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#SpotlightOnCLT: Carolina Youth Coalition

It's one thing to dream. It's another thing entirely to have a team behind you as you reach for that dream. For a growing group of young people, Carolina Youth Coalition (CYC) is the team helping them become first-generation college graduates who are equipped to make a difference in the world. 


"Talent is distributed equally throughout our communities but the opportunity is not," says Carolina Youth Coalition Co-Founder Aaron Rudolph. "CYC empowers our hardworking, first-generation college students with the resources and strong support network to graduate from college, spark economic mobility, and return to their communities as leaders, innovators, and advocates for others."


Since 2018, CYC Fellows have earned over $20 million in scholarships and grants and have accepted a total of $7.3 million. Most importantly, 57% of all Fellows who are attending four-year universities are attending debt-free. 94% of College Fellows are borrowing less than the North Carolina student loan average ($6,500 per year), and CYC Fellows have outpaced the national ACT average composite score by nearly 3 points each year. Recently CYC was recognized as a leading contributor to economic mobility in Charlotte in the Opportunity Insights Report produced by Foundation for the Carolinas and the Brookings Institute for its role in ensuring  access to higher education.


Meet the CYC Fellows

Carlos and Jose Ortiz are dreamers in more ways than one. They're both Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, meaning they are immigrants who arrived to the U.S. as children and are protected from deportation and given work authorization. DACA recipients are known as "Dreamers," and the Ortiz brothers are no exception. They're hard workers who earned excellent grades in high school and dreamed of going to college in spite of significant economic barriers. 

"The road to and through higher education is filled with obstacles for many first-generation college students but especially for those who are either undocumented or recipients of DACA," says Aaron Randolph. Dreamers are not eligible for federal loans or grants, and in North Carolina, they're locked out of in-state tuition, adding yet another barrier to Carlos and Jose's dream of earning degrees. 

With help from Carolina Youth Coalition, both Carlos and Jose are achieving their dreams. Carlos is a sophomore studying architecture at the University of Miami on a full scholarship through a CYC-Jordan Brand partnership. (Yes, that Jordan. Carlos even got to meet the man himself when the scholarship was awarded during the 2019 All Star Weekend in Charlotte.) Jose is a freshman at Berea College in Kentucky, a tuition-free school he learned about from CYC staff member and Berea alum Maria Diaz.


The Three C's

So what's the secret of this success? It comes down to the Three C's of CYC programs — College, Consciousness, and Community. 


  • Personalized college application support
  • Standardized test prep
  • College tours and preview days
  • Annual Empowerment Retreat
  • Financial literacy workshops
  • Career exploration
  • 1:1 mentoring
  • Scholarship opportunities


  • Weekly programming to engage youth in dialogue around key social justice issues
  • Writing workshops and coaching 
  • Monthly Community Conversations
  • Special guest speakers and panels


  • Monthly individual check-ins and small group circles
  • 1:1 Community Advocate support: Each Fellow is matched with a staff member who will support the Fellow during her/his time in CYC.
  • Connecting youth to valuable resources and opportunities throughout Charlotte and beyond.
  • Professional Networking Opportunities
  • Special Events and Support Programs

How You Can Help

Carolina Youth Coalition believes youth have big dreams but shouldn't have to make the journey alone. Join the team by helping CYC through one of the following:


Give to our College Success Program which provides personalized college application support, standardized test prep, college tours, career exploration, 1:1 mentoring, and scholarship opportunities to ensure that high-performing, low-income students, "Fellows," matriculate to a best-fit four-year college with as little to no debt as possible. We are currently serving 75 Fellows enrolled in the program and aim to expand to 150 by next fall.


Give to the SOS Scholarship Fund which bridges the funding gap between the total cost of attendance and the recipients’ financial aid package for CYC Fellows. 


Sign up to volunteer! We are especially looking for: 

  • Empower Mentors who serve as 1:1 mentor to a rising high school senior for a year as a sounding board, coach, and motivator throughout the college application process.
  • Watch Care Groups who support our College Persistence Program by sending care packages to current College Fellows.

Become an Opportunity Partner! CYC Opportunity Partners expand our Fellows' social capital and career awareness through internship, shadowing, and networking opportunities. Interested in offering an opportunity? Contact Aaron Randolph at


Shop for GOOD! Buying through Amazon this holiday season? Make your purchases through and select Carolina Youth Coalition as your supporting charity. We also have a Give Shop® wish list and welcome your support!


DID YOU KNOW: You can VOTE NOW for Carolina Youth Coalition to win December’s #SpotlightOnCLT $5,000 prize courtesy of the Amy and Brian France Foundation!


Grace Kennedy is a Huntersville-based writer specializing in storytelling for nonprofits. Learn more at

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