Apply for the MBK Digital Literacy Collaborative

In partnership with Allegheny County and the City of Pittsburgh, through the generous support of The Heinz Endowments, and on behalf of the local My Brother’s Keeper Committee, The Sprout Fund is seeking proposals for partnerships that create opportunities for youth, particularly young men of color ages 16-24, to acquire technological, social, and academic skills that will enhance their quality of life and ability to secure future employment.

Each participating organization will receive collaborative support, technical assistance, and $5,000 in grant funding through the MBK Pittsburgh Digital Literacy Collaborative to:

  • Build capacity for effective programming in digital literacy and life skills that enable youth, particularly young men of color ages 16-24, to pursue their personal interests and passions with the support of friends and caring adults while linking this learning to academic achievement, career success, and civic engagement;
  • Develop a partnership with a local organization that demonstrates deep experience in mentorship, youth leadership, and/or digital literacy best practices;
  • Participate in a digital literacy collective focused on enhancing capacity to integrate 21st century skills into established out-of-school-time programs; and,
  • Make capital investments in technology, equipment, and space improvements to support program implementation.

Deadline and How to Apply

Prospective participants are encouraged to submit an inquiry form, review the complete Program Details (below or download here >>) and read the UrbanKind Institute’s report of initial recommendations in full before beginning work on a proposal.

To apply for support, partnerships must submit complete answers to the application questions and contact information for both partners by 5pm on Friday, April 14, 2017.

Eligibility and Preferred Applicants

Eligible proposals must represent a partnership between one youth-serving organization and one resource organization as a pair.

Youth-serving organizations should be entities that demonstrate enduring relationships with youth, particularly young men of color ages 16-24, in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. Resource organizations should be entities with a track record of success providing participants with on-ramps to employment in the Pittsburgh region, creating replicable models for mentorship and/or workforce development, and excellence in digital literacy training.

Selected partnerships will help advance Goal 5 of the local MBK Playbook: “All of our youth who have graduated from college or a training program are employed.”

Existing 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations and/or entities with a nonprofit fiscal sponsor are eligible to apply. For Sprout’s complete eligibility guidelines please visit sproutfund.org/apply/eligibility.

Program Details

The MBK Pittsburgh Digital Literacy Collaborative is focused on enhancing organizational capacity to integrate 21st century skills into established out-of-school-time programs for a primary audience of youth, particularly young men of color ages 16-24.

How to Participate

Sprout seeks to connect youth-serving organizations that can reach youth, particularly young men of color ages 16-24, in out-of-school-time settings, to resource organizations with demonstrated deep experience in mentorship, youth leadership, and/or digital literacy best practices through the MBK Pittsburgh Digital Literacy Collaborative. Together, Sprout, Homewood Children’s Village, and collaborative partners will help advance Goal 5 of the local MBK Playbook: “All of our youth who have graduated from college or a training program are employed.”

Collaborative participants will work together as a cohort to share ideas through a series of 6 professional development and technical assistance sessions, develop case studies of high-quality program examples, and refine plans for future programming. Initial grant funding will enable staff from the resource organization and youth-serving organization to actively participate in the collaborative. Later, youth-serving organizations will be invited to request implementation support to further these ideas. Sprout anticipates selecting approximately 5 partnerships with 10 organizations in total.

Partnership Characteristics

Although Sprout anticipates supporting a diverse array of programs and organizations, in general, the selected partnerships will display the following characteristics:

  • Engage young men of color ages 16-24: Create/expand opportunities for youth, particularly young men of color ages 16-24, to acquire technological, social, and academic skills that will enhance their quality of life and ability to secure future employment.
  • Increase Equity and Access: Create a more inclusive community through the implementation of programs and activities that cultivate digital literacy skills connected to future employment for a population that has historically been most at risk.
  • Improve Program Quality: Ensure that the collaboration and funding support help to increase the quality of programs by promoting targeted solutions with evidence-based outcomes.
  • Result in Shared Learning: Enhance the capacity of educators and youth workers to deliver relevant programming and instruction through a framework of best practices that connects youth, particularly young men of color ages 16-24, to inclusive, high-quality out-of-school time programs.
  • Better Understand the Role of Quality Assessment:  Contribute to the MBK community’s understanding of the role of quality in a program and promote targeted solutions with evidence-based outcomes.

