Keeping Youth Programs Relevant

The National League of Cities is an organization that works across the country to “help city leaders build better communities”. One of their initiatives is called the Institute for Youth, Education, and Families, or YEF. In a recent publication, YEF proposed there are four primary ways youth programs can ensure their relevancy in cities:

  • Coordinate systems to support effective service delivery.
  • Ensure programs are of high quality.
  • Offer a wide variety of relevant program options.
  • Promote college attendance and workplace readiness.
While these are all good practices and things that every program should aspire to, they aren’t quite responsive to the realities young people face today.

This is true of the entire report. Working from a deficit model of what’s wrong with children and youth, the authors of the guide open by proclaiming that without youth programs,

Youth are more prone to engage in juvenile delinquency, substance abuse and other risky behaviors after 3:00 p.m. if there are few positive OST programs available. Municipal leaders are also well aware of the impact of high school dropout rates on crime and unemployment, and are increasingly sup- porting out-of-school learning opportunities as a strategy for promoting school and career success. (p. 3)

This approach to rationalizing the existence of youth programs is common. Too easily, it suggests that youth program providers are the Great White Hope, doing what nobody else can do, and without them all young people are falling to pieces.
While that’s a common approach, I believe that its misguided at best, virtually ensuring the irrelevance of youth programs today and into the future.
The relevance of youth programs relies on recognizing current trends, identifying new opportunities, and leading communities forward. Seeing youth as deficits and taking white knight stances does none of those things; worst still, it perpetuates the belief many funders have that many traditional youth programs aren’t effective and can only be made effective through radical accountability.
More than a decade ago, I began working in communities across the US and Canada to promote the integration of youth voice throughout our communities. When I published The Freechild Project Youth Voice Toolkit online for free, I thought I was only speaking to the audience that’s concerned with youth voice, youth engagement, meaningful youth involvement, and youth-driven programming. However, reading over YEF’s report, today I see that the things I’ve learned about youth voice also apply to the wider field of all youth programs.
  
Youth voice, which is any expression about anything from any young person anywhere, ever, obviously appears ubiquitous throughout our society. Marketers sell youth to older people, while more products appear geared towards youth than ever before. However, the difference is that youth voice comes from youth themselves. Its not conformed, deformed, reformed, or transformed by adults to do whatever we want. Instead, it is simply what youth think, say, feel, do, believe, understand, and know on their own without adults.
In order to maintain their relevance, youth programs should follow the following principles I summarize below. You can find the complete version on The Freechild Project website.
Keys to Youth Voice
  1. Don’t fool the youth. The old saying, “You can’t fool all the people all the time” applies to young people, too.
  2. Work with young people – not for young people. Don’t do for children and youth what they can do with you.
  3. Make “having fun” powerful. The days of “pizza box youth engagement” are over, and you can’t just throw a bunch of “fun food” into a room and expect young people to come and learn something meaningful.
  4. Embrace change. Planning today is not as rigid as it used to be, and young people today are more flexible than ever. Teach the benefits of change by “going with the flow” and striving to be calm in the center of chaos.
  5. Don’t talk about “youth problems” anymore. Young people are part of larger communities, and when they have a problem, their communities have a problem.
  6. Teach young people about adultism when they are young. By being a responsible advocate for youth you can illustrate the practice and possibilities of being an active ally to young people.
  7. Acknowledge young people in significant ways. Patting someone on the back or giving them a certificate can only go so far.
  8. Engage young people in something greater than themselves. MLK wrote that living nonviolence requires us to, “rise above the narrow confines of our individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” When applied to young people this means that simply encouraging or allowing young people to advocate for themselves is not enough.
Using these keys as a guide for critical thinking, assessment, and program planning, youth programs can assure their relevance well into the future.
Change is inevitable; staying with it and growing from it is not. Keep youth programs relevant by adapting and transforming with the times, and the young people you’re trying to serve.
Here are some links mentioned above:
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Elements of Successful Community Engagement

The nature of community programs continues to evolve.

More than ever, nonprofits, government agencies, and other programs are being challenged to transform their goals, activities, assessments, and resources in order to motivate, educate, and engage people beyond simple participation. In a time when many communities are stuck in a malaise, community programs require a realignment to grow beyond what they’ve done.

