Greg Emmel and Carolyn T. Miller, Executive Directors
For Immediate Release: August 27, 2021
United Way of the Midlands Awards $30,000 Grant to the D2 Center
to Fund Youth Academic Navigator (YAN) / Reengagement Specialist Program
(Omaha, Nebraska.) The D2 Center is pleased to announce it was recently awarded a $30,000 one-year grant from United Way of the Midlands. Thanks to the generosity of United Way donors, a Youth Academic Navigator (YAN) will continue to reengage and support high-risk youth ages 15-21 who are struggling to finish their high school diploma. YANs build a caring relationship and help students focus on attendance, academics, and connections to needed resources in the community.
As Omaha’s only reengagement center, the D2 Center’s primary goals are to get students back into school, keep them in school, and support them to finish their high school diploma. Each YAN serves as a case manager for about 50 high school youth voluntarily participating in the D2 Center program. These high-risk youth may not graduate on time, are attending an alternative school, or have dropped out. After completing intake/assessment, students are assigned a YAN, who check in with their students frequently and communicate with other adults who care about the student’s progress. The D2 Center has a contract with Omaha Public Schools (OPS) to do outreach to students who withdraw from school but are eligible to enroll, and YANs attempt to reengage these dropouts to reenroll in school.
The pandemic and remote learning appear to have affected students who are most at risk of falling behind or dropping out. Generally, these students tend to live in poverty and be students of color. At home they experienced more technology issues, less support, and were less inclined to be motivated to keep up with unstructured, online learning options. Many had parents who lost jobs, and if the student found a job, they then worked to support their families. Lacking the structure and personal connections available at school, many lost interest and failed classes or dropped out altogether.
To meet this challenge, the D2 Center ramped up outreach efforts to disengaged students. During the 2020-21 school year, the D2 Center served 302 youth through the YAN program and attempted to reengage nearly 347 students who had left school. Forty-nine students in the YAN program earned their high school diploma and many others are still enrolled. Thirty dropouts reengaged and graduated, and many others are also still enrolled. In anticipation of the challenges ahead, the D2 Center is hiring additional staff to meet the need and has developed a recruitment strategy for the YAN Program. The D2 Center YAN / Reengagement Specialist Program aligns with United Way of the Midlands efforts to increase levels of education, attainment of marketable skills, and services to opportunity youth in the Omaha Metro – defined as youth ages 16-24 who are not working and not in school.
When YAN Hansel Gonzalez first met Erik in the spring of his 10th grade year, he knew that attendance and taking school seriously would be the biggest challenges. Hansel spoke with Erik’s school social worker, who had referred him to the D2 Center and who felt he had a lot of potential despite his struggles and attitude. To Erik, school was a social place to meet and hang out with friends. After a few months Hansel figured out that Erik’s game plan was to get serious near the end of each semester and hopefully pass as many classes as he could by those last-ditch efforts. It worked fairly well and the first couple years he managed to pass about two-thirds of his classes. This helped matters at home because his mom believed education was very important.
Hansel introduced himself to Erik’s mom on a home visit and listened to her pleas to help her son take school more seriously. When the pandemic hit in the spring of 2020, Erik and his mom both lost their jobs, and he was no longer attending school in person. For Erik, being at home turned out to be a good thing since he had more time to focus on school and no more social distractions. As summer approached, Hansel sat down with Erik and came up with a graduation plan that actually seemed possible to Erik.
Hansel stressed the sacrifices Erik’s parents had made for him and how proud and happy his mom would be if he graduated. When he passed all his classes in the summer and first semester of his senior year, he really believed he had a shot at graduating on time. He started an online class at Adult High School in early spring and began working with a D2 Center teacher on his first elective. Hansel received a call from Erik’s mom that spring because she worried he was stressing out and had too much anxiety about passing his classes. Hansel encouraged and counseled Erik to keep his sights on the goal. He finished his first Adult High School class as well as a D2 Center elective and immediately signed up for one more of both. He kept his grades up at school. And the result? A May graduation, a proud son, and a very happy mom! Erik told Hansel after graduating, “Without your help, I would never have graduated on time. Thank you for helping me stay on track the last couple years.”
Hansel enjoyed working with Erik for over two years and could see a gradual maturity and changing attitude toward school and his future. In the summer of 2021, Erik was taking general education classes part time at Metropolitan Community College South Campus. Hansel proudly reflects, “Seeing his level of determination the last year and what he had to do to apply himself to reach a personal goal makes me hopeful for his future.”
“United Way of the Midlands’s support for the D2 Center is much appreciated. The dollars support our Youth Academic Navigator Program and Reengagement Project. The past year brought increasing challenges to youth who are off track in high school or who have dropped out and need encouragement and assistance to get reenrolled. Earning a high school diploma is a crucial life step not only for the individual but also for our community. We want to thank everyone who donated to the United Way!” Greg Emmel, Executive Director of Programs at the D2 Center
About United Way of the Midlands:
United Way of the Midlands (UWM) has served the Omaha-Council Bluffs metro for more than 95 years. Guided by best practices and community input, it approaches poverty in a specific way – a “united” way. With the support of volunteers, community partners and donors, UWM invests donor dollars efficiently and effectively in our local community. These dollars fund basic needs, education and financial stability programs at local nonprofits, creating a circle of support for people in need. Please visit unitedwaymidlands.org for more information.
About the D2 Center:
The mission of the D2 Center is to connect out-of-school and disengaged youth ages 15-21 into an educational pathway with other resources and supports needed to earn a high school diploma and prepare for post-secondary opportunities and a career. Our services are:
- Youth Academic Navigator: YANs are education-focused case managers who check in with their students frequently and help with issues as they emerge to ensure students are making progress and earning credits in school.
- Tutoring and Elective Classes: Tutoring is offered two afternoons a week and elective credit classes are offered in the summer. Certified teachers specialize in creating a small, caring classroom environment with a focus on individual students and their success.
- Career Navigator: The Career Navigators assist students with postsecondary planning and connections for both career and educational opportunities. Services are also available to graduates.
- Reengagement Partnership: D2 Center staff members work closely with OPS staff to reengage students who have withdrawn from school but are eligible to enroll. Nearly all dropouts who choose to reenroll attend an OPS Multiple Pathways program.