Strong Neighborhoods

Matthew Simpson is a community impact manager with United Way of Rock River Valley

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Connecting young black men to education and job training resources

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Unemployment in the Rockford, Illinois area is almost twice the National average, which makes finding a job that more difficult. It's especially a major issue for young black men. In fact, nearly 70 percent of young black males between the ages of 18-24 years old are without a job. That's more than four times higher than the rate for young white men.

And for those who leave school early like Tyair Jones, the lack of a high school diploma, job experience, discrimination and mental health issues such as depression are some of the obstacles young black men encounter when seeking employment.

In April 2016, United Way of Rock River Valley launched the Black Male Initiative, a pilot program in collaboration with Goodwill of Northern Illinois and Workforce Connection Elevate, that helps young men in Rockford overcome educational and employment barriers by providing wraparound support services.

BMI pairs participants with a male mentor during a two-week "career boot camp" before starting their individual success plan with the help of case managers. The individual success plans may include goals such as securing stable employment, obtaining their high school equivalency, and seeking job skills training. Mentors communicate with their candidates on a weekly basis providing guidance throughout the process.

The entire cohort also gathers together for monthly dinner discussions intended to create a network of support and ensure the young men feel that they can truly succeed despite the obstacles they face.

Since starting the initiative last year, the group has grown from six participants to 16. Currently seven of the young black men have secured permanent jobs and two are in job training programs.

Today, Tyair is focusing on his long-term goal: to get his GED. Tyair's success is part of United Way's Strong Neighborhoods focus, which is directing resources in two of Rockford's most economically challenged neighborhoods --- Midtown and Ellis Heights --- in an effort to deconcentrate poverty and boost employment in our region.


To get involved as a mentor with BMI, visit, or support our Strong Neighborhoods efforts with a donation.




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Guest Wednesday, 23 August 2017
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New partnership with Top Box Foods increases access to healthy and affordable food in two local neighborhood food deserts.

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