YDI was founded in 1991 as a project of the Fund for the City of New York in support of the New York City Beacons Initiative that created school-based community centers for children, youth and families. YDI led the development of the initiative through training, professional development and programmatic innovation, creating the conditions necessary for strong youth development practice to take hold. The Beacons Initiative was a catalyst for the out-of-school time movement in New York City that now incorporates a variety of community-based program models which YDI continues to support today.

In 1996, to codify and document youth development practices and capture both research and practitioner expertise, YDI launched Networks for Youth Development. A three-year intensive learning community, Networks sought to identify, articulate and disseminate the best practices of the emerging youth development field and to create a system of staff development to support those practices. Networks helped guide the professional development and programming strategies for countless staff and organizations in NYC and around the country.

In its second decade, YDI sought to bring the youth development framework into educational settings, in partnership with the New York City Department of Education. YDI facilitated the development of the model for Family Group/Advisory school-based programs; initiated Community Education Pathways to Success (CEPS), integrating youth development, social supports, and academic instruction at community-based organizations that provide career-related services; and supported the expansion of the Learning to Work Program which serves nearly 19,000 students in alternative education settings.

In 2003, in partnership with The Pinkerton Foundation, YDI began facilitating the Career Internship Network (CIN), a practice network that aims to develop, grow and sustain strong career internship programs across the city. Through CIN, YDI provides training, workshops, and on-site technical assistance to the leadership, middle managers and line staff of member agencies that host high school internships at many of New York City’s major cultural institutions. 

Following this, YDI partnered with the New York City Center for Economic Opportunity to support the implementation of Project Rise, an application of the CEPS model in workforce settings. Project Rise targeted unemployed 18 to 24 year-olds who are out of school and lack a high school credential, and engaged these young people in a combination of educational opportunities, paid internships, and case management as a pathway to long-term economic self-sufficiency.

In 2013, YDI began a partnership with the NYC Department of Probation (DOP), providing technical support to the DOP in their adaptation of the CEPS model. YDI's training, coaching and facilitation reshaped the DOP's approach to engaging and supporting student learning at their community sites, resulting in a new Work Readiness Trajectory Framework guide for staff, strengthened peer support networks, and higher quality instruction.

Today, YDI works with nearly 400 youth-serving programs each year in community-based organizations, schools, and public agencies, impacting some 20,000 young people across New York City. 

The Youth Development Institute is a project of the Fund for the City of New York.