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Making innovation work for good. T:@inspirechilli

Friday 26 October 2012

Opportunity Youth & The Champagne of Beers

Yesterday was the Foyer for Philly’s ‘Housing symposium’ held at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia – known as ‘the CHOP’. In the run up to Halloween, that probably isn’t the best acronym to use.

Driving across the city to get there with the Foyer’s executive Director, Leigh Braden, I was struck by an advert for Millers larger, ‘the champagne of beers’.  If only our sector had access to that kind of marketing talent.  Maybe champagne isn’t quite the right comparison for us, but it’s that kind of advantaged thinking image we need to promote our vision for who young people are beyond the crass Centrepoint advert.

The CHOP greeted us by asking if we had come for Flu jabs. I wanted to say, ‘no, we’ve come to open talent,’ but was too lost in my mind wondering what a room might look like to offer Talent jabs.  ‘Boost your talent here.’  'Don't prevent the present, create the future'.  I guess Millers won't be employing me...

I presented my whistle stop tour of  the Open Talent ‘revolution’ to the Symposium, paying homage to Tom Paine’s ‘rights of man’ as the modern right to talent, and Martin Seligman’s work on enabling wellbeing to ‘Flourish’.  I was surprised that nobody in the room from the sector had even heard of Seligman, who after all is a Professor at the local Penn State University. It’s an illustration of how the best advantaged thinking approaches are often utilised in the wrong places. After all, Seligman’s excellent approach to a curriculum of resilience was tested out in the elite world of Geelong Grammar in Melbourne – but it’s most needed here in the streets of Philadelphia on his doorstep.  My speech also offered a platform to promote the excellent work of FSG’s ‘Collective Impact for Opportunity Youth’. Hands down, it’s the most important Open Talentesque essay I’ve read in 2012. Rebranding so-called ‘disadvantaged’ 16-24 year olds as ‘opportunity youth’ is a brilliant answer to ‘the champagne of beers’. I urge you to read it.

After the presentation, there was an insightful housing panel which included the inspiring ‘True Colours Residence’ in New York, set up through the support of Cyndi Lauper to work with LGBT youth using a funding/tenancy model that allows participants to leave when they are ready rather than when an artificial funder’s time limit dictates; and an update on the Chelsea Foyer, whose use of the ‘efforts to outcomes’ impact measurement tool could teach us a lot in the UK. It was wonderful to catch up again with Denise Hinds from Good Shepherd, the Assistant Executive Director who oversees the work of the Chelsea Foyer, who instantly ‘got’ Open Talent as ‘taking strengths-based to a whole different level.'

The afternoon finished off with a presentation at Project H.O.M.E who have the wonderful strapline, ‘None of Us are Home until All of Us are Home’.  We discussed the work of Foyers to hopefully begin a future conversation exploring how the Foyer for Philly can move beyond running winter shelters to offer a proper housing model that can work with the LGBT community on a more sustainable basis.  Later, I would learn from Leigh how the first shelter programme had enabled young people to survive in the gap between leaving the shelter at 7am and the opening of a city day service at 12 by providing gym membership to use the 5 hour interval to get clean and fit.  And they turned out to be one of the gym’s most popular clients, because they respected and wanted the resource on offer.  

In the evening, I took a trip to Leigh’s house in a Philly suberb called Narberth.  I grew up in a place in south wales called Narberth, and here I was, thousands of miles away, in a place with the same name, sharing my story of how a shy kid with ‘remedial’ issues somehow passed his 11 plus in the welsh school system to end up in Narberth, Philadelphia, trying to help young people be valued as something far greater than the champagne of beers can ever be…  We journey forward in life, only to find ourselves constantly amazed to be back home.

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