Appearances Matter

People appear to have more options with what to do with their time, making it ironic they need community programs more than ever. However, the technology, recreation, sports, faith-based activities, and opportunities to earn income that were present just a decade ago simply aren’t in many communities anymore.

Considering these dual realities of increased need and decreased opportunities, it is absolutely vital that nonprofit and government program providers get earnest about successfully engaging all people in their programming.

After more than a decade promoting community engagement across the US and Canada, I have found what works and doesn’t work for engaging all sorts of people. These lessons have to be deconstructed and reapplied in each community, because all communities are different.

I have read the research, worked directly with people, and struggled through many projects focused on community engagement. Following are some elements I consider essential to successfully engaging all kinds of people in community programs.

Elements of Successful Community Engagement

  • Focused – Instead of meandering through purposeless activities and focus-less personal activities, every program session is designed to be a concise, deliberative engagement of multiple intelligences, broad perspectives, and varying experiences. Successfully engaging people remains the central goal of all activities, and is the focus of every program.
  • Supportive – Youth and adults alike are committed to working together without fear of retribution or alienation. All people are partners with each other in community programs, and everyone works together for the common cause of engaging more people throughout the community.
  • Engaging – The experiences, knowledge, ideas, and opinions of people are validated and substantiated with meaningful learning experiences that infuse everyone with a new capacity to visualize, analyze, create, and engage themselves.
  • Critical – As co-learners within a community of learners, all people provide vital insight in the learning and teaching process for their peers and facilitators in community programs. These democratic interactions are actively encouraged and supported by all members.
  • Transparent – There should be no mysteries about what the purpose of the community program is, or what the outcomes of the activities will be. Community programs should offer numerous ways to make goals, outcomes, and activities fully understandable to people.

These are not simply the keys to successful community programs, nor to successfully engaging people. They are the elements of successfully engaging people throughout their communities all all sorts of programs. Its important to consider that these programs and their organizations are unique and different, and these elements are recognized for paying attention to that.

With these in mind, you can go forth and make a difference in the lives of the people you serve through your activities.

Want to talk about me doing a workshop for your organization or community? Get in touch!

 

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Nobody Owns Volunteering

Nonprofits searching for purpose after the ship went down… The ship’s going down and all the rats are swimming for their lives!

A long time ago, back in the 1990s, the federal government decided to build the nonprofit volunteerism sector in the United States. At first this brought menial efforts from fledgling organizations that actually became powerhouses in social change across America.

Then it brought out the rats.

They flocked onto the big ship of national service that launched from the docks of the White House. This colossal beast carried AmeriCorps and Learn and Serve America into existence, as well as shoring up VISTA and the Senior Corps. Millions of people became volunteers, serving their communities in all kinds of ways.

On the Learn and Serve deck of the ship, schools actually got money to support classroom opportunities that infused substantive learning with real community needs. This had the ability to actually, tangibly demonstrate the value of schools to communities, and the abilities of young people to really, truly transform the places where they lived in positive, powerful ways. Astronaut John Glenn was on board, taking this cruise to the highest of heights!

Unfortunately, the ship got hit, and now its going down.

Last year, the US Congress defunded Learn and Serve America, almost wholly ending the federal government’s support for the service learning movement in one fell swoop. With a massive hole in the stern of the ship, volunteerism started taking on water and going under. That doesn’t mean that people aren’t volunteering- it just means they’re not taking cues from the federal government the ways they used to. Like through learning. Rather than using community service to learn from, the feds are concentrating their money on making students learn through tests–but that’s another post for a different day.

This post is to show that as every rat organization is grabbing for anything to float on so they don’t drown because the government took their money away. Suddenly, everyone wants to own volunteering. A lot of terms seem to be up for grabs too, as youth service, service learning, civic education, community youth development, and so many other phrases are being grabbed at.

The reality is that nobody owns volunteering. Today, as I spoke with the spectacular Charles Orgbon of Greening Forward, I thought to reassure him of that. I have seen the big rats be very defensive of their pieces of wood when the ship was intact, and now that they’re sinking, many are bumping around, tussling, and loosing their footing to other orgs (i.e. Hands On and POLF). As a young org leader, I think Charles’ good work might be targeted by some of these rat organizations to mooch off of or otherwise profiteer from. I’ve seen it too many times.

