Advancing Pathways to Education and Workforce Opportunities for Systems-Involved Youth

Advancing Pathways to Education and Workforce Opportunities for Systems-Involved Youth
Advancing Pathways to Education and Workforce Opportunities for Systems-Involved Youth

Webinar Material(s)

BRIEF: Supporting Pathways to Long-Term Success for Systems-Involved Youth: Lessons Learned
FACT SHEET: Education and Workforce Related Policies Affecting Systems-Involved Youth
MICROSITE: Understanding Foster, Juvenile Justice, and Crossover Youth


Young people involved in the child welfare and/or juvenile justice systems often face significant challenges to long-term success. Systems-involved youth may struggle with an array of education and workforce barriers that hinder their path to postsecondary opportunities and a family-sustaining career. This forum explored critical elements at the intersection of policy and practice for supporting these youth on a pathway to long-term success. Featuring high-quality, research-supported community-based programs from across the country, presenters discussed the importance of leveraging authentic youth voice, providing youth with a diversity of supports and experiences, and aligning youth-serving systems and policies to advance pathways to education and the workforce for systems-involved youth.

Panelist Biographies

Jefferson Alvarez
Youth Leader, UTEC
Twitter: @UTEC_lowell

Jefferson Alvarez  is a UTEC youth leader from Lawrence, Massachusetts and is a part of Teens Leading the Way (TLTW), a state-wide, youth-led coalition that fights for social change through the policymaking process. In recent years, TLTW has focused their campaign on juvenile record expungement and is working to increase awareness of the issue and pass legislation for record expungement in Massachusetts. Jefferson works at Café UTEC, is currently pursuing his GED, and hopes to begin paramedic training.

Gisele Castro
Executive Director, Exalt Youth
Twitter: @exaltyouth

Gisele Castro is a senior executive manager with more than 17 years of practical experience creating new initiatives and enhancing operations for organizations. She has a Master of Public Administration and Non-Profit Management from Pace University, and graduated as a member of the Pi Alpha Alpha National Honor Society for Public Affairs and Administration. She studied at the graduate level at Oxford University where she researched U.S. vs. U.K. juvenile justice systems.   Gisele also completed an Executive Management program at Columbia University at the Institute for Non-Profit Management. In addition, she has extensive experience in organizational development, consulting, and training. Gisele has strong roots within exalt, having served previously as Director of Programs and External Relations from 2010-2013; Board Member from 2013-2015 and Board Chair from 2015 until July 5th 2016 when she was appointed Interim Executive Director. She has a wealth of knowledge and demonstrated experience in youth serving organization. She also worked at The Animation Project and her core focus was establishing the first Art Therapy based that utilizes animation as the therapeutic modality. She was also the Director at CASES, Family Court division and was instrumental in redesigning the program model and structure. Gisele has taught courses on leadership development at Bank Street College and advises students in the Master’s in Education and Leadership in Community – Based Learning program. Her role at the college was expanded in 2015 to redesign and expand the program in Leadership in Community-Based Organizations, which will be implemented in 2017.

Sam Cobbs
Chief Executive Officer, First Place for Youth
Twitter: @FPFY

Sam Cobbs is the Chief Executive Officer at First Place for Youth, and is a national expert and policy advisor on at-risk foster kids, specifically the issues they face as they transition into adulthood. In his 20 years of work in the nonprofit field, he has created and implemented programs that successfully reduce poverty and homelessness among vulnerable young people and has been one of the leading voices in advocating for better access to housing, education, employment and health programs that improve their lives. Sam joined First Place in 2005 and under his strong leadership; the organization swiftly grew from an Oakland grass-roots organization to become a nationally recognized model and one of the largest providers of housing to former foster kids in California. Today, the organization serves more than 2,300 youth annually. Sam has been recognized for his leadership by national organizations and has been awarded the Anne E. Casey Foundation Children and Family Fellowship, the 2010 James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award, and the Red Cross Community Hero Award. Senator Barbara Boxer, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, California Speaker Emeritus Karen Bass, Assembly Member Jim Beall, Assembly Member Leland Yee and former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom have recognized him for his tireless commitment to youth. Before First Place, he served in leadership positions at Larkin Street Youth Services, Juma Ventures and the Boys & Girls Club of Oakland. Sam has a Master’s in Counseling from California State University, East Bay. 

