Every young person in Connecticut has incredible, innate potential.  Yet 39,000 of our state’s high school-aged youth and young adults are at risk of not realizing that potential because they are disengaged or disconnected, which means they are less likely than their peers to graduate high school on time and connect productively with the workforce.

And the costs of such missed opportunity are steeper now than ever before.  Today a high school degree is essential for unlocking access to post-secondary options that help people achieve their dreams and build better lives —not just for themselves and their families, but for everyone across the state.  By next year in fact, more than 70 percent of all jobs in Connecticut will require some form of post-secondary education.

The scale and urgency of the need to help all young people connect to opportunities and succeed requires all of us to work together.  Youth-serving non-profit organizations have an essential role to play in this collective effort, particularly when it comes to reaching young people who have already dropped out of high school or are close to doing so, and consequently have few if any remaining connections to educators and schools.

Many non-profit organizations have joined in this valiant effort.  We must continue to act with great urgency and focus to accelerate our efforts.  If we are to help young people achieve their full potential, we need to step up our game to reach that next level of impact—to realize our full potential ourselves as organizations.  We must help the youth we serve to achieve positive, long-term outcomes in an effective, reliable, and sustainable way.

Over the last two years, COMPASS Youth Collaborative, Domus, and Our Piece of the Pie have been collaborating through the Connecticut Opportunity Project, an initiative created by Dalio Philanthropies, to develop relationships across communities while learning what it will take to get to where we want to go.  Based on what we have learned together, we are thrilled to now kick off the next phase of the initiative, which marks the beginning of a new kind of deeper and more sustained partnership.

Through the Connecticut Opportunity Project, we will work together to strengthen our organizational capacities and competencies according to road maps we have developed, tailored to each of our organizations, that chart our paths to becoming higher performing organizations.  We will access networks of peers, experts, and best-in-class youth development organizations across the country to further our capacity-building efforts.  Dalio Philanthropies will invest more than $10 million in combined unrestricted funding in our organizations to support this robust partnership over the next five years.

Each of our organizations will develop the practices, systems, and processes required to deliver on our organization-wide strategies for improving positive, long-term outcomes for youth.  We will improve program design, enhance staff support and training, ensure financial health and sustainability, develop data and IT infrastructure that allows us to act on performance data in real time, and more.  If it is to be done in an excellent way that yields results, this is not work that can be accomplished overnight.  The relentless organizational development required over a multi-year period to ultimately improve positive youth outcomes means that we need funders to bet on us for the long term, with grant dollars that allow us the flexibility we need to make meaningful investments in this work.

Helping young people to realize their potential, connect to educational and employment opportunities, and succeed is what the Connecticut Opportunity Project is all about.  Today, we commit to deliver this success with and for our young people, through the work that we are embarking on, together.  To learn more and follow our journey, please visit www.ctopportunityproject.org.

Mike Duggan is Executive Director of Domus Kids.  Enid Rey is Chief Executive Officer of Our Piece of the Pie, and Jacquelyn Santiago is Chief Executive Officer of COMPASS Youth Collaborative.

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