Gateway to Opportunity Expansion in 2022: Bringing Innovative Skill-Building Opportunities for Youth to New Communities
By Nikki Williams
The Gateway to Opportunity (G2O) program launched in 2016 as a pilot through a partnership between the Youth & Community Engagement (YCE) team at USM’s Cutler Institute, Goodwill Industries of Northern New England, and several community partners, including MYAN. Over the past six years, the G2O model has been adjusted, improved, and refined with extensive input and support from youth participants (typically 16-19-year-olds) and young adults (college-aged Team Leaders), community-based organizations, and employer partners (host sites), and numerous Maine-based funders. Their insights and contributions and the robust partnership of the G2O leadership team created the recipe for successful program implementation in Portland.
In 2019, G2O expanded into surrounding communities in Greater Portland (South Portland and Westbrook) and then further into more rural parts of Cumberland County (Bridgton). But, the goal has always been to bring G2O to communities across the state, especially in more rural areas where local employment opportunities for young people are more limited.
At the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, MYAN stepped into the role of lead coordinating organization for G2O. For the past two summers, the program has experienced amazing growth in spite of the challenges of operating through Covid.
In 2020, G2O ran as a 90% virtual program due to the public health concerns of Covid, a huge shift for the program, which had been delivered entirely in person up until that time. Through that programmatic pivot and many other uncertainties in the summer of 2020, MYAN and their G2O partners still achieved similar program successes and positive outcomes as the years before.
In 2021, MYAN propelled G2O’s expansion beyond Cumberland County for the first time to include programming in Ellsworth/Machias through a partnership with Healthy Acadia. Once again, the program still achieved incredibly effective outcomes for the youth participants, Team Leader, and host site in a much more rural community.
This summer in 2022, G2O is undertaking its biggest expansion effort yet. Healthy Acadia returned as a host site to build on its positive organizational experience from participating in the program last year. G2O is also:
- Operating in two new rural communities: Presque Isle and Skowhegan,
- Expanding to Lewiston for the first time,
- Collaborating once again with the City of Portland, USM’s Young People’s Caucus, and Westbrook’s Partners for Prevention in new and exciting ways, and
- Partnering with Maine’s largest employer: MaineHealth.
This context of tremendous growth and learning also provides an opportunity for MYAN to pause, reflect, and strategize about a long-term plan for the future of G2O. MYAN staff will be adjusting their program evaluation this summer to include key learning questions about the effectiveness of the G2O model in rural communities and what it means to operate the program statewide. MYAN also has big plans for the fall! Stay tuned for more details about a new Youth Advisory Board and other strategic goals for the growth of the program in the coming months.
– Nikki Williams
Nikki Williams (she/her) is an independent consultant based in Portland, Maine. She has been working with the MYAN team to develop the online infrastructure to onboard new G2O host sites this summer. Previously, Nikki spent 5+ years working with the Youth & Community Engagement team at USM’s Culter Institute and led the program design efforts and implementation of the G2O model beginning in 2016.