Young adults and kids play a critical role in our community. In Lane County, education and youth services work together because it is widely believed that when a youth has confidence in their skills, motivations and values, they can visualize their place in the world and pursue their dreams outside of school.

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The Connected Lane team

Connected Lane County is a non-profit organization headquartered in Eugene, focused on finding educational solutions for local youth throughout Lane County, with student success at the forefront of every initiative. Recently, they created a new space called the SparkLab: their newest project in a series of initiatives this past year, aimed at creating spaces for students to get excited about industry-informed learning. SparkLab is a student-driven innovation hub equipped with leading-edge industry technology and trades equipment, and dedicated to creative, valuable learning, with a vision of access and opportunity for all youth. It was created by a team of industry, education and community partners, as well as expert mentors from these fields to provide support and guidance for both the SparkLab team, and the students participating in the startup.

Another regional non-profit organization is Youth Era. They are dedicated to providing resources, assistance and opportunities for unhoused and disadvantaged youth. Teamed with 15th Night, a local community movement, Youth Era is developing a hostel next door to SparkLab for temporary shelter in downtown Eugene. Both organizations have borrowed insights and resources from one another to create greater impact—and as new developments begin to surface, the collaborative opportunities for community engagement are growing between both organizations.

Inspired by the local efforts of Connected Lane County and Youth Era, XS Media volunteered to donate internet and phone service, as well as sound devices to Connected Lane County’s new SparkLab building and Youth Era’s Drop-in Shelter. Additionally, XS Media’s Chief Strategy Officer Stephen Parac is part of the Elevate Industry Advisory Committee where he donates his time to help organize and support new youth-centered initiatives. More recently, he hosted a webinar for Connected Lane County youth, where he discussed how to use social media safely and effectively, as an industry tool for standing out. Reflecting on the experience, Stephen said: “[The students] asked so many questions and even jumped in with their own experiences. It was so engaging and fun.”

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Executive Director Heidi Larwick

In late June, SparkLab was announced and began its first summer programming for students: a 5-week innovation camp targeted toward rural and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) youth called Invention Lab. Executive Director Heidi Larwick explained that multiple perspectives from multiple sectors of industry and education are instrumental in developing and executing these programs. But student success is always at the forefront, so Heidi aims to provide students access to explore unique learning experiences. Reflecting on the development of SparkLab, Heidi explained: “We needed a missing piece between graduating highschool and entering the workforce; a trial and error period of exploration to give students an opportunity to gain industry experience without the responsibility of a job.”

Similarly to the SparkLab, the youth-centered mission and vision of Youth Era’s hostel for unhoused and disadvantaged youth is summarized best by Kirsten London, Program Director of Youth Era. She says, “at the end of the day, we just want it to be a hub.” Youth Era’s resource center and hostel will provide youth opportunity, as well as a place to feel heard, supported and empowered. For Kirsten, it is important that the space will have ample resources for youth in need as well as access to a network of supplies. Moreover, an important aspect of the program’s success is that it continues to collaborate with local community initiatives including SparkLab, to collect as many resources and support figures as possible.

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Stephen pictured during SparkLab’s opening day

These initiatives are transformational for the students who participate in them and we at XS Media had our hands raised at the first opportunity to step in and help. By continuing to donate volunteer time, internet and equipment, as well as host future company internships, we can help contribute to the long-term success of both of these amazing community organizations. Connected Lane’s initiative is special to Stephen, who explains the uniqueness of the program which utilizes a collaborative model between non-profit organizations and industry, to support youth. He says, “Creating a space for innovation by pairing students with industry professionals like at XS Media, is a tremendous opportunity for professional teams to share their perspectives, failures and pass on skills that can help students be agile and thrive in work environments.”
Heidi affirms that the youth voice component provides critical insight for every Connected Lane project and they are instrumental in the organization’s efforts to connect and engage with young people. She says that her vision of success for Connected Lane County boils down to one core component: “listening to youth.”

For Kirsten with Youth Era, her vision of success for the up-coming youth hostel is to provide a culturally aware, safe and non-judgemental zone for people to seek shelter and resources at any point. A straightforward yet tangible goal, where the youth experience is the focal point of the shelter and all of its initiatives.

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SparkLab thanks their partners and sponsors

Innovation is ingrained in Lane County’s culture and XS Media is excited to watch these organizations develop. Moving forward, Connected Lane and Youth Era will continue helping youth connect with learning opportunities and resources that enable them to recognize their value as diverse puzzle solvers, creative leaders and valued members of the developing economy. And we will continue to support organizations that make a difference in the community we live in and love.

To stay updated, visit youthera.org and connectedlane.org. Photo credit to Athena with Delene & Co.