Since its inception in 1999, the Greater Worcester Community Foundation’s Youth for Community Improvement project has engaged more than 180 teens in direct philanthropy. Together, these youth have made more than $285,000 in grants to over 70 nonprofit organizations in Worcester County, MA. How does YCI work? What are the benefits to the community and to the young people who participate? We caught up with six YCI team members on the University of Massachusetts/Amherst campus in June 2017 to talk about it.
It’s not hard to create environments that actually spur young people’s emotional growth. In some ways, it’s simple and intuitive. But you do need to learn the basics.
That’s why Cindy Carraway-Wilson, Youth Catalytics’ Director of Training, is adding a new topic to her roster of trainings. Designed for faculty, staff and volunteers in schools, charter schools, afterschool programs, and residential and group homes, Mindful Classrooms, Developing Minds introduces participants to the ways that using mindfulness activities can benefit children, teens and young adults (as well as adult professionals) in any learning environment.
The body of research demonstrating links between mindfulness activities and social-emotional wellness, well-being and self-efficacy in both children and adults has been developing for over a decade. More recent research into the use of mindfulness in schools also suggests it can improve students’ academic performance. We at Youth Catalytics first began researching spirituality in youth programming 15 years ago by examining the kinds of spiritual practices that youth-serving organizations already offered to youth and whether they found them beneficial. Two follow-up reports explored how vulnerable young people themselves reported experiencing spiritual pursuits (both secular and religious), and how and why some agencies considered spiritually based practices to be an important component to any holistic therapeutic approach.
Our work sparked a partnership with Talk About Wellness (TAW), a Vermont-based initiative operating from 2004-2016 that brought mindfulness training to teachers throughout the state and other parts of New England. Conducting two evaluations of TAW’s impact on participants and writing their wrap-up report further convinced us of the promise mindfulness holds in promoting young people’s healthy development.
Cindy has 20 years of experience in the youth services field and is an expert trainer in positive youth development, youth engagement, asset building, LGBTQ+ issues and resilience. She’s been at the forefront of bringing the phenomenal new Youth Thrive model to audiences around the country. (She’s also a licensed Pilates instructor and trainer in her home state of Maine … just sayin’). With the release of TAW’s final report, Cindy was inspired to weave adolescent brain development, elements of Youth Thrive, and mindfulness research into a practical training for adults working with young people.
If that’s you … then this is a transformative learning experience you need.
Cindy Carraway-Wilson can be reached at (207) 319-6009 or email@example.com.
~ Jen Smith, Research & Communications Associate
In 1981, Youth Catalytics set out to improve the lives of vulnerable young people by lifting up the programs and professionals who work with them. Since then, the world has changed under our feet. Generally, those changes have been for the good. Sped by advances in technology, our social and biological sciences have matured, producing an enormous body of evidence about what actually works to move young people toward success. Government policy on youth has shaped and reshaped itself many times over, usually, if not always, arching toward progress. Predictably, funding for our programs has waxed and waned, at times threatening to weaken us, but never actually doing it.
Through all this, nine U.S. Presidential elections have come and gone. Five different administrations, with a sixth now to come. And we’re still here.
This is what’s also still here: Our unwavering commitment to the thousands of people who work tirelessly every day to build strong communities for our next generation.
In the 1970s, our field barely existed. Now it does, because we built it. And we’re not simply fumbling along, doing our best. We’re being effective. There’s incalculable power in that.
It’s easy to get discouraged. Political winds blow this way and that, and we know from long experience that they can blow hard, either propelling us forward or forcing us back a bit. We don’t know what’s going to happen this time around, but let’s look beyond any single moment in time to review our overall trajectory as a field.
In the 1970s, there were no shelters or services for homeless young people, and no public funding to support them. It took dogged effort and patience, but we changed that. Today a robust network of federally and state-funded services works every day to lift vulnerable young people out of poverty and give them a chance for a healthy and productive adulthood. (Yes, that network is still too small, and we acknowledge that. But it exists, and it’s not going away.)
In the 1980s, teen pregnancy rates in the U.S. were shockingly high — the highest in the industrialized world. By 1990 the rate had climbed to a peak of 116 births per thousand. We recognized that having a baby too young was often catastrophic for parents and children alike, and we went to work. What happened? By 2011, the rate had fallen to 52 births per thousand, the lowest number in at least four decades.We tried hard, in lots of different ways, to move the needle for young people, and we succeeded.
In the 1990s, dropout rates among minority students in some high schools were well over 50%. Consider Hispanic teens, the group most likely to drop out. In 1991, 36% of Hispanic youth left school before graduating. Today, 11% do. Perfect? No. But much better. We said we wanted more for our young people, and we figured out how to get it. We won something real for them, something of lasting value, and everyone, not least society itself, is benefiting.
In the 1970s, our field barely existed. Now it does, because we built it. And we’re not simply fumbling along, doing our best. We’re being effective. There’s incalculable power in that, and we can’t be turned back.
So in times of discontent, remember this: We can make things better for youth. We have made things better. Balky systems and unpredictable funding cycles aren’t bigger than us; as a movement, we are bigger than them. We have survived and flourished in all seasons, and we will continue to do so.