So, all of you fighters, advocates, and heroes out there doing the good work, please keep doing it no matter what they say. Nobody can take what is ours together, so long as we stand together. Charles, this includes you! Nobody owns volunteering, and that starts with your good work. Keep it up!

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted at adamfletcher.net!

NO "Marketplace for Love", Mr. Pollota.

We need to do it differently, and that much is agreed upon. However, that’s about it.

Another white guy wants to sell nonprofits better.

Earlier this week I watched a video of Dan Pollota‘s recent talk at the 2013 TED conference. Hoping it was another version of INCITE‘s absolutely powerfully essential book, The Revolution Will Not Be Funded, I was sorely disappointed when it turned out otherwise.

From the beginning of the talk, Pollota actually said, “Philanthropy is the market for love”. Cole Porter was talking about prostitution when he wrote “Love For Sale”, and I guess, sadly, that Pollota doesn’t seem far from this in his video. Rather than saying that nonprofits need to be turbo-charged engines run on the fuel of love in order to build democracy, Pollota actually says that running as businesses with marketplace accountability, the nonprofit sector should pimp poverty, sell missionary perspectives, and monetize humanity.

Nonprofits are not in business, they’re not selling products and services, and they do not belong tied to the neoliberal measures Mr. Pollota is advocating in his video.

There are counter-narratives on transforming the work of nonprofits. A constant advocate is the powerhouse Arundhati Roy. Accompanying what she’s written about the deeply neoliberalism roots of charity work, this spectacular speech has her discussing the purpose behind much philanthropy today. She also writes about the genuine motivations of philanthropists that support Pollota and others like him. Its a clear analysis that deftly distinguishes the real work from the purpose of what Pollota is talking about. Needless to say, alongside neoliberal drumbeaters like Pollota and Melinda Gates, Roy will never be invited to TED.

We don’t need neoliberal accountability in nonprofits, marking philanthropic “investments” against “lives saved” in a tit-for-tat approach to charity. We also don’t need nonprofits that string out social issues and make society reliant on their existence in order to rationalize their funding. What is needed is a new understanding of need, capability, and engagement throughout our society. Nothing less.

Resources

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Neoliberalism in Youth Programs

Democracy is a practical, hands-on approach to operating our society. Everyday, every young person can contribute to the health and well-being of themselves, their families, their neighborhoods, the nation, and the world. That’s the power of democracy today: More than ever before, it’s changing the world.

But there are forces trying to undo democracy. Right now, neoliberalism is tearing at youth programs across the nation today. It’s happening so deftly and insidiously that most youth workers and organization leaders have no idea what’s going on. 

Here are some characteristics of neoliberalism in youth-serving programs. They can be found in nonprofit or government settings at the neighborhood, city, county, state, or federal level.

Signs of Neoliberalism in Youth Programs

  • Bean counting. Counting youth-adult “encounters” as a measurement of change. This makes youth-adult interactions transactions similar to the way a salesman encounters a customer.
  • Pay to play. Charging youth to participate in historically free programs, including educational, recreational, cultural, and similar activities. Reducing youth work to a fiscal transaction incapacitates youth workers and denies the human right all young people have to access the resources of their communities.
  • Pre-packaged programs. Increasing “impact” in the lives of youth through by increasing the number of adult-facilitated, corporate-produced, curriculum-driven programs. This makes youth attendance in pre-packaged programs consumption, like a candy bar that is filled with empty carbs and nothing healthy.
  • Racist implications. When the same organization offers wildly different programs in different neighborhoods to meet different youth needs, they’re being responsive. When they track poor youth and youth or color into different programs than white youth and middle class youth, they’re being racist. 
  • Tracking to fast food. Teaching youth that the only jobs they’re eligible to get and the only impact they can make on their families and communities is through fast food and other service sector jobs denies their democratic roles and responsibilities. 
  • Signed in blood. Using contracts between youth and adults as a basis for interactions. This makes behavior and attendance a consumer interaction, and equates it to a consumer contract enforceable by law.
  • Poverty pimps. Selling donors on the horrors faced by youth in their neighborhoods without exposing the reality they’re faced to, including deep neighborhood roots, strong family backgrounds, and positive adult role models, is neoliberal to the core. It relies on feelings of noblese oblige for donatinons, and sells the worst side of youth today.
  • Youth as consumers. Referring to and understanding youth or parents as consumers of programs. This reduces nonprofit programs into supermarkets, and sells youth on the idea that “The customer is always right.”
  • Dramatizing reality. Writing grant applications or recruiting youth by over-emphasizing neighborhood challenges or youth inabilities is responsible and belittling. It sells programs on perceived need and hysteria rather than practical applications and meaningful community building. 
  • Zero tolerance. Enforcing zero-tolerance rules, particularly in low-income communities and with youth of color, who attend youth programs. This makes youth who comply eligible to participate, and pushes those who don’t further to the fringes, promoting a youth program-to-prison pipeline.
  • Being buddy buddy. Partnering nonprofits and for-profits in relationships that emphasize company values, corporate ideas, or consumerist perspectives.
  • Not all that counts… Using rigid evaluations and assessments of youth, youth performance, and program impacts in order to justify funding, employment, and youth activities. This makes all the impacts that aren’t measureable largely irrelevant, and promotes a “what you see is what you get” mentality, undermining the fabric of community in order to maximize the look of programs.
  • Sleeping with the enemy. Using corporate volunteers from local businesses to teach youth about financial responsibility and equity is an easy way to infuse youth with anti-democratic ideology and community apathy.
  • Over counting. Measuring every single component of a program. This makes all program activities artificially responsible for impacting youth, when there are many activities that indirectly affect them or don’t effect them at all that need to be done.

