Meet the Delaware Teen Fighting for the Rights of Former Juvenile Offenders

“I could have never imagined that something as severe as incarceration would happen to someone like me, until it did,” said Jane Lyons, recalling the path that led her neighbor to the local detention center.
Lyons, 18, grew up in an affluent Delaware suburb outside of Wilmington. A few miles down the road from her home sits Ferris School for Boys, a juvenile detention center she admits gave her an “eerie” feeling driving past.
It was only when her childhood neighbor was sent to Ferris on drug charges that the center became more than an abstract concept for Lyons. Her neighbor had come from the same affluent background as her, but after experiencing family problems became addicted to drugs and involved in a local gang.
Her neighbor’s incarceration was a wakeup call to Lyons about the difficulties facing former juvenile offenders as they try to rebuild their lives. “[Teens at Ferris] feel as if society is stacked against them,” she explained at a recent TEDxYouth event. “They simply think that our world is waiting for them to make a mistake.”
With this in mind, as a freshman in high school she teamed up with her brother Patrick to launch Youth Overcoming Obstacles, a nonprofit dedicated to lifting up formerly incarcerated youth. The organization started small — gathering donations of books, school supplies, clothes and other essentials to make sure teens’ basic needs were met as they exited the detention center. They eventually moved on to organizing larger fundraisers to send the young men to summer camp, vocational training, and even to provide a down payment on one family’s apartment.
“This started as an act of kindness and now has become a passion project to replace the recidivism cycle with a resilient path to a brighter future for teens who want to continue positive change,” Lyons told NationSwell.
Youth Overcoming Obstacles was so successful at raising funds and awareness to support formerly incarcerated youth that the Delaware Legislature adopted their re-entry fund after a year and a half. Now Lyons is working on a pilot program that offers financial training to these young people to help them transition into the workforce.
Teens have a vital role to play in improving their communities, says Lyons. “My advice to other young people is to follow your heart and have the courage to reach out to community leaders and public officials with your plan of action,” she told NationSwell.
“It may take some persistence, but they really do want to hear your ideas, and they will help if they can.”
Homepage photo via TEDx Talks.

5 Cities Where Successful Wage Growth Is Happening

For several years after the 2008 market crash, the economic recovery was seen only in corporate earnings statements and consistent job reports. Family paychecks, meanwhile, didn’t keep pace. Average hourly wages rose at an anemic 2 percent from 2010 to 2014 — and that’s not accounting for inflation. Worse, US workers’ pay had lagged behind other indicators for nearly a decade, the result of bloated executive salaries, global outsourcing of jobs and capital investments in mechanization.

But in the last two years, that dynamic has begun to shift. Unemployment bottomed out at 4.6 percent last year (down from a high of 10 percent in 2009), meaning businesses needed to pay more to recruit and retain employees. Last October, wage growth hit a high of 2.8 percent nationwide.

In which cities has the average worker seen the biggest comparative bump in pay, as measured by higher wages and more work hours? (Hint, three are in blue states, two in red, and not one can claim more than a million residents.) Donald Trump’s 2016 victory in the Electoral College revealed the regional inequities, between the coast and the heartland, that divide our country. As a way to bridge those separations, NationSwell dug into the data to find out what drove better pay in these metro areas, offering five methods for the next administration to consider.

Hot-air balloons soar above Balloon Fiesta Park during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

5. Albuquerque, N.M.

Wage growth in 2016:5.70%
Average weekly pay:$745, up from $703

Statewide, New Mexico’s economy has struggled to make a comeback. At the end of 2015, the Land of Enchantment logged 17,300 fewer non-farm jobs than in pre-recession 2007. But after taking a years-long beating (including more than a doubling in meth overdoses), the state’s biggest city, Albuquerque, is starting to show signs of progress.
Historically, the city has relied on federal spending for a slew of jobs at Sandia National Laboratories, which focuses primarily on weapons, and Kirtland Air Force Base. If President Trump pumps money into defense, the city will likely be a prime beneficiary. But reliance on public dollars “is not a growth industry,” noted Jim Peach, a New Mexico State University economics professor, last year.
To capitalize on government investment, the city is trying to establish the high desert as a hub for science and technology companies. They’re sharing technical discoveries from the national labs (and the state university’s flagship campus) with local small businesses. And they’re also hoping to attract more semiconductor manufacturers near Intel’s chip-making facilities in Rio Rancho, a half-hour drive from downtown. The high-paying jobs in those sectors could power Albuquerque back into full recovery.

The new U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis will host the Super Bowl next year.

