Program: Casey Steinbacher, Executive Director of Made in Durham

Summertime. Growing up, for many adults, it was not just an annual break from school — it was time to get a job and not only go to work but learn to work.

This tradition continues in communities all over the country but for some adolescents, getting that first work experience can be tough.

Enter Casey Steinbacher, executive director at Made In Durham since 2017. She is helping to lead a unique nonprofit community collaborative of business, education, nonprofit, government and youth in creating a pipeline that closes the skills gap for Durham youth and readies them for high-paying careers while building a substantial local workforce.

Aminah Jenkins

Casey, who was joined by MID youth network member Aminah Jenkins, were both introduced by Rotarian Rory Gillis. As CEO of Casey’s Company, an

Rory Gillis

urban innovation company, and former CEO of the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce, Casey has extensive experience heading ventures like MID.


She described MID as an organization helping others in education to career programs. It has three main objectives: guiding work-based learning for youth in high school and local post-secondary, reconnecting opportunity youth disconnected from work or school back to a diploma or equivalent and maintaining a Youth Network consisting of youth ages 14-21 acting as advisors in the interest of youth.

Aminah said it was important to allow young voices in decisions made concerning adolescents. She said many youth have questions about careers that they may not be able to get answered.

“It depends on where your parents have been,” Aminah said. “Some need someone to tell them that there is more out there and need to be shown options and how to achieve them.”

About 40 youth meet twice a month reviewing policies and initiatives and identifying barriers preventing youth from succeeding on the education-to-career path and breaking them down. The youth sit on all committees and task forces as well as the board of directors of MID.

Casey said youth voices matter and that two 16-year-olds even helped to decide on the value of her contract.

The youth network has been working on six projects in Durham high schools as they continue checking what barriers are holding their peers back.

Casey explained that the next year for MID would focus on the 3-2-1 Work-Based Learning Initiative launching in Durham Public Schools this month. The initiative’s purpose is to ensure, beginning this school year, each freshman receives three career awareness activities like exploration, two career exposure activities like worksite visits and one job or internship experience by the time they graduate.

Within four years, the goal is to have 10,000 students participating. The idea is that the learning and work experience will lead to the career readiness for high-demand jobs and local talent businesses are looking for.

Along with partners like nonprofits East Durham Children’s Initiative, Partners for Youth Opportunity and the Durham Literacy Center as well as Durham Tech, Casey said data collection with SSRI at Duke will help with the massive amount of tracking.

Casey finished with a call to action asking for business partners who could act as guest speakers, host worksite visits, internships or other work-based experiences for Durham youth. She explained that there is a need for a larger internship pool with the collaborative serving almost 300 internships this year with plans to grant 600 next year and 1,000 in the near future.

“Durham youth are insanely awesome,” she said. “Watching them come as sophomores and leaving as seniors there is a world of difference.”

With MID’s help, the goal is to make sure even more Durham students spend next summer learning through work.

Submitted by – Carlton Koonce




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