Tempo helps Massachusetts’ most vulnerable youth transition to adulthood
Last month LTM announced the final list of 2012 Social Innovators chosen by Root Cause, a nonprofit research and consulting firm. Root Cause recognized six nonprofit organizations—LGBT Aging Project, Science Club for Girls, InnerCity Weightlifting, Cooking Matters Massachusetts, Work Express, and Tempo Young Adult Resource Center—for their outstanding impact in the Boston area. Each “Social Innovator” chose a representative to present its mission and ongoing projects to an audience of funders (business leaders, foundations, government officials and philanthropists) as part of a May 2012 showcase event.
Over the next year, each of the six representatives will work one-on-one with Root Cause consultants to expand their organization’s impact. Yolanda Ortiz, program director of Tempo, a nonprofit organization that helps at-risk youth aged 17 to 24 transition into adulthood, spoke with us about Tempo’s work in the Boston area.
“We help a lot of young people who are aging out of the foster care system or aging out of the Department of Youth Services (DYS) [who] are staying with friends or couch-surfing,” Ortiz explained. “We get them linked up with any community resource like food stamps, health insurance if they don’t have it, safe shelter to stay in.”
Staff members call the organization a one-stop resource center where youth can consult with professionals for help with all their needs. Many youth who come to Tempo are searching for a job, a GED, a driver’s license or a permit. Some hope to get reacquainted with their families.
Tempo has an on-site nurse, a nearby counseling center and an attorney available for youth dealing with housing security or issues related to health benefits. The resources at Tempo are open to any young person who wishes to take advantages of them.
“It’s one of the few places where [young adults] don’t have to qualify for services,” said Ortiz. “They don’t have to have a mental health diagnosis. They don’t have to have any particular insurance. [Age] 17 to 24 is our only eligibility requirement.”
According to the Tempo website, more than 800 youth in Massachusetts age out of state custody each year and are expected to transition into adulthood without support. Within two years of leaving the system, approximately one in five become homeless and one in four are incarcerated, costing the state an average of $43,000 per year.
Tempo applied for a Root Cause grant last year, but did not make it through the competitive selection process. However, Ortiz and her colleagues were encouraged to apply again this year. After rounds of presentations and pitches, Tempo was awarded the Root Cause stamp-of-approval. For representatives like Ortiz, the application process was an opportunity to learn and grow professionally.
“One of my biggest struggles was with the public speaking,” Ortiz admitted. “I was like, ‘Oh my god, we have to speak in front of 300 people?’ But [Root Cause] did a great job of preparing us.”
Ortiz has been granted 12 months of intensive support from the Social Innovation Forum. These services include one year of executive coaching and access to marketing services, legal services, research analysis and leadership development. In addition to these services, valued at over $100,000, Tempo also received a $10,000 grant.
Tempo and its partners are currently developing a new micro-enterprise venture in which youth will be able to gain critical employment skills. Young people will graduate from the 15-week course with work experience and certificates in Adobe and other computer applications.
According to Ortiz, the majority of the funding will go straight into the pockets of the young people in the form of paid internships at Tempo. Ortiz has also partnered up with fellow Social Innovator Alicia McCabe to bring “Cooking Matters” classes to Tempo to teach young people how to maintain a healthy diet.
How do programs like Tempo operate on a day-to-day basis? Ortiz recalls a man named Tommy who came to Tempo after being released from juvenile detention:
Tommy was a young man who turned 18 in DYS custody. And at age 18 they were like, “OK, you’re out of jail. Goodbye!” He got dropped off by a cab at our front door step. When he walked in, we asked him, “What’s going on?” And he said, “I don’t have a place to live. I don’t have any food. I don’t have any clean clothes. My family’s not around…I don’t know what to do.” In one day, he was able to meet with our staff, and we got him placed in an emergency shelter. We got him linked up with food stamps, health insurance and outpatient counseling next door. Eventually, after he had a place to live and some food, we were able to provide him with an internship so that he could make some money. Now he’s living in a residential program with a group of young men who are living in recovery.
The majority of the youth who come to Tempo stay temporarily to fill out a job application or gain access to housing. However, Ortiz and her team have seen Tempo’s biggest impact on youth who stay long term. Currently, only 15% of the young people who come to Tempo work regularly with a transition facilitator. Ortiz hopes to bring that number up to 25% by next year.
Until then Ortiz is taking advantage of her new resources to draw as much support to Tempo as possible.
“It’s been nervous, exciting, and stressful,” Ortiz said. “I’m hoping that we can use the Root Cause stamp-of-approval to show people that we do have a program that works, and we are working with a vulnerable population that most people forget about.”