Roles of the Partners

Youth-serving organizations should be entities that demonstrate enduring relationships with youth, particularly young men of color ages 16-24, in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. They will assess the current state of facilities, technology equipment, and youth-worker professional development within their organizations structure; benefit from the expertise of the resource organizations; build on the recommendations from the UKI report; and propose and implement new programmatic initiatives that address Goal 5 of the Playbook beginning in Fall 2017.

Resource organizations should be entities with a track record of success providing participants with on-ramps to employment in the Pittsburgh region, creating replicable models for mentorship and/or workforce development, and excellence in digital literacy training. They will develop case studies of their prior work and provide consultation services to the  youth-serving organizations on program development, establishing or deepening relationships, and aligning program elements suitable for replication that address Goal 5 of the Playbook and build on the recommendations from the UKI report. Organizations who may not have an historical focus working with youth, particularly young men of color ages 16-24, may use this opportunity to create intentional space within their programs, and to re-think how their work is represented to these communities.  

Each partner organization, 10 in total, will receive $5,000 in grant support to actively participate in the Collaborative. Program staff should anticipate dedicating approximately 15 hours per month to consistent participation in the community of practice from May to August 2017.

Community of Practice

To facilitate the productive exchange of ideas and build capacity for program replication and improvement, the MBK Pittsburgh Digital Literacy Collaborative will be supported by a series of 6 professional development and technical assistance workshops throughout 2017.

The first meeting of the MBK Digital Literacy Collaborative served as a kick-off and orientation to the opportunity on Thursday, March 23rd from 11:00am – 1:00pm at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh: Homewood Branch (7101 Hamilton Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15208).

There is an additional infosession scheduled for Friday, March 31st from 12:00noon – 1:00pm at The Sprout Fund office (5423 Penn Ave. Garfield, 15206). Existing partnerships, organizations seeking partnership matches, as well as organizations and individuals committed to My Brother’s Keeper are encouraged to attend. RSVP on Eventbrite

Process & Timeline

  • February, 2017: My Brother’s Keeper Pittsburgh Digital Literacy Collaborative  program opportunity released.
  • March 23: MBK Digital Literacy Collaborative kick-off and orientation at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh—Homewood Branch;
  • March 31: Information session for prospective applicants at The Sprout Fund offices in Garfield/Friendship;
  • Friday, April 14, 2017 @ 5pm ET: Application deadline
  • Late April: Community advisory committee reviews proposals and makes recommendations for support.
  • Early May: Selected partnerships announced.
  • May–July: Monthly community of practice gatherings (internal work for collaborative):
    • Partners work together through a blend of direct one-to-one and group workshop activities, as needed.
    • Resource organizations continue to refine case studies.
    • Youth-serving organizations begin developing implementation plans.
  • August: Youth-serving organizations finalize implementation plans for Fall 2017 programs and request further grant support from The Sprout Fund.
  • September–October: Programs begin for school year 2017–18.
  • October–November: Two (2) community of practice gatherings (open to all) for sharing in-progress updates and recommendations based on Fall programs.
  • December: Resource organizations wrap up case studies and present final reports to the community.

Background Information

Problem & Need

My Brother’s Keeper in Allegheny County and Pittsburgh recognizes the need to create a more equitable community where all residents—especially young men of color—are able to benefit from the growth and improvements made over the last decade in Pittsburgh. The local MBK Playbook, released in October 2015, identifies numerous strategies to achieve social and economic equity. Utmost among them is the need to ensure that youth of color achieve academic proficiency in skills related to local economic opportunities.

