Sonya Blanzy


Sonya Blanzy
Youth Solutions
What Does Your Company/Organization Do?
Youth Solutions offers opportunity pathways to education and employment success for Michigan’s most vulnerable youth, helping nearly 16,000 young people along the pathway to education and employment success through our leading Jobs for Michigan’s Graduates (JMG) programming.
What started as 76 young people in a Benton Harbor classroom has grown to 3,000 lives changed annually all across Michigan, with all of our young people facing significant barriers to education and employment success, such as homelessness, pregnancy and parenting, or being significantly behind academically.
I really don’t like this question. As it says in my nomination, I have never been great at “selling” my accomplishments. I truly believe that everything I’ve done can be attributed back to my team.
I am extremely proud to work for an organization that makes a difference in our community and now across the state. I went to school to be a teacher and thought that would be what I would do for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a program like JMG at my school to allow me to really explore various career options, and I learned pretty quickly that I didn’t want to teach kids in a classroom. I did however enjoy the service aspect of teaching and knew I wanted to do something providing a service to people which is how I came to work for Michigan Works!.
I started at Michigan Works! as a case manager (Talent Development Specialist) and within a year I was promoted to manager of the Paw Paw Service Center before transferring to Benton Harbor. I was eventually promoted to Director of Talent where I oversaw the tri-county Michigan Works! Service Center operations. Growing up in the Benton Harbor area, I took pride in serving my community and enjoyed leading a team of about 20 staff members.
When I was presented with the opportunity to join the Youth Solutions team and lead its operations across the state, I was especially excited about contributing towards impacting the lives of thousands of youth every year. In my current role I lead a team of over 100 staff, 98 programs, and 25+ partnering organizations, including 13 Michigan Works! agencies, across 50 Michigan cities. Leading this team is especially challenging because we do not directly employ most of them and I need to lead by inspiring and influencing outcomes.
Again, I am most proud of the accomplishments of our team and the impact their accomplishment have on the youth we serve. In a typical year the team exceeds all of our primary performance outcomes, but given the soaring youth unemployment rates as a result of the COVID pandemic, we did fall short on a few outcomes this May. To give you an idea of the types of outcomes we typically see, here is some data from our Class of 2018 one year post-graduation:

  • Graduation rate – 95%
  • Employment rate – 67%
  • Positive Outcome rate – 85%
  • Full-time Employment rate – 76%
  • Full-time Placement rate – 90%
  • Further Education rate – 41%

What else do you hope to accomplish by the age of 40?
My goal is to continue working with Youth Solutions and growing the services reaching many more youth in Michigan to begin moving the needle on issues like youth disconnection and increasing postsecondary credential or degree attainment. I am so passionate and motivated by the work we do, it’s really ingrained in who I am and what I believe in.
As part of my work with Youth Solutions, I hope to become a known industry expert operating in the space bridging education and workforce development. At the same time, I would like to see my team grow in this space and elevate them to also become known industry experts.
Our team is currently in the process of finalizing our 5-year strategic plan and I fully intend on seeing it through to fruition.
I have a Bachelor’s degree in education from Western Michigan University
Benton Harbor, MI
Where were you born?
Berrien Springs, MI
What was your first job?
I worked at All-Phase Electric Supply Co. in high school answering phones and filing paperwork and worked as a server and bartender all through college.
Best advice you ever got?
This is a hard question. I have gotten a lot of good advice and have the privilege of working with some pretty great leaders. One thing that really stands out and is a core part of who I am is the “Platinum Rule” – treat others the way they would like to be treated.
Who inspires you most?
The youth we work with, the staff that works directly with them and my team.

That one thing about you we’d be most surprised to learn.
I married my first boyfriend, my high school sweetheart.
What do you love to do in your downtime?
My husband and I love to canoe and be outdoors. We frequently take weekend trips to various rivers nearby or short trips after work on the Paw Paw River. We like to fish and camp and spend time with our family and friends.
What book are you reading now?
I just finished the Harry Potter series for the second time, and am beginning How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
Volunteer activity you love the most.
I sit on the Children’s Advocacy Center’s board of directors and currently serve as board secretary. I enjoy helping to plan, execute and attend their various events and love seeing/hearing about the impact the organization makes in the community. The CAC staff have some of the most challenging jobs in SW Michigan and their positive attitudes and the drive they have to help young people to navigate horrendous life experiences amazes and inspires me.
What motivates you to give back to your community?
Seeing/helping others to overcome hurdles and/or succeed.
What Superpower would you most love to have?
Time travel
What has been the most eye-opening thing about the coronavirus pandemic for you, personally?
There have been so many challenges and so much sadness with the pandemic and the economic devastation it has caused, but I find hope and inspiration in our ability to support one another and come together for a common purpose. While there is a lot of work to be done, I am inspired by the connections being made that seemed impossible before. We have team members in Southwest Michigan connecting with team members in Detroit and the Upper Peninsula, and everywhere in between. I feel more connected to our statewide network than I ever have before.
The pandemic expedited our need to address some real and pervasive issues impacting our youth that have been made increasingly worse due to COVID – youth are disconnecting from education and employment at staggering rates (10.6% and growing in Michigan), and low skilled jobs are being eliminated at an increasingly rapid rate growing the requirement for postsecondary credentialing to obtain meaningful employment. Again, I was so inspired and motivated by the ability of our network to come together and get behind a vision to begin addressing these problems.
What does the honor of being named to the 40 Under 40 most mean to you?
It was an honor to be nominated and an honor to be selected. To me this means that I have even more of a responsibility to serve the community and promote and elevate the awesome work being done here!


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