Gregg Croteau, MSW
Executive Director, UTEC
Twitter: @UTEC_lowell

Gregg Croteau, hired as UTEC’s first executive director by the founding group of teens and community leaders, has overseen the growth of the agency from a grassroots safe haven to a nationally recognized youth development agency. Gregg came to UTEC with youthwork experience that ranged from streetwork to program development in Detroit, East Boston, and his hometown of Revere, MA. With an interest in Vietnamese culture stemming from his work with gang-involved Southeast Asian youth in the Boston area, he spent two years working and conducting research in Hanoi, Vietnam, gaining fluency in Vietnamese language and history. He has presented at various conferences locally and nationally, and has testified at the state and federal levels, including a 2007 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gang violence through the invitation of the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy. He has received recognition ranging from the prestigious Robert Wood Johnson Community Health Leader Award to the Youth Advocacy Foundation’s Commitment to Justice Award. In 2014, he was honored with the “Greatest Contribution to Social Work Practice” by the National Association of Social Workers–MA Chapter. In March 2015, Gregg was appointed to the Governor’s task force on Economic Opportunity for Populations Facing Chronically High Rates of Unemployment. In 2016, he joined the board of the Lenny Zakim Fund, of which UTEC is a past grantee. He is also a Leap of Reason Ambassador. Gregg received his B.A. from Wesleyan University (majoring in East Asian Studies). He then earned his Masters of Social Work, along with associated masters coursework in Southeast Asian Studies, from the University of Michigan.

Monique Miles
Director, Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund
Deputy Director, Aspen Institute for Community Solutions
Twitter: @AspenFCS

Monique Miles is the Director of the Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund and the Deputy Director of the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions at the Aspen Institute. Prior to joining the Aspen Institute, Monique was the Director, Postsecondary Achievement at the National Youth Employment Coalition (NYEC). In her role at NYEC, Monique oversaw the Postsecondary Success Initiative, a three-year national pilot that supported ten Community Based Organizations (CBOs) across the country to design and implement postsecondary programming, in partnership with local institutions of higher learning, for students who were disconnected from education. Monique began her career in education reform working as a Case Manager at Youth Opportunity Boston. In this role Monique worked directly with students remanded to the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services (DYS) to design and deliver youth and career development curriculum. Monique went on to serve the same population of students through political advocacy initiatives at the Commonwealth Corporation (CommCorp). Monique also led additional initiatives at CommCorp, including the development of a strategic plan to infuse culturally responsive instruction into the professional development training of teachers. Additionally, Monique worked with community based transition education programs to implement culturally relevant curriculum and measure outcomes. Monique has also led several development initiatives including securing federal and private grants for Dartmouth Medical School and board development work for Diploma Plus, Inc. Monique serves as a Trustee on the Board of the Pomfret School. She also serves on the Advisory Board of Tulane University Cowen Institute of Public Education Initiatives. Monique holds a Bachelor of Science from Springfield College and a Master’s in Education, Policy & Management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Leticia Peguero
Executive Director, Andrus Family Fund
Twitter: @AndrusFamFund

Leticia Peguero brings over 20 years of experience in social justice programming and philanthropy to her role at the Andrus Family Fund. She has dedicated her career to issues related to equity and justice for young people and women with the goal of building capacity in underserved and oppressed communities and the organizations that serve them. Leticia has worked at organizations throughout the Tristate area in organizations such as the Posse Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation–Local Funding Partnerships Program, Planned Parenthood of New York City, the Door and the Adolescent AIDS Program. She is a graduate of one of the country’s top leadership programs —the National Urban Fellows. Leticia graduated with honors with a MPA from the Marxe School of Public Service at Baruch College–City University of New York and has a BA from Fordham University. She currently sits on the governance committee of the Executives Alliance for Young Men and Boys of Color and the New York City Fund for Young Women and Girls. She is on the advisory committee of the Grantmakers for Girls of Color and is a trustee of Philanthropy New York. Outside of her role at AFF, Leticia spends a lot of time working and thinking about the arts. She helps run Areytos Performance Works—a dance theatre company working at the crossroads of African-Caribbean forms, contemporary modern dance and performance art.

Additional Resources

Jefferson Alvarez’s Story
UTEC FY17 Snapshot
Pull Up One More Chair for Youth
Exalt Recent Milestones & Upcoming Goals
First Place for Youth™ Network Overview
First Place For Youth™ Network Offering


The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan professional development organization based in Washington, DC, provides learning opportunities for policy leaders, practitioners, and researchers working on youth and education issues at the national, state, and local levels. AYPF events and publications are made possible by contributions from philanthropic foundations. For a complete list, click here.