Denver Opportunity Youth Investment Initiative

Opportunity YouthThe Denver Opportunity Youth Investment Initiative is a collective impact community collaboration strategy to build and deepen pathways that achieve better outcomes in education and employment for opportunity youth.

Denver Opportunity Youth Investment Initiative includes a collaborative comprised of local foundations, public agencies, Denver Public Schools, community based organizations and postsecondary institutions – all with a portfolio of meaningful work associated with opportunity youth. Denver is one of 21 communities participating in the Community Youth Incentive Fund of the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions. Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce leads this initiative.

View project brief, On-Ramps to Opportunity: Connecting Youth to Education, Work and Success (PDF), to learn more about this initiative.

Who are Opportunity Youth?

“Opportunity youth” refers to the population of young adults between the ages of 16-24 who are disconnected from school and work. In 2012, the number of opportunity youth in Denver was estimated to be approximately 9,850 or 13.4% of all 16-24 year olds. Denver’s opportunity youth are disproportionately male (63 percent male, 37 percent female). Additionally, the rate of Denver’s Latino opportunity youth is greater than the national average with more than 19 percent estimated in 2010. Among Denver’s African-American 16-24 year olds, 22% are considered opportunity youth, which is greater than the rate of non-Hispanic white opportunity youth (10 percent). Opportunity youth are a diverse group and include:

  • Parents
  • Immigrants
  • Homeless youth
  • Incarcerated youth
  • Foster youth and youth transitioning out of public systems
  • Youth with a disability or special needs
  • High school dropouts

View infographic Who Are Opportunity Youth? (PDF).


In May 2013, Rose Community Foundation submitted and was later awarded a one-year development grant from the Aspen Institute’s Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund (OYIF) initiative. In anticipation of submitting the grant proposal, a collaborative comprised of local foundations, public agencies, Denver Public Schools, and postsecondary experts – all with a portfolio of meaningful work associated with opportunity youth – were convened to develop the proposal contents and objectives. A key objective of the development grant is to develop a long-term plan for building or expanding effective pathways for opportunity youth to re-engage in work and/or education. In 2015, the project lead was moved to the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

Pilot Projects

Pilot projects that are currently underway at the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce include:

  • GED Plus pilot program which allows students to earn college credit while they study for their GED. The program serves youth in three Denver schools: Emily Griffith, PUSH Academy and Summit Academy.
  • Workforce navigator which provides personalized support to help opportunity youth find the next step in education or work.
  • Workforce intermediary which is dedicated to help connect opportunity youth to the business community and post-employment support through Worklife Partnership.


The ultimate goal of the Denver Opportunity Youth Investment Initiative is to ensure that opportunity youth have access to meaningful pathways for re-engaging with work and/or school so that they can earn a livable wage and participate in the civic life of their communities. As the project enters the next phase, it will continue to build the system of supports for Denver Opportunity youth by identifying the gaps in services and system connections while working with businesses to create the opportunites these youth need.

Guiding Beliefs and Guidelines

The work of the collaborative is guided by these shared beliefs:

  • Every opportunity youth should have access to a viable pathway to a high school credential plus a (i) career-technical industry certificate or (ii) community college/university certificate
  • More work opportunities are needed to:  1) Support students who need income in order to pursue education pathways, 2) Offer workforce skills that are integrated into education pathways, and/or 3) Serve as the career end goal of the education pathways for students

As it works to achieve the project goals, the collaborative is committed to the following guidelines:

  • Meet the individual interests of key stakeholders to maintain their involvement and commitment to the initiative; actively understand why they are at the table –  ideally it helps them do their job more effectively and meet their mission and goals
  • Identify ways to collaborate across collaborations
  • Identify ways to interface with existing work
  • Integrate education and employment pathways
  • Look for opportunities for blended funding, common metrics and data sharing
  • Start with an initial segment of opportunity youth – as a first step in building a system for all opportunity youth

Opportunity Youth in Denver Environmental Scan - March 2014

To better understand the opportunities and challenges in working with opportunity youth as well as to provide a baseline for the Denver Opportunity Youth Investment Initiative's implementation plan and for achieving the goals outlined above, JVA Consulting was hired to conduct an environmental scan. JVA's researchers engaged in multiple research and data collection processes across a four‐month span from December 2013 to March 2014.

View the Executive Summary of the Opportunity Youth in Denver Environmental Scan (PDF) and the full report (PDF).

Learn More

Learn more about opportunity youth, eduction and economic development and collaborative impact:

Contact Us

For more information about the Denver Opportunity Youth Investment Initiative, please contact Talent Pipeline Director Lorena Zimmer at the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.