Juma Ventures: helping at-risk youth break the cycle of poverty through college education

by Anis Salvesen

America – it’s the land of promise, the land of opportunity.   But not for all. Not for those without a higher education.  Odds are high, they will be ruthlessly trapped in a cycle of poverty for their entire lives.

Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of a low-income youth for a moment.   How hard would it be to aspire to college if not even half of your peers graduated from high school?   What if you had no role models, no financial support and no guidance?   What if I then told you there was someone who could help you?   You could go to college and live the American dream.   How amazingly exciting would that be?

Juma Ventures is exactly that – exciting! It’s an innovative nonprofit that started as a Ben & Jerry’s franchise in San Francisco, providing homeless youth with employment opportunities. Since its ice cream shop days back in 1993, Juma has grown to be a comprehensive youth development program helping more than 200 disadvantaged young people a year reach their goals of attaining a college education.

So what does that mean?  What is a “comprehensive youth development program”?   It’s actually pretty brilliant.   It has 3 core components which I will briefly share with you.

1)  Job skills training and part-time employment at one of 7 social enterprise concessions at major sports venues.  On average, youths participating in the program earn about $1,500 annually.  The job skills, they keep for life.

2)  Asset building. Juma’s young people take the money they earn via social enterprise and establish Individual Development Accounts.   In fact, Juma pioneered the concept of IDAs.   Here’s what happens: the young person sets up a savings account, is given access to a series of financial literacy workshops and then receives matching funds.

Since this program was established in 1999, the amount of money young people participating in it have deposited is $643,000 into their own IDAs. They’ve earned more than $818,000 in matching funds (as of the end of 2008).  Talk about exciting!

3)  College and career services. This means Juma provides standardized test preparation, tutoring and support in completing college entrance and financial aid applications. Additionally they offer career workshops that feature panelists from a variety of fields.

Juma also leverages scholarships through donor partnerships.   In 2009, Juma youth were awarded $140,000 in scholarship funds.

But wait – there’s more.  Once students with direct support have entered college, Juma provides them with coaching in leveraging campus financial aid systems and with academic advising for the first two years.

So Juma Ventures identified an issue and created a program to address it.   But what about results? Does participation in the Juma program actually help low-income youth looking to get a college education? Look at these stats and see for yourself.

  • Since 1993, Juma has served more than 2,500 youth who have earned in  excess of $1.4 million in wages.  That’s one-point-four-MILLION!
  • 100% of Juma’s 2009 Bay Area high-school seniors graduated from high school (compared to Oakland’s graduation rate of 46% and San Francisco’s graduation rate of 73%).
  • 97% of Juma youth are still working and/or enrolled in academic or vocational training two years after completing Juma’s program.
  • Within the highest-risk youth group, those who had been convicted of a crime prior to entering Juma’s program 13% had relapsed into criminal behavior at some point during the two-year follow-up period (versus a 91% youth offender recidivism rate in California within three years of release from the Division of Juvenile Justice).

Juma Ventures is clearly making a significant impact in the lives of thousands of young people.  We look forward to seeing the great results attained in 2010!

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