Lauderhill, Fla. – The City of Lauderhill’s efforts to expand STEM career paths for youths and young adults got a big boost recently when the National League of Cities answered its call.

The NLC’s new initiative for economic development and opportunity in cities across the U.S. awarded Lauderhill a $150,000 Youth Excel grant along with specialized assistance from NLC’s staff and other national economic experts to help the city achieve its goals.

Lauderhill Vice Mayor Melissa P. Dunn, who championed the efforts for economic and career opportunities for youths and young adults, said the grant and assistance from NLC will go a long way to help the city.

"I’m very excited for a couple of reasons," Dunn told the South Florida Times during an exclusive interview.

"One, the funding will be fully invested in the city’s workforce to create pathways for young people to get into STEM careers. And the other is that the grant puts Lauderhill on the national stage with other states to provide career opportunities for youth and young people."

75 YOUTH TO BENEFIT Dunn said Lauderhill is the only minority city that received the grant.

The NLC also awarded Youth Excel grants to Bridgeport, Conn., Houston, Texas, Madison, Wis., Sacramento, Calif. and Saint Paul, Minn., to help improve economic conditions for young people.

Dunn said the grant will benefit 75 youth and young adults in the program, and the city is planning to host a youth summit to reach an additional 75 youth and young adults.

She said the pilot program will create a pipeline for youths covering STEM programs including in healthcare and be used as leverage to get additional funding in the future.

Dunn has worked extensively in the healthcare industry, including at Florida Medical Center, Northwest Medical Center, Cleveland Clinic, and the American Cancer Society, where she was responsible for bringing together regional health systems, government agencies, and community stakeholders to increase cancer screenings at local hospitals and increase volunteerism.

She said she will spearhead a Cross-Sector team through the creation of a Youth STEM Council subgroup from the Lauderhill Health and Prosperity Partnership group.

With representation from Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC) youth, STEM employers, youth serving organizations and city chiefs of staff, Dunn said she’s looking forward to enabling marginalized youth with increased opportunity and resources to excel in STEM career pathways in the City of Lauderhill.

The NLC created the innovation program to support cities’ efforts to improve outcomes for youth and young people who are marginalized from economic opportunities.

According to the NLC, marginalized youth and young adults are disproportionately represented among the industries hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Healthcare, hospitality, service, childcare and agriculture were impacted the most by the outbreak.

Young people identified as BIPOC are low income or disconnected from school or the workforce have limited access to qualify for educational and career opportunities. Students graduating from high school in 2020 and 2021 face particularly unique and longterm risks, according to the NLC.

RECESSION IMPACT Since the Great Recession, nearly 95 percent of all new jobs have gone to workers with at least some college education; yet, as a result of the pandemic, the likelihood of youth pursuing a four-year degree decreased 23 percent between May 2020 and September 2021 – down to 48 percent from 71 percent.

"Too often they face structural barriers to accessing equitable career pathways and quality jobs, particularly in high-demand science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) industries," NLC said.

The NLC said government leaders, including mayors, city councils and city managers, can help young kids and young adults overcome those challenges by developing partnerships and creating long-term strategies to improve access to qualified postsecondary education and career opportunities that lead to high paying jobs.

City leaders can also help youth and young people eschew economic obstacles by focusing on job quality improvement strategies and integrating the critical perspectives and voices of marginalized recipients of the grant program.

Dr. Robert Blaine, senior executive and director for the Institute for Youth, Education and Families, said living on low wages affects youth and young adults’ education. Blaine said government leaders can get involved with creating better economic and career opportunities.

“Educational attainment is directly linked to a city’s economic vitality and well-being, and there is a great opportunity for municipal leaders to help youth link their education to meaningful careers,” said Blaine. “The National League of Cities is proud to work with the City of Lauderhill to develop new career opportunities and support for marginalized young people in Lauderhill.”

Mayor Ken Thurston said the NLC grant will help put young people on career paths and earn a nice living. He credits Dunn for her efforts to get the initiative up and running.