4. Minneapolis–St. Paul, Minn.

Wage growth in 2016:5.97%
Average weekly pay:$998, up from $938
In February 2018, Minneapolis will play host to America’s most watched televised event: the Super Bowl, to be held at U.S. Bank Stadium. (St. Paul will host an accompanying winter carnival, featuring a gigantic ice palace, to draw spectators across the river.) The NFL’s imprimatur is just the latest sign that businesses are increasingly eyeing the Twin Cities for development opportunities. “The number one thing is that people who make decisions for business now have a much more positive view of Minneapolis, and look at us for business expansion,” said Mayor Betsy Hodges, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
To prep for the crowds who’ll be streaming into town to watch football, the city is also shoring up a shopping district in the city center, which has been battered by competition from suburban malls and online retailers. At the moment, a Macy’s department store is the last remaining anchor, but a $50 million revival plan for Nicollet Mall promises to make it a “must-see destination in downtown,” said David Frank, the city’s planning and economic development director.
All that new business means more workers are making more money, thanks to a red-hot 3 percent unemployment rate and a recent change in state law. Last August, a raise in Minnesota’s minimum wage went into effect. At $9.50 an hour for large employers, the hike lands the state near the top of guaranteed minimums. And as debate over a citywide standard of $15 per hour becomes the defining issue of this year’s mayoral campaign — Mayor Hodges recently flip-flopped her position to support the wage bump — compensation seems likely to continue trending upward.

A view of downtown Charlotte, N.C.

3. Charlotte, N.C.

Wage growth in 2016:7.94%
Average weekly pay:$983, up from $905
If the number of new housing units rising across this Southern city is any indicator, people desperately want to move to Charlotte. At the beginning of last year, construction had begun on more than 12,300 units, and another 13,500 more were planned. The buyers? Foreign-born immigrants who’ve made a home in the New South, young millennials (including Villanova grads) who’ve found plenty of jobs to be had in Charlotte’s banking and advanced manufacturing sectors, and former exurbanites moving back to the city core.
“During the Great Recession, the sprawling developments in the exurbs ground to a halt,” Brian Leary, president of a local development firm, told Curbed. So those people moved closer to the central business district and the expanding light-rail system. “People are craving connectivity to each other and experiences, and those places that can deliver the most experiences in an accessible way can command premiums and value over time.”
Charlotte won that appeal despite the controversy over H.B. 2, the so-called “bathroom bill” that forces trans people to use facilities that match the gender on their birth certificate. The state law, which was drafted in response to a local anti-discrimination ordinance in Charlotte, led to boycotts and unknown quantities of lost revenue. A new governor could overturn the controversial legislation, which in turn could accelerate new business.

2. Nashville–Davidson, Tenn.

Wage growth in 2016:10.07%
Average weekly pay:$904, up from $812

Another Southern city growing at breakneck speed, Nashville has capitalized on its reputation as a destination for creatives to attract newcomers. Seeking out the city’s robust music scene, tourists continue to stream into Nashville. For 70 months in a row, the hordes of visitors broke records for nightly hotel stays; by the end of the rush last October, Nashville set an all-time record, beating out Houston’s 59-month streak. “We have music, a cool brand, Music City Center and Opryland,” plus two convention centers, Butch Sypridon, CEO of Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp., boasted to The Tennessean.

Now that the city is expanding, officials are moving to the next checklist item they must fulfill to stay on an upward trajectory: luring high-wage employers — an important task, given that Tennessee has no statewide minimum wage. To do so, Nashville is trying to keep as many Vanderbilt alumni in town as possible, while also welcoming foreign immigrants.

The population is there to make Nashville a major economic powerhouse, if the city can attract the right firms. ”If we didn’t have 1,500 people moving to town every month, we won’t have the job growth that we’re having,” said Ralph Schulz, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce’s CEO. “Before you had to have the jobs and the population came. That’s not the case anymore. Now it’s workforce, then jobs [follow].” If job openings outpace new residents, expect wages to rocket even higher.

West Loockerman Street in Dover, Del.

