Helping youth find a path to a brighter future

Johnnie and supervisor Angel Sandro packed a peer street outreach worker’s bag that contained warm clothes, snacks and self-care items.

Where We Live / YouthLink 

Location: 41 N. 12th St.
Contact: 612-252-1200
Year founded: 1974

Johnnie is 23 years old, bright, ambitious and formerly homeless.

“Right now everything is finally falling into place,” he said.

He’s been receiving services at YouthLink on the edge of downtown Minneapolis for seven years. Johnny has learned to take pride in his progress — whether it’s fast or slow, and he’s in a position to help other young people do the same.

Staff at YouthLink believe that homelessness is not a final destination. They treat each young person as a traveler on a journey, and see their role as providing the navigational tools of resources, information and support. For 41 years, YouthLink has created an environment where youth in transition can feel safe, and where it’s possible to establish healthy, supportive relationships with adults who care. Services are available for youth ages 16 to 23.

With the help of YouthLink, Johnnie has been able to redirect his life. Their on-site Youth Opportunity Center hosts staff from 30 local nonprofits every week. Like a resource fair for real life, they offer guidance in the areas of basic needs, mental health, education/employment and housing.

Johnnie has utilized them all. Now in his last year of eligibility for services at YouthLink, he is poised for success. Johnnie is a business development intern at YouthLink— a position that allows him to learn new computer skills, marketing strategies and polish public speaking skills. He hits the ground several times a week as a peer street outreach worker, approaching young people downtown who may be homeless and directing them to YouthLink.

And this week, Johnnie started his first classes at Minneapolis Community & Technical College. He is planning to study for a two-year degree in theater, a four-year degree in business and, eventually, an MBA.

“If you want something bad enough, and it’s legal, you can work really hard and make it happen,” Johnnie said.

YouthLink needs more business and nonprofit leaders willing to consider their young people for jobs. Employment navigator Ginny Michel helps map out career goals, write resumes, prepare for interviews and, after they’ve been hired, provides youth with continued employment support.

“What can an employer expect from someone who is or has been homeless? They’ll have a maturity that comes from having lived on the streets, resilience and a very strong will to succeed,” she said.

YouthLink has a vision for our community as a place where all youth have an equal chance to pursue their dreams, and an equal likelihood of achieving them. Toward that end, they’ve created a new way to volunteer — becoming a connector. In that role, an adult commits to “being there” for a young person (18 years or older) as they transition to full independence. The connector offers advice when asked, emotional support and a listening ear on subjects of education and employment. Youth participating in the program are at a point of stability.


What you can do

Contact Ginny Michel at [email protected] if your business or nonprofit is interested in developing job/internship opportunities for youth in transition. Contact Frances Roen at [email protected] to volunteer as a connector. Consider donating MTC passes to YouthLink so that young people can look for work or get to work.


By the numbers

— 484: The number of unduplicated young people who accessed YouthLink’s daytime services in 2014.

— 35,000: The number of hot meals served by YouthLink’s Drop-In Center in 2014.

— 68: The percentage of young people able to connect with more than one resource through YouthLink and the Youth Opportunity Center in 2014.

— 63: The percentage increase in young people receiving case management services since 2012.


About the Where We Live project

This project is an ongoing series spearheaded by Journals’ publisher Janis Hall showcasing Minneapolis nonprofits doing important work in the community. The editorial team has selected organizations to spotlight.