Mecklenburg helps save youth program

A successful Urban League youth program that recently lost federal funding has won yet another supporter among Charlotte's big donors.

The Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services announced that it is providing $250,000 to the Urban League of Central Carolinas to help save the Urban Youth Empowerment Program, which has had an 80 percent success rate helping at-risk youth become self-sufficient.

It's the second time in four weeks that a local entity has offered support. Family Dollar Stores founder Leon Levine and his Levine Foundation came first, donating $100,000 as part of a matching grant.

DSS officials say they were impressed enough with the Urban League's success rate to advocate creating a partnership. From now on, DSS will refer potential students to the program.

“We're committed to working with community-based organizations,” DSS Director Mary Wilson said in a statement. “When we collaborate with successful programs, we can leverage county dollars efficiently and effectively to deliver a wider range of services.”

The Urban Youth Empowerment Program was paid for by the U.S. Department of Labor until mid-August, when the $420,000 annual budget was reallocated. Urban League officials feared it would have to be discontinued, but the two large donations have guaranteed its survival for at least another year. Another benefit: the switch away from heavily regulated federal dollars means the Urban League can more easily alter the program to meet local needs. Among the changes already adopted are a broadening in the age range to include students from 18 to 24, and an increase in the number who can participate each session.

“We have to be willing to take the risk of trying different service strategies,” said Urban League President and CEO Patrick Graham.

Urban League officials say they have already received 100 applications from potential participants in the next nine-month session, which will begin in coming weeks. Sessions typically last nine months.

To date, 169 young people have participated, all of them dropouts or young offenders who spent time in prison. Most have had success in earning their GEDs and finding steady work, while others have enrolled in colleges or vocational schools or joined the military.