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RI youth job training program wins top national award

A Rhode Island youth job training and placement initiative has won the 2018 Innovations in American Government Award from The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, a leading research center at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

The award was presented to Governor Gina M. Raimondo at a ceremony on Wednesday, December 12, 2018, at the State House. The RI program, called Works Wonders, is aimed at youth who have aged out of – or are about to age out of – state care.

“Works Wonders is an outstanding program that helps foster kids in Rhode Island reach their full potential,” said Governor Raimondo. “Through a partnership with two state agencies and Foster Forward, Rhode Island is meeting a crucial need for a population that is too often underserved. This would not have been possible without the foster youth who were both co-creators and participants in the program-and absolutely instrumental to its success.”

Filling the gap for foster care youth

According to the Governor’s office, Rhode Island’s Works Wonders program was recognized by the Innovations Award Program at the Ash Center for its groundbreaking approach to filling the gap between traditional workforce development programs, which are traditionally aimed at adults, and youth-centric programs which assume a level of parental engagement.

The Program involves adolescents ages 16-21 in a rounded support system that addresses both hard and soft skills. Participating youth have access to education, peer support, counseling, experiential learning opportunities and ultimately; paid jobs, vocational programs, and continued educational opportunities.

A recent research study showed that Works Wonders has an 83 percent completion rate and participants are 37 percent more likely to be employed as compared to those who didn’t participate in the program.

“This is well-deserved recognition for a partnership that ensures young people have the resources, support, and preparation they need to build a successful career they love,” said Scott Jensen, Director of the RI Department of Labor and Training. “To build a world-class workforce and continue our economic progress, we need to fully leverage everyone’s skills and talents. We are proud to work with Foster Forward and our colleagues at DCYF, and we appreciate the Ash Center for calling attention to this important work.”

“Our Foster Forward team is grateful to all of the partners, most especially the young people we serve, who have contributed to this incredible recognition for Works Wonders and we feel tremendously fortunate to have leadership in our state that strongly supports effective workforce development programming specifically for foster youth,” said Lisa Guillette, Foster Forward’s Executive Director.

The nation’s top award for excellence and creativity in the public sector

According to the Governor’s office, The Innovations in American Government Award is the nation’s preeminent recognition for excellence and creativity in the public sector. The award program receives thousands of applications that are evaluated on criteria to assess their novelty, effectiveness, significance, and transferability.

Since its inception in 1985, over 500 government innovations across all jurisdiction levels have been recognized and have collectively received more than $22 million in grants to support dissemination efforts from the Ash Center.

“Rhode Island’s Works Wonders is an exemplar of how a range of stakeholders can come together to identify and meet the needs of an underserved group,” said Stephen Goldsmith, Daniel Paul Professor of the Practice of Government and the Director of the Innovations in American Government Program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

“The Award selection committee was unanimous in voting for Works Wonders as this year’s winner. We hope that this recognition will help the program scale and its award-winning attributes be adopted by other jurisdictions,” he said.

The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation advances excellence in governance and strengthens democratic institutions worldwide. Through its research, education, international programs, and government innovations awards, the Center fosters creative and effective government problem solving and serves as a catalyst for addressing many of the most pressing needs of the world’s citizens.

The Governor also thanked the Department of Labor and Training, the Department of Children, Youth and Families, and Foster Forward for their work on the initiative.

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