.  It is from that determination that Serve Here CT was launched.

Through a combination of public and private funding, the inaugural class of Serve Here CT kicked off this fall in Southeastern Connecticut, engaging promising millennials — our fellows — in newly created jobs in non-profits organizations.

Serve Here CT works with the fellows to encourage a sense of civic pride and social capital so that these young people can build careers here — and most importantly will have reasons to want to remain in and grow our local communities.

The concept is simple — we aim to encourage community involvement among young people, empower them with job training and help them to manage college debt. The organizations we work with benefit by incorporating fresh minds into their daily operations, while receiving a grant to help cover the cost of their first year salary.

At the completion of the year-long program, the fellows receive $10,000 to be put towards their academic debt or for use for future study or training.

In just the first few months of the program we are already seeing that this concept works, both in the ways we had hoped for and in ways we hadn’t expected.

The fellows have come together and are forming a circle of trust. Each comes from a different background and with different perspectives, but together they have forged a solid support group.  For most, this is their first professional experience, and their weekly meetings, which are facilitated by a local professor, gives them the opportunity to share their experiences and teaches them ways to be engaged, thinking and collaborative employees and citizens. The vibe you get from these young people is contagious. They are excited about their lives and their futures.

The fellows spent the fall working to identify areas of improvement that they might work on at their respective places of employment. This spring, the fellows will work to find solutions to two of these issues as chosen by the group.  This team building will certainly give the fellows collaborative skills for tackling challenges that will face them as their careers progress, while at the same time offering needed help to their employers.

The success of Serve Here CT will continue to grow and expand. Critical to that is continued support both public and private. Many have helped us champion this project and have pledged to continue to do so — for that we are grateful.

Serve Here CT will be accepting applications this summer for fellows in Southeastern Connecticut.  We encourage young adults to learn more about the program, and consider joining. We know it will have a positive impact on their future, and that of the great state of Connecticut.

Alva Greenberg is the President and Founder of Serve Here Connecticut and lives in Old Saybrook.

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