Pittsburgh Public Schools reported that 30% of their students fail to graduate and never acquire the necessary preparation skills to contribute to the workforce in a meaningful, fulfilling manner. Furthermore, the unemployment rate for black teenagers is 24.8%.

Based on figures provided by Code.org, the national campaign to integrate computer science into public classrooms, Pennsylvania alone has more than 23,000 open computing jobs, but only about 2,820 computer science graduates. More than half of projected jobs in STEM fields are in computing, making it one of the most sought after degrees by employers but relatively few men of color are working toward computer science degrees.

These statistics demonstrate that despite a recent surge in opportunity, schools aren’t teaching technology education. However, according to the Afterschool Alliance, America After 3PM Report, while 30% of afterschool programs offer some type of technology or engineering programming, the technology expertise required to deliver high quality digital literacy education is often not held by youth workers.

Recent findings from a 2016 report produced by UrbanKind Institute in Pittsburgh identified the needs and gaps in out-of-school programming that could contribute to these disparities in employment. Feedback from youth participants in the study stated that they needed better mentorship, more hands-on learning, a wider variety of program offerings, and exposure to life-skills training. They were also critical of program design and recruitment that lack “crucial elements of relationship-building.” These traditional methods were seen as discouraging to youth who are looking for programs where they are safe to express themselves and their needs rather than absorb the ideas and activities that are imposed on them through traditional program structures.

Both the MBK Playbook and the UrbanKind Institute report recommend increasing the capacity of local out-of-school time organizations to strengthen the technological prowess of black youth. Working together, we can help close the opportunity gap by establishing a tangible skills-oriented pipeline designed to guide youth from introductory digital literacy programs to job-training programs, and eventually longer term employment.

History and Progress To-Date

In 2014, Allegheny County and the City of Pittsburgh embraced President Barack Obama’s call to action for My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) that charged elected officials to work with local partners to forge long­-term and strategic programs to improve the livelihood and development of all young people, with a strong focus on young men and boys of color.

In 2015, the local MBK Committee released the MBK Pittsburgh-Allegheny County Playbook, which identified numerous strategies to achieve social and economic equity. Foremost among them is the need to ensure that young people of color achieve academic proficiency in skills related to local economic opportunities.

In mid-2016, The Heinz Endowments provided support to The Sprout Fund (Sprout) to initiate the next phase of MBK in the region. The Homewood Children’s Village (HCV) was selected to assume responsibility for overall management of MBK Pittsburgh-Allegheny County and UrbanKind Institute (UKI) was contracted to lead a series of community conversations among young men of color and program providers.

UKI’s community meetings from October to December 2016 engaged youth, program providers, and community organizations and stakeholders with vested interests in creating high-quality programming in deliberate conversations to capture their concerns, needs, aspirations, and existing activities in their neighborhoods. In total, 7 meetings were held across Pittsburgh and Allegheny County with an audience of nearly 100 participants. UKI also engaged a cohort of African American young men and boys to participate in and lead portions of this process, as well as contribute to the UKI final report in their own words.

Findings & Recommendations

UKI’s summative report derived from the community conversation meetings contains (1) local and national best practices that are suitable for replication or scaling, (2) attributes of ideal programmatic activities that achieve MBK’s stated goals, and (3) key findings and recommendations to close gaps in out-of-school youth programming.