If these characteristics seem sensible or practical to you, you might consider what assumptions are driving your perspectives. That’s how neoliberalism works: Gradually taking over our conscience, we routinely and coincidentally perpetuate the very problems that caused our programs to need to exist in the first place. 


About Neoliberalism

In my work across the country over the last few years I’ve met and talked with many youth workers who are very concerned. They see their organizations faltering under pressure from foundations and donors, they’re watching young people become consumed by corporate identities and values, and they’re being laid off and replaced as workers caught in a seemingly never-ending cycle of hiring-and-firing.

At the same time, nonprofit organizations once committed to community development are now promoting consumerism and low-wage efforts to pipe up local economies. Executive directors and fund development managers have to pit corporate interests against the public well-being, often hiding sophisticated consumerist agendas behind simple-appearing neighborhood programs. They generally do this not from their own conscience, but as a response to threats from corporatized transnational foundations.

This is neoliberalism, which is a way the world is run. Neoliberalism places capitalism before social good, privatization before the public good, and business interests before the government. The ultimate idea of neoliberalism is to let capitalism run society, wholly eliminating the role of the government for the benefit of money-driven profiteers. 

In 2004, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said, “Privatization is a neoliberal and imperialist plan. Health can’t be privatized because it is a fundamental human right, nor can education, water, electricity and other public services. They can’t be surrendered to private capital that denies the people from their rights.”

Stop Neoliberalism

As my mentor and The Freechild Project advisor Henry Giroux has written, democratic education- which many youth-serving programs should be embodying- is under assault from neoliberalism in a huge way. But there are things we can do right now. 

  • If you’re a youth, stand up to neoliberalism by teaching your friends and educating youth workers. Share this article. Learn more about neoliberalism and work to stop it whenever, wherever you find it. Please.
  • If you’re a youth worker, stop neoliberalism by treating all youth as humans, right now. Stop enforcing dehumanizing zero tolerance rules, throw away company-mandated curriculum, and using your body to advertise for companies. 
  • If you’re a nonprofit board member, stand up to funders that are pimping your nonprofit for corporate gain. 
  • If you’re a neighborhood member or parent, check up on the nonprofits your youth is involved with or that serve youth and find out where their funding comes from, what it’s teaching youth, and how it’s being measured.

I offer websites, including The Freechild Project and SoundOut, social media, and outreach activities as weapons for this ongoing work, and I look forward to fighting with you along the way.


Long live democracy.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Youth-Driven Programming Dos and Don’ts

Interested in owning your own copy of these dos and don’ts? Find them in our new…

This is a short checklist for Youth-Driven Programming. I wrote it for nonprofits, schools, and other organizations that want to ensure their activities are meaningful for young people. You can own your own copy of the dos and don’ts by purchasing a copy of our new book from Amazon.com! ORDER YOUR COPY NOW.

