Despite being New Jersey’s capital city, and located in Mercer County, one of the wealthiest counties in the State, Trenton is a highly distressed city. More than one in five families live below the poverty level, the median household income in Trenton is $35,259, compared to $71,374 in Mercer County (2006-2008 U.S. Census American Community Survey).
Forty eight percent of young adults in Trenton do not have a high school diploma, and only 3.7% in this age group hold bachelor’s degrees. Residents’ low education levels hinder the area’s ability to attract employers that pay living wages.
According to the NJ Department of Education’s data for the 2009/2010 academic year, the high school drop-out rate in New Jersey was 1.7% compared to 13.9% in Trenton. Of all students graduating from high school in New Jersey 85% went on to college, 2% went to on to other types of educational programs and 5% obtained full time employment. Comparatively, in Trenton, only 21% of all graduates went on to colleges, 0.2% attended other forms of post-graduate training and 0.3% obtained full time employment. In 2010, of 488 high school graduates in Trenton 331 were undecided about their future.
Together, concentrated poverty, a declining level of educational achievement, and the lack of opportunity for gainful employment have given way to an atmosphere where Trenton youth who want to take steps to improve their lives face nearly insurmountable odds. All IYI students face significant challenges, but all have chosen to take control of their lives and strive for self-sufficiency by enrolling at IYI.
Isles Youth Institute (IYI) engages disconnected youth; many of whom have been involved with the juvenile justice system, some who have children, some who are homeless and others who have dropped out of traditional high schools, and helps them to work through life challenges while assisting them in meeting their educational and career goals. The IYI mission of “self-reliance through education” is accomplished through a multi-faceted approach to teaching, encourages leadership building at all levels and includes a primary focus on student achievement for placement in post-secondary education, advanced vocational training or career oriented jobs.
These combined services lead to positive outcomes. A cost-benefit analysis performed by YouthBuild USA found (1) evidence of reduced recidivism and improved education outcomes, and (2) a positive benefit-to-cost ratio, with every dollar spent on every youth estimated to produce a social return on investment of at least $7.80 for the education gains; and a social return on investment of $10.80 and $42.90 for court-involved youth. Benefits to society range between $134,000 and $536,000 per participant at a cost to society of about $12,500. Healthcare, community revitalization, and other benefits also accrue.
To help students achieve our mission of self-reliance IYI has established the following goals and objectives:
Goal: To provide youth with the tools necessary to achieve career success.
Objective: To offer a wide range educational opportunities that allow students choices in all career paths including post-secondary education and advanced vocational training.
Objective: To offer students career development and advancement training including job shadowing, financial literacy and job etiquette skills.
Goal: To provide youth with the emotional well-being to achieve healthy life relationships and to develop into community oriented residents.
Objective: To offer students various opportunities to engage with social services including life skills training, service learning and volunteer activities, mentoring and appropriate social skills training.
Objective: To offer students opportunities to participate in cultural, recreational and social events both within and outside of Trenton to broaden their intellectual horizons and strengthen their emotional capacity.
The desired outcome for IYI students is graduation with either a high school diploma or GED, post-secondary or career-path placement and to become vital participants in the Trenton community. The long range impact of providing these opportunities for ‘hard to employ’ and ‘at-risk’ youth is the development of individuals who will invest in their own futures and in the future of their community. Students and alumni are role models who recruit their younger family members and friends into the program. A future can be envisioned for Trenton where young adults, rather than fleeing to the suburbs, remain in the city, become successful, raise families and reinvest in their community. We will begin to see a sustainable future in Trenton by developing self-reliance in our youth.