1. Dover, Del.

Wage Growth in 2016:14.05%
Average Weekly Pay:$764, up from $656
Perhaps the most unexpected entrant on the list, the tiny town of Dover, Delaware’s state capital and second largest city, recorded the largest percentage jump in wages in the nation. The payoff is the result of a 10-year comprehensive plan Kent County officials laid out in 2007, which emphasized attracting new companies without losing the area’s farmland and rural charm.
One of the biggest boons to Dover’s economy has been the aviation industry, anchored at Dover Air Force Base. Taking advantage of the military’s need for supplies, the state is building an Air Cargo Ramp that can accommodate large civilian carriers, about the same size as four Boeing 747 planes. The city has also been aided by expansions at several factories, including bra-producer Playtex and food giant Kraft, and a surge in entrepreneurship; in 2015, the dollars loaned to small businesses statewide shot up 156 percent.
On top of that, Dover punches above its weight in attracting some 2 million tourists annually, generating half a billion in revenue countywide. Visitors are drawn by state parks, casinos, NASCAR races and music festivals, like the 80,000-attendee Firefly. “I met a fairly new resident of Kent County a few weeks ago who lives in one of our newer housing developments,” Cindy Small, Kent County’s tourism director, told the local paper. “She mentioned that out of 30 or so homes, 28 of them have been purchased by non-Delawareans. You can bet they were visitors first. They came, they experienced; they relocated.”
It should be noted that Dover’s wages at the beginning of 2016 were, by far, lowest among the top five performers, making it all the easier to notch big gains among its small population. But the town did so even after Delaware upped the state’s minimum wage to $8.25 an hour in June 2015. Even after the change, this booming town’s average pay has continued to rise, perhaps fueled by a still relatively cheap cost of living and an influx of consumer spending.

7 Environmental Disasters That Are No More

On the eastern edge of Niagara Falls, N.Y., 100 homes and a public school stood on Love Canal — an unfitting name for a ditch filled with industrial waste that had been covered over with earth and sold for $1. The three blocks of working-class households looked like any other community, but in basements and backyards, residents found carcinogenic compounds seeping through the soil, leached out of the rotting drum containers buried underneath.
“Trees and gardens were turning black and dying. One entire swimming pool had been popped up from its foundation, afloat now on a small sea of chemicals,” recounts Eckardt Beck, an EPA administrator in the 1970s. “Everywhere the air had a faint, choking smell. Children returned from play[ing] with burns on their hands and faces.”
The environmental calamity at Love Canal prompted officials to launch a national cleanup of the country’s most toxic wastelands. The program — the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund, named for a trust fund bolstered by taxes on petroleum and chemical products — promised long-term remediation for dangerous sites and gave the agency power to bill offending companies for the costs. Since its inception in 1981, 387 sites have been officially cleared. But chronic underfunding — the petro-chemical taxes expired in 1995 — has weakened the EPA’s efforts. Most funding goes to less than a dozen major projects, even though there’s still 1,322 sites in need of further detox, according to an EPA spokesperson.
Despite the odds, here are seven projects that prove a cleaner future is possible and that the residents of Love Canal didn’t suffer for naught.

Delaware Pushes to Get More Low-Income Students Enrolled in Higher Education

This fall, a new crop of college freshmen will unpack their belongings, hang up posters in their dorms rooms, and meet other bright young minds as they embark on a four-year journey of higher education.
There are, however, many other kids in the country who won’t get this opportunity, even though they have equivalent class ranks, scored just as well on the SAT, and got the same grades.
So what’s the difference between these kids and their collegiate counterparts? Unfortunately, these high-achievers have one major disadvantage: They come from low-income families.
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In fact, a large majority of high-achieving, low-income students don’t apply to selective colleges or universities — even when there are scholarships and financial aid for the taking.
When jobs reports consistently show that people with degrees have much higher employment rates and much bigger paychecks than people who do not, it’s imperative to get more of our nation’s youth to not just enroll in, but also to complete college.
One state, however, is showing remarkable progress with its simple, yet effective, measures to get these college-ready kids to enroll.
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As the New York Times reports, Delaware’s five-year-old Getting to Zero campaign has shown incredible results: Of the 1,800 college-ready high-school seniors the state has targeted, 98 percent are reportedly on track to enroll in at least one college. How?
Here are some of their approaches (in no particular order):
1. Many kids don’t apply to top colleges because applications are expensive, so Delaware completely waives them. The state’s Department of Education identifies all the high school seniors with an SAT score of at least 1,500 (out of 2,400) and specifically picks out the ones who are low-income. These students are then mailed application fee waivers to eight colleges.
2. Applications and FAFSA forms can be confusing or intimidating, so kids get some hand-holding. The state sends high-school guidance counselors and state officials to follow up with the aforementioned low-income/high-achieving students and their families to walk them through the applications via phone calls and meetings.
3. Offering the SAT and ACT during school. By simply by offering the exams during school hours, more students are taking it (and most Delaware students do). As the Times points out, you’d be surprised how many students don’t apply to college because they can’t be bothered to take the exam.
4. Encouraging students to apply to college during school. In November, Delaware high school seniors can use class time to fill out applications. Guidance counselors are not only on hand to help the students out, they also keep track of how many students have applied and to which school.
5. Celebrating college acceptance. College-bound students are publicly acknowledged for committing to higher education, thus creating an awareness among younger students who might not have considered going to college in the first place.
Star high schooler Sydney Nye told the Times that she’s only ever considered local colleges because applications were too expensive, especially coming from a working class family. But thanks to Getting to Zero’s initiatives, she’s now headed to Stanford — her dream school — on scholarship.
As Sydney said to the newspaper, “It worked out way better than I could have possibly anticipated.”
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Inside Delaware’s Cybersecurity Job-Creation Hack