~ The Youth Catalytics Team
We’ve produced a second short video describing our experiences implementing the Teen Outreach Program™ with high-need foster care youth in Connecticut. TOP is the focus of an Office of Adolescent Health-funded demonstration grant promoting evidence-based approaches to preventing unplanned pregnancy with young people in therapeutic settings. These youth are at particularly high risk for both pregnancy and school failure, both of which TOP has been shown to impact in mainstream youth. Our project is one of the first in the country to use the model with young people receiving special services for emotional, behavioral and learning issues.
Watch the videos to find out what TOP is like, and to feel inspired about what’s possible.
All young people in foster care have experienced difficulties, and some display emotional and behavioral challenges because of those difficulties. This subset of foster care youth can be particularly difficult to engage. There are ways to do it, though. We know, because, via our OAH-funded demonstration project focusing on teen pregnancy prevention in Connecticut, we found one!
This short video is the first is a series looking at what it’s like delivering the Teen Outreach Program to teens in therapeutic settings — alternative and charter schools, group homes, and other community-based programs. Watch it to find out what TOP is like, but also feel inspired about what’s possible.
Click on the video below, or here: When Foster Youth Feel Safe, They Open Up
Think people are tired of hearing from you via Facebook, Twitter and email blasts? Not sure how to break through to potential supporters and partners? Wondering if you should even try, given that social media is such a young person’s game?
This high-powered Quick Take interview with marketing guru David Newman is for anyone involved with nonprofit promotion and development – from directors and fundraisers tweeting about their cause to youth workers promoting the next big event at the drop-in. Newman gives practical tips on how to jump in the pool so that your entrance gets people’s attention – in the right kind of way. He talks about how to build confidence in yourself and your unique offerings, and how to develop habits that will build your base of supporters, one day at a time. Trust us, this Quick Take is for you!
David Newman is a Youth Catalytics advisor and CEO of Do It! Marketing. Our interviewer is Jen Smith, Research Associate at Youth Catalytics.
Click here or on the audio icon below, and fasten your seatbelts. David Newman is quite a ride.
What Impression Do Your Grants Make?
Although grant writing often seems like a formulaic exercise in making sure you have answered every question and included all attachments, it is, first and foremost, an exercise in teaching from a distance. Based largely on how you write your narrative, reviewers will decide whether you are creative, analytical, scattered, out of your depth, or a leader in your field. The written word is your best chance of getting into a reader’s consciousness, becoming memorable, and demonstrating that you are capable of executing the proposed project. While the funding guidelines and conventions may dictate the general style of your writing, successful grant writing tells a story and allows your agency’s voice and personality to shine through.
Through the principles of story structure and persuasive writing, as well as examples of real-life winning (and not so winning) proposals, this webinar will focus on the internal structure of the grant narrative and how to write engaging and memorable sections, paragraphs, and sentences in a way that is clear and compelling.
The Core of a Winning Grant Proposal: Persuasive Writing
June 11, 2014 2-3:15pm EST (Rescheduled from the original March 20 date)
Is your active leadership style perhaps a little too active? If you’re hearing only about 20% of what any given person says to you and can’t say exactly how your days keep slipping by, this, from Fast Company, is for you.
Try these four simple lessons from some big thinkers to slow down and focus on what’s really worth your energy.
- Take 5 minutes each day just to think, and ultimately figure out what’s the most important thing you should be focusing on (yes, it’s legit to hunker down at that favorite coffee house);
- Say no to things that distract you from that most important thing and don’t mistake busyness for accomplishment;
- Use existing time more effectively instead of assuming you need more of it (try 5 vs. the standard 30 minute meetings to start);
- Be a more inspiring leader by swapping out ‘We need to do more with less’ with ‘We need to be as effective, efficient, successful as possible while also building talent and holding down costs.’
At the end of last month, I attended the Crime Victim Rights Week ceremony in Montpelier, Vt., an annual event that highlights the contributions of allies, survivors and state- and community-based victim advocates. It was well worth the trip—on a rural transport bus through picturesque villages with a very friendly self-appointed ‘bus greeter,’ although that’s another story!—and not only did I enjoy hearing the stories of this year’s awardees, I also came home with some great new resources and a sense of where I need to ‘build my bounce.’
The morning session with Nefertiti Bruce of Devereux Center for Resilient Children focused on fostering resiliency. However, rather than the usual presentation about how to build resilience in youth, Nefertiti turned the spotlight on us, the people who work with and support victims of trauma. Her talk was based in part on Devereux’s Build Your Bounce campaign, a resource for adults who want to live with more initiative and determination. As professionals accustomed to caring for clients, we sometimes need a reminder that we’re only able to inspire others, if we ourselves are living joyful, healthy lives. If you need a refresher (like I did, after a recent stressful move), take a minute to check out what Devereux has to offer. And if you ever get the chance to hear Nefertiti, take it; she’s warm, funny and insightful.
