• Berk Yalcinkaya

Our Plan: Foundation of the Winston Opportunity Project

Updated: Jan 5, 2021

This is the second post in the Foundation of the Winston Opportunity Project series. This series is dedicated to providing more information about what this organization is all about. In last week's post, I addressed socioeconomic mobility problem that we, as a community, face in Winston Salem, Forsyth County. As we continue to gain a better understanding of this issue, the question becomes, "how do we combat the lack of socioeconomic mobility in our community, and how do we make sure all youth have the resources to succeed?" In this post, I will detail how the Winston Opportunity Project seeks to open and create opportunity students in our city.


For the Winston Opportunity Project, helping students reach their full potential for success begins with helping them to envision and then plan for a successful future. We want students to be excited about going to college and going into a career field that they're passionate about, but empowering youth to see a direction for their future is only part of the process. The next step is doing everything that we can to support students on their path to success.

For the Winston Opportunity Project, helping students reach their full potential for success begins with helping them to envision and then plan for a successful future.

To support students, the Winston Opportunity Projects strive to create a social network dedicated to equipping youth with tools, resources, and support that they need for future success. Our social networks comprises of mentors, career professionals, supporting organizations, high school students, and other supportive members of our community who are committed supporting the youth on their journey towards a bright future.

The support system that we provide provides begins with mentorship. The benefits of mentorship are very well documented. Youth who received mentorship experienced huge positives compared to their peers. Mentored youth were

- 55% less likely to skip school

- 81% more likely to participate regularly in extracurricular activities

-55% more likely to attend college (Bruce & Bridgeland, 2014)

The proclaimed benefits of mentorship are especially important for disadvantaged youth who, due to a lack of resources and support, are subject to low educational attainment, low attendance rates, and low engagement in school (Jordan et al., 2013). Additionally, the higher rates of matriculation seen in mentored youth are particularly important when addressing poverty and socioeconomic mobility alike because those who attain a bachelor's degree or higher are 600% less likely to live in poverty than those who don't graduate high school (DeNavas-Walt & Proctor, 2015).

While the benefits of mentorship are overwhelmingly positive, this opportunity does not exist for all youth - especially youth in poverty. The nonprofit organization Mentor explains, "Ultimately, mentoring connects a young person to personal growth and development, and social and economic opportunity. Yet one in three young people will grow up without this critical asset." Our programs are dedicated to providing the opportunity for mentorship and thus the benefits it comes with to all youth.

The mentorship opportunities that we provide are designed to empower students to make and pursue their future career and academic goals, and we supplement this emphasis on career and academic success with career exploration and education. By combining career education and mentorship, we help students gain career literacy, explore strengths and interests, and develop soft skills such as communication, team work, and problem solving.

Career education programs can be effective tools to help disadvantaged youth achieve success in future academic and vocational endeavors. One study that examined the impacts of career education mentorship programs noted many positive benefits of these programs such as higher test scores and increased school attendance in the short term and increased college attendance and higher salaries after graduation in the long term when compared to controls. The positive impacts were more pronounced when participants attendance was consistent and sustained (Heinrich & Holzer, 2010).

By combining career education and mentorship, we help students gain career literacy, explore strengths and interests, and develop employable soft skills such as communication, team work, and problem solving.

Furthermore, research elucidates the importance of career education to assist at-risk youth begin thinking about their future and becoming more self aware. By exploring a wide array of careers, career education can spur the discovery and development of students' strengths and interests, thereby helping them to make goals that they feel motivated and excited to pursue (McAvoy, 2018). At the same time, career education enrichment can also aid in the development of soft skills. It is becoming increasingly evident that proficiency in soft skills like critical thinking and communication is a significant indicator for future success (Gates et al., 2018).

With mentorship and career education in mind, our plan is to implement a sustainable long term program with the purpose of bridging the socioeconomic mobility gap in our community by creating and opening equitable opportunity for youth in our community. To start, we will utilize site-based mentorship to facilitate the personal, academic, and vocational development of participants in our program. Beginning in middle school, youth will be paired with a mentor based on shared interests using both one to one and group models. Mentors will facilitate discussion about the interests of the mentee(s), future opportunities in education, the importance of goal setting for future success. This element of mentorship allows for individualized support and enrichment. Additionally, It lends itself well to student-centered career education curriculum where students get to both explore and expand on their current interests in a nurturing learning environment under the guidance of their mentor.

As a further supplement, hands-on career exploration and education will be provided through guest speaker opportunities. According to a survey in the education study Drawing To The Future, less than 1% of children have heard about the jobs they know of through people who are actually from that particular world of work, so hearing from a diverse array of successful career professionals from their community will help students raise their career academic aspirations, increase their awareness of the range of work opportunities available, and break stereotypes they previously believed, such as gender and race bias relating to successful jobs. We focus on providing exposure to high opportunity and high value career paths such as careers in STEM, business and entrepreneurship, and law to ensure that our participants have direction towards a successful future.

At the Winston Opportunity Project, we place a high value of learning that is both fun and beneficial. That is why we plan enriching hands-on activities that relates to a certain career or academic field and helps build important soft skills. Activities like building a prosthetic leg or a visual demonstration on how planes fly get students excited about learning and build important skills that students will draw upon and utilize in the future.

The Winston Opportunity Project continues to work hard to foster upward socioeconomic mobility in Winston Salem, Forsyth County. Our programs exists to create equitable opportunity for success to our community's future leaders, scholars, and career professionals. It is through this effort that strive to empower youth to grow academically and personally as they make and achieve their future goals. Ultimately, we want to see a future where all youth have the chance to achieve their full potential for success.

In the next post, I will talk more about our career-focused mentoring model and how we plan to continue to grow and expand our organization.


Works Cited

Bruce, M., & Bridgeland, J. (2014). The Mentoring Effect: Young People’sPerspectives on the Outcomes and Availability of Mentoring. Civic Enterprises.

Chetty, R., Hendren, N., Kline, P., Saez, E. (2014). Where is the Land of Opportunity? The Geography of Intergenerational Mobility in the United States. Equality of Opportunity Project.

DeNavas-Walt, Carmen and Bernadette D. Proctor, Income and Poverty in the United States: 2014 U.S. Census Bureau. Current Population Reports P60-252, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 2015.

Gates, S., Lippman, L., Shadowen, N., Burke, H., Diener, O., & Malkin, M. (2016). Key Soft Skills for Cross-Sectoral Youth Outcomes. USAID’s YouthPower: Implementation, YouthPower Action

Heinrich, C. J., & Holzer, H. J. (2010). Improving Education and Employment for Disadvantaged Young Men: Proven and Promising Strategies. Urban Institute.

McAvoy, D. (2018). Career Exploration in Middle School. Setting Students on the Path to Success.

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