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was an unlikely presence at this year’s annual SXSW interactive music festival in Austin, Texas. His clarion call for vigilant cyber security during a live video conference on March 10 was even more unexpected.
“America has more to lose than anyone else when every attack succeeds,” Snowden said. “When you are the one country in the world who has sort of a vault that’s more full than anyone else’s, it doesn’t make sense for you to be attacking all day and never defending your full vault.”
His charge was prescient: Cyberattacks rose by 14 percent in 2013, causing President Obama to propose the creation of a $35 million cybersecurity campus staffed with federal experts responding to cyberthreats in his fiscal 2015 budget.
Until then, the mid-Atlantic state of Delaware is working to train the individuals who can fill the plugs in the cybersecurity workforce. It’s all part of the Delaware Cyber Initiative, a cross-discipline effort to create a talented crop of cybersecurity workers.
In an ever-changing job market, the cybersecurity field is a large, stable one. According to Burning Glass Technologies, the demand for qualified workers is more than double the overall IT job market. The shortage isn’t just troubling for employers — lax security invites hackers, both in large companies like Target and in the government. As Governing reports, South Carolina learned a costly $14 million lesson in 2012 when hackers broke into the state’s Department of Revenue computers, exposing millions of Social Security numbers, thousands of credit card numbers and other personal information. Such incidents are more likely with insufficient employees.
That’s where the Delaware Cyber Initiative comes in. Governor Jack Markell announced the $3 million proposal in January as a way to unite academia, workers, the private sector, and even the Delaware National Guard to develop a skilled and innovative cybersecurity workforce. To do so, Markell envisions a partnership between the University of Delaware, Delaware State University, Delaware Technical Community College and private companies to create a collaborative learning and research network dedicated to cyber innovation. The initiative is part-research lab, part-workforce development and part-business park.
The work done there will prepare individuals to be future cybersecurity experts that can expect to earn $15,000 more a year than general IT workers. “There’s a significant number of jobs available for cyber graduates in the area,” Ann Visalli, the state’s director of the Office of Management and Budget told Governing. In a state that’s home to the DuPont chemical company and many banking and financial services due to its generous tax laws, that’s a big deal. And it’s good for Delaware, too— since it’ll stem the brain drain in a state with a need for highly-skilled workers.
Delaware plans to locate the cyber facility on the site of a former Chrysler assembly plant that’s now owned by the University of Delaware. The university business park setting is borrowed from other states, where non-profits and businesses in close proximity to academic research have promoted innovation and quality training. For a field that aims to make everyone and everything safer, that is a very good thing.

How One Man’s Trip to Toys ‘R’ Us Brought Mobility to Hundreds of Disabled Kids

Cole Galloway’s workspace at the University of Delaware resembles a ransacked toy store. There are piles of plastic tubing, swim noodles, stuffed animals, and battery-powered Jeep and Barbie cars everywhere. But Galloway, 48, is a physical therapy professor and infant behavior expert whose lab has a very clear mission: to provide mobility to children with cognitive or physical disabilities.
Galloway started his infant behavior lab to study how children learn to move their bodies. He was particularly interested in finding ways to close what he calls “an exploration gap” — the difference between typically developing children and those who suffer from mobility issues due to conditions like cerebral palsy and Down syndrome. In 2007 Sunil Agrawal, a professor of mechanical engineering at the university, approached Galloway in a conversation he says went something like this: I’ve got small robots. You’ve got small babies. I wonder if we can do something together.
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The two professors started building power mobility robots that let disabled children explore their surroundings with greater confidence and independence. But due to the cost and heft of the parts, their early vehicles cost tens of thousands of dollars and weighed up to 150 pounds, making them inaccessible to the families who needed them the most. Galloway’s solution to those problems came to him during a visit to Toys ‘R’ Us, where he saw he could shift his vision of “babies driving robots” to the lower tech “babies driving race cars.” It was then that Go Baby Go was born.
Unlike electric wheelchairs, which are usually reserved by kids above age three, Galloway’s cars can be used in the critical early years of development. He estimates that so far Go Baby Go has retrofitted an estimated 100 toy cars, a small dent for the more than half a million American children under the age of five who have mobility problems. To spread his mission, Galloway has traveled across the country, posted YouTube videos and spoken with dozens of parents. He hopes that others can learn from his work and build cars of their own: “If you’re not going to drop what you’re doing and come work for us, at least contact us — we’ll send you everything we have.”
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