Most of the people at the ceremony, like you and I, already had some training in resiliency theory and trauma-informed care. But this did not stop me from taking notes. Instead it freed me to write down the phrases that inspired me or struck me as powerful images to motivate me to take good care of myself. Here are some of my favorite take-aways from Nefertiti:
- When you’re in a bad place, it’s like carrying a suitcase full of bricks. Resilience means you’ll either build some more muscle or take some of that stuff out.
- We should embrace a commitment to ourselves that is equal to that we dedicate to our clients.
- Resilience has to be (and can be) nurtured.
- Some people wish they had the problems you have.
- Don’t let what’s going on in the world stop you from doing your best.
- There may not be time for everything but there is enough time for the important things. Choose.
In addition to these nuggets of wisdom from the morning session, I also walked away with free resources created by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Vermont and the Vermont Center for Crime Victim Services: most notably, the updated Vermont Victim’s Resource Directory and Internet safety guides for teens and parents. The guidebooks are graphically appealing and hip to be attractive to young people; they guide teens through typical online scenarios and teach them how to pick up on potential danger. The parent’s side focuses on teaching parents some online ‘lingo’ and providing tips for talking to young people about staying safe.
So, what are you doing to build your bounce today?
~ Jen Smith, Research Associate
Nonprofits have been slow to hop on the social networking wagon. Lots of us do it, sort of. When we can think of something to say.
Well … that’s not good enough, as it turns out, because you’ve got competitors who are doing it well, and benefiting because of it.
So what do you have to be doing re: social networking, according to amazing powerhouse marketing expert David Newman? At a training in Connecticut April 22, this is some of what we learned:
- If you’re a nonprofit, stop thinking about what you don’t have or can’t do. Consider yourself the solution to a serious problem some group of individuals has. In fact, someone out there is on Google right now, looking for an organization just like yours. Will they find you? Maybe, maybe not. Are there lots of ways to find you? What goodie do they get when they do find you?
- You’re expert in a lot of things. So put yourself out there as an expert. Offer nuggets of wisdom all the time, particularly via your blog and Twitter.
- Blog? That’s right, you should have one, and be posting on it often. If you don’t post often, search engines will realize it and step checking for updates from your site.
- People will pay you for your information, but not necessarily in money. And that’s okay, because social networking and social media are about making new contacts and getting leads. So give away information, reports, ebooks and more, but ask for an email address first.
- Don’t bombard contacts with requests for help. Bombard them with information they can use.
- Advice to the middle-age executive crowd: if you’re not competent in social media, get competent fast. It’s not hard, and it’s not even time-consuming. Make a plan, and have everyone in the organization funnel information, videos, updates, audio, or whatever to a central person, who decides what gets uploaded and where. If you’ve picked the right central person, he or she will find this a fun task, not a drag.
I’m in the process of setting up a new office for my consulting work with Youth Catalytics. It feels like such a luxury to be escaping a cluttered home office space for a stand-alone suite across town. This move holds untold promise for me: no more shoving my partner’s papers, pencils, decking screws (??) and business cards off my side of the desk each morning; no more fighting the urge to switch a load of laundry in between emails; no more mental energy-drain from blocking out the toddler glee in the background; no more completing half a day’s work while still in my pajamas and then frantically showering before a Skype video call—wait, I’ll kind of miss that last one.
Once I got beyond envisioning how very organized and tidy my new space would be—which, if you know me well, you know gets me very excited—and how much more efficient and brilliant my work would become, I started to wonder what I really need to fuel this kind of work. What elements beyond the practical ‘tools of the trade’ must absolutely be brought into this space? As much as I love my poetry magnets and the smattering of inspirational quotes and edgy political bumper stickers that grace the filing cabinet, would they be enough to inspire me, to connect me every day to what drives my work? And what is that exactly?
I don’t know if it’s cliché to say, but honestly, the reason I sit at my computer every day and read and research and write and develop is because I know there are young people out there suffering. I know because I’ve met them. I know because I see them; in every town I live in or drive through, there are teens walking around thinking no one really cares about them. And that no one should bother to anyway. And while I occasionally worry that having left the drop-in center and the shelter to consult is a shift akin to ‘selling out,’ most of the time I’m confident that using my skills to support direct service workers means I’m still, in some way, there.
Packing up my old files and rifling through papers, I came across the perfect centerpiece for my new office. It’s an old drawing, from ten years ago, done in black ink and torn carelessly from a spiral-bound notebook. It was a rough draft of a contest entry for the annual youth conference logo. It was kicked around a few different offices at the agency where I used to work and then given to me by a coworker on my last day. It’s a caricature of a funny, talented and intelligent young man and his friends as they looked each day, shuffling into the drop-in center.
I love it; I always have. It’s such a close representation that, of course, it reminds me of them. It also reminds me to look for young people’s hidden gifts, to respect them as contributors. But what makes this drawing perfect and real for me is that scrawled at the bottom, is the artist’s own commentary that, ‘By the way… This is sh*t!’ His inability to just let it stand, to let it be amazing, to let himself be praised, that’s what it’s all about for me. Next time I run into him, I’m going to thank him for shaping this new space, in my office and in me.
~ Jen Smith, Research Associate