Kaylee Lino, a senior at Northfield High School, is interested in pursuing a career in the medical field.  She decided to visit her high school’s career center, where she enrolled in the Workforce Development Inc. program.  Through this program, Kaylee was assigned to career counsellor Amy Lofquist.  Lofquist placed Kaylee in an internship with HealthFinders Collaborative (HFC) and through the Emerging Leaders Grant, Kaylee was able to receive remuneration for her internship. The experience that Kaylee has gained through her internship with HFC has significantly increased her chances of being accepted into college, and helping her to pursue her dreams of having a career in the medical field. Through her work with HFC, she has been able to make a meaningful impact within the community.

As new state reports reveal, the achievement gap between Caucasian and minority students in Minnesota continues to increase, becoming worse than the national average by almost every measure. There is no question that we need to provide assistance to minority youth to help ensure that they receive the same opportunities available to their Caucasian counterparts. Workforce Development Inc. is a non-profit agency that focuses on helping the youth within the minority populations of Southeast Minnesota.  The help that they provide allows students to gain the education, career planning and pre-vocational skill-training necessary to enter and advance in the workforce.  Lofquist explained that “this organization serves people that have been forgotten: some – that are homeless; teenage parents; posses criminal backgrounds; and many with a low-income background. These are the people that need some extra support to make it and be successful.”

Kaylee’s hard-work, maturity and initiative have meant that she was able to receive Workforce Development’s Emerging Leaders Grant. The Emerging Leaders program is designed to recognize and enhance leadership skills of the youth by engaging in Career Pathways education and work experience. Through Workforce Development, Kaylee is able to receive a stipend for her work as an intern at HFC.  Receiving a paid internship is an opportunity that is often not available to most high school students. Providing remuneration for work experience is crucial to making these internships possible for students who come from low income families in Minnesota.

Minnesota has some of the worst racial income inequalities in the nation. Families of color currently have median incomes that are about half of their Caucasian neighbors – a phenomenon that has gotten worse over time (Magan, 2016).  Having opportunities such as a paid internship experience could be vital in addressing the huge and growing racial disparities. For students like Kaylee who are eager to earn their Bachelor’s degree and pursue a career, programs that give opportunities to youth are essential in making these dreams a reality.  Indeed, Kaylee praised Workforce Development Inc. as “an excellent tool to help gain experience, make connections and increase your chances of getting into college.”

Kaylee’s paid internship not only gives her valuable skills and experience, but her placement at HFC also allows her to give back to the community.  HealthFinders Collaborative is a community health center that provides a comprehensive access point to health services for the marginalized families of Rice County.  Kaylee is particularly passionate about the work done by HFC.  She explained, “HealthFinders’ work with uninsured communities is really important to me because many members of my family and community are uninsured. Healthcare is unaffordable for large segments of the population, so having the opportunity to address this problem is particularly significant for me.” As Career Counsellor Amy Lofquist commented, “what I love about Kaylee’s experience is that she sees the need for healthcare and now she gets to make an impact.

Kaylee’s work with HFC has been particularly valuable because she has been able to gain hands-on experience whilst having a meaningful impact.  The partnership between Workforce Development Inc. and HFC is particularly special because as Lofquist explained, “both organizations are supporting the same mission and population.”  This partnership not only helps youth of color gain valuable training and experience, but also enables these young people to make an important contribution to the community while doing it.  A lot of work must be done in order to adequately address the achievement gap.  Nevertheless, continued community collaboration such as this will, hopefully, help eliminate the disproportionate barriers that minority youths have to face.