If you want to learn more about Youth-Driven Programming, contact our office today by emailing info@commonaction.org or calling (360)489-9680.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Ways Adults See Youth

There are many, many ways that adults see young people. For more than a decade I have been working with young people and adults to reveal those different ways. We have uncovered adults perceptions of youth, the ways youth are treated in adult programs and organizations, and ways to stop youth from being engaged at all. However, none of these were systemic until now.

The following shows the ways adults see youth, from Current to Transitional to Future. Created with youth and adults from across the US, this represents the possibilities for how we can develop strategic plans to engage youth in dynamic, powerful new ways.

Current Perceptions of Youth

How do adults see the personal realities of youth?

  •  “Youth are meager.”
  •  “Youth are incapable.”
  • “Youth are weak.”
  • “Youth are needy.”
  •  “Youth are impressionable.”
  •  “Youth are misbehaved.”
  •  “Youth are annoying.”
  •  “Youth are baggage.”
  •  “Youth are ill-mannered.”
  •  “Youth are a chore.”

How do adults see the present social realities of youth?

  •  Demanding 
  • · Disobedient
  • ·  Susceptible 
  • ·  Nuisance
  • ·  Loud
  • ·  Violent
  • ·  Inarticulate

How do adults see the present structural realities of youth?

  • Incapable
  • ·  Burden
  • ·  Alien
  • ·  Token
  • ·  Decorative 
  • ·  Recipient
  • ·  Transitory

Transitional Adult Perceptions of Youth

How do adults see the transitional personal realities of youth?

  • Incomplete
  • ·  Immature
  • ·  Docile
  • ·  Fun
  • ·  Free
  • ·  Expressive 
  • ·  Loving

How do adults see the transitional social realities of youth?

  •   Formative
  • · Underdeveloped
  • ·  Kid-Friendly
  • ·  Manipulable
  • ·  Vulnerable

How do adults see the transitional structures realities of youth?

  • Impressionable
  • ·  Educatable
  • ·  Believed
  • ·  Actualized
  • ·  Empowered

Future Adult Perceptions of Youth

How do adults see the future personal realities of youth?

  • ·  Partner
  • ·  Equitable
  • ·  Creators
  • ·  Co-creators
  • ·  Whole
  • ·  Capable
  • ·  Unique
  • ·  Accepting
  • ·  Strong
  • ·  Powerful

How do adults see the future social realities of youth?

  • Effective
  • ·  Equality
  • ·  Capable
  • ·  Driven
  • ·  Dreaming
  • ·  Influential
  • ·  Focused
  • ·  Strong

How do adults see the future structural realities of youth?

  • Partnership
  • ·  Tranformative
  • ·  Valuable
  • ·  Necessity
  • ·  Trusted
  • ·  Wise


For more information about this chart contact my by emailing adam@commonaction.org




Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Supporting Adults in Youth Work

There are a lot of reasons to support youth engagement, including it’s affects on young people and the larger communities they’re part of. Today I want to share an excellent opportunity to find out how youth engagement affects adults and to support them in the process.

Kyla Lackie of Seattle’s SOAR (http://www.childrenandyouth.org/) and I are co-facilitating a brand-new Youth Engagement Practitioners Cadre starting next month. We are working together with Seattle Public Schools’ Youth Engagement Zone to build a genuine learning community among Seattle’s professionals who work with youth to engage youth. In the process we’re going to cultivate the wisdom of the area, identifying what we know and what we want to learn. We’re going to collaborate on community-building activities and promote real co-learning among different organizations.

This is an exciting project for me, and I want to encourage anyone in my Seattle network to consider applying today. We’re offering good scholarships, and we’re appealing only to experienced folks to join in.

Let me know if you have any questions, or of you’d be interested in hosting me facilitating a cadre in your city. I’m leading Student Voice Cadre in Pasco, Washington, and a Cadre in Miami. Now is time to maturate our approaches, and deepen our senses of belonging. The Youth Engagement Practitioner Cadre is one way to do that!

http://bit.ly/nvvBSA – PDF with basic info
http://svy.mk/r9B1OE – Application

— This is Adam Fletcher’s blog originally posted at http://www.YoungerWorld.org. For more see http://www.bicyclingfish.comr

Written by Adam Fletcher for CommonAction Consulting. It was originally posted at YoungerWorld.org. Contact us for more information by emailing info@commonaction.org or calling +1 (360)489-9680.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!