Best practices and attributes of programmatic activities that achieve MBK’s stated goals suitable for replication or scaling include:

  • Partnerships with schools: Schools often offer secure spaces and transportation options, which are desirable elements in program design. However, many high-quality programs also exist outside of the traditional school context.
  • Consistency and care: Relationships between youth and program staff are critical, but take time to build. Programs that retain participants are spaces where youth feel loved and listened to, and where they feel a sense of belonging and stability.
  • Clear expectations: Youth should know what is expected of them in terms of attendance and participation as well as the skills and experiences a program can (and cannot) offer to help make informed decisions about participation.
  • Peer and near-peer mentoring: When youth relate to a mentor socially and culturally, and are made responsible for a peer’s success, they learn valuable lessons in leadership and other beneficial social and professional skills.
  • Accessibility: Barriers to participation must be reduced or eliminated. Accessibility considerations include proximity to programs, public transportation, participation and registration costs, perception of promotional materials, and ADA compliance.
  • Continuum of program services: Programs should offer a continuous sequence of activities to choose from, go between, or grow into to expose youth to relevant opportunities and encourage interest in digital technology fields.
  • Year-round programming: Year-round programs build stronger peer and staff relationships with youth, offer more in-depth learning experiences, and provide consistent safe-spaces for participants not supported at home or in-school.
  • Opportunities to stay connected: Providers should allow participants to stay involved even after youth finish high school and “age out.” Such youth build deeper relationships, serve as peer mentors, and help to shape future programming.
  • Hands-on activities with real world applications: Attractive programs engage participants in hands-on, experiential learning focused on life skills and/or college and career preparation, which often includes digital literacy.
  • Youth input: More personalized goal-setting, meeting youth where they are, and making participants part of the assessment process at the beginning of a new program are critical when setting the program’s goals and outcomes.

Recommendations that will narrow the opportunity gap for youth of color in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County include:

  • Supporting mentorship efforts and youth leadership to develop and retain mentors and to work with existing mentoring organizations to develop new models of in-program mentorship;
  • Supporting more effective program outreach through communications, marketing and media management and/or School, family, and community partnerships, particularly under youth leadership;
  • Incorporating life skills and incentives into youth training that make youth training programs more relevant and attractive, such as hands-on life skills workshops at existing organizations and/or financial incentives;
  • Bridging the gap between technology and mentorship by improving mentorship in programs that are strong in digital literacy, or increase the capacity of youth-trusted staff to provide such offerings year-round; and,
  • Leveraging existing community and foundation resources offered by local universities, museums, and public organizations by establishing a fund for scholarships, support staff to broker youth-to-organization relationships, or address issues related to transportation.

About MBK Pittsburgh

The My Brother’s Keeper Digital Literacy Collaborative is a capacity building grant program offered by The Sprout Fund. Support for these efforts is generously provided by The Heinz Endowments and in partnership with Allegheny County, the City of Pittsburgh and the Homewood Children’s Village.

About My Brother’s Keeper

My Brother’s Keeper Pittsburgh-Allegheny County is a local version of President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative committed to ensuring that young people of color achieve academic proficiency in skills related to local economic opportunities so that all residents of the Pittsburgh region, especially young men of color, are able to benefit from the region’s growth. MBK Pittsburgh-Allegheny County is guided by the MBK Committee. Learn more at http://pittsburghpa.gov/mayor/mbk/index.html

About The Sprout Fund

The Sprout Fund is Pittsburgh’s leading agency supporting innovative ideas, catalyzing community change, and making our region a better place to live, work, play, and raise a family. Sprout provides critical financial support for projects and programs in the early stages of development—when just a small amount of investment has the potential to yield big results in the community. Learn more at sproutfund.org.

The Sprout Fund provides catalytic funding to support innovative solutions and imaginative approaches to Remake Learning in the greater Pittsburgh region. As part of the effort to Remake Learning in the greater Pittsburgh region, Sprout has catalyzed more than 120 small-scale early-stage projects that have created more relevant and impactful learning experiences in-school, out-of-school, and online. Learn more at remakelearning.org.

About The Heinz Endowments

The Heinz Endowments is devoted to the mission of helping our region prosper as a vibrant center of creativity, learning, and social, economic and environmental sustainability. Core to the work of the Heinz Endowments is the vision of a just community where all are included and where everyone who calls southwestern Pennsylvania home has a real and meaningful opportunity to thrive. Learn more at heinz.org.