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Convener and Catalyst: Community Leader Spotlight with the Mayor’s Office for Children, Youth, and Families

Mindy Sturm serves as the director of the Mayor’s Office for Children, Youth, and Families (MOCYF) in Charleston, South Carolina. MOCYF focuses on improving the conditions for children, mobilizing resources in the community to work on their behalf, and developing strategies to support children, youth and families.

America’s Promise talked to Sturm about the partnerships that are essential in her community’s effort to help all young people succeed. Take a look at her answers below.

How does your work help create a GradNation for all?

Through our work in the City of Charleston Mayor’s Office for Children, Youth and Families (MOCYF), we work to provide youth with greater access to and persistence in postsecondary programs. We are currently doing so by working with youth and their families on a project with the National League of Cities in partnership with the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce and Trident Technical College to provide more low-income youth in Charleston with opportunities to gain the knowledge, skills, and information they need to connect to postsecondary programs. With this work, we seek to augment and bolster apprenticeship programs, FAFSA completion efforts, and open up the landscape of opportunities for dual enrollment and other programs that can help high school students get ahead. 

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Mindy Sturm (far left).

As a local employer, we also help youth gain soft skills that will make them more marketable and better understand the world of work. The city has been a partner in the apprenticeship program with the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce and Trident Technical College, and we are working together to increase the number of low-income students participating in their apprenticeship programs. Youth are brought on as apprentices with local companies as juniors and seniors in high school and receive on-the-job training as a result. They are paid a scalable wage and also attend Trident Technical College to obtain the certifications they can carry with them wherever they go after high school graduation. 

What’s the most challenging aspect of your work?

Youth from our highest needs families and neighborhoods need supplemental supports for transportation and other basic needs in order to maintain their status in these programs, and we are seeking to address these in our community. Ultimately, we seek to build the system to offer more youth apprenticeship opportunities, and the City of Charleston’s goal is to build in the external supports that make participation by more youth from underserved communities possible.

What successes in your community are you most proud of?

In all of our work, our guiding goal is to help youth make the next step beyond high school towards success. We push in on programs and opportunities that allow us to do that through workforce skill development, leadership skills, and service learning.  We work in partnership and collaboration with other organizations and agencies in the community to augment their success and reach more youth. 

As a catalyst in the community, MOCYF is able to promote and effect change on a greater scale than we can by running individual programs. It also allows us to work in the areas that are building momentum and have the necessary factors in place to be successful. This role as a catalyst, rather than traditional service provider, allows us to advocate for others as well.

What principles guide your work in education and youth development?

Our guiding principles are rooted in providing resources and connections for youth to programs and organizations that will help them achieve their goals in life. We endeavor to help the youth we work with focus on a goal beyond high school and to obtain the skills and knowledge they need to be successful, happy, contributing members of our community. We believe in youth-led community service that allows them to decide how to serve and provides opportunities for to use their own talents and treasures in ways that are both meaningful to them, and helpful for the community.

Describe what makes your work unique in three words or phrases. 

  • Focus on collaboration and partnerships
  • Building effective systems
  • Acting as a convener and catalyst to build the capacity of others to respond to community challenges and needs