September e-news: Building Systems Together
September’s edition of Youthprise’s e-news is all about systems building. Youthprise prioritizes systems building to coordinate providers, policymakers, public agencies, school districts, and funders to bring structure, accountability, and cohesion to a diverse network of OST programs. We see systems building as a central component to all of our work – from youth engagement, to philanthropy and more. This month’s e-news features a youth-adult dialogue on systems building, announcements of new systems building initiatives and much more. Check it out!
Systems Building – A Youth-Adult Dialogue
by Karen Kingsley, Director of Public Policy and Communications & David Kim, Research Manager
This article provides a glimpse at one of the many conversations that occur at Youthprise between youth and adults. It is written as a dialogue, a back-and-forth, with the expectation that tensions and conflicts would be openly engaged, just as we must in our work to build systems.
Karen: I would say first off that our understanding of systems building continues to evolve as we learn from our experiences and work to hone our niche as a statewide intermediary in the out-of-school time (OST) field. In 2013, Youthprise defined our systems building goal this way: Develop coordinated sustainable systems that provide access to high quality OST programs for underserved and under-engaged youth. There are three aspects of the Youthprise approach to systems building:
- Supporting the development and implementation of local systems for learning beyond the classroom that include four key components — a coordinating entity; a shared data system; community-wide quality improvement efforts; and youth engagement integrated throughout.
- Advancing cross-sector collaborations that bring the holistic youth development approach of learning beyond the classroom to other sectors affecting youth, like juvenile justice, workforce development, K-12 education; and in turn bring funding and resources from these other sectors to advance learning beyond the classroom.
- Advocating for policy changes at the local, state and federal level that increase public resources and leverage existing Youthprise funding.
We use all of our interrelated strategies — funding, capacity building, policy advocacy, research, and modeling youth engagement — to influence these three parts of our approach to systems building.
Karen: What do you see as the strengths/weaknesses of the Youthprise approach to systems building?
David: I think Youthprise brings a unique approach to systems building in that we are the designated “coordinator,” and we are connected in multiple ways to young people, communities and organizations that are fiercely critical of systems. Not many folks are in this position, period; fewer are willing to wrestle with it from the many, often conflicting, perspectives that we engage with and value. Our first strength is our commitment to the complexities of our role as an intermediary, which leads us to hold our “ears to the ground” while also working with large administrative institutions.
At Youthprise, a wide range of young people—whose lives are impacted by these systems in deep, complex and dynamic ways—hold varying positions of power within the organization. Whether intentional or not, we have institutionalized the critique and influence of people who feel these systems in their everyday experience. This guarantees an ongoing, productive tension: we cannot look at systems as essentially good, efficient or effective, nor can we make decisions about how we shape and build these systems without critically examining their concrete, material results. As a result, our work has shifted and transformed.
David: So what exactly is Youthprise organizing on a systems level?
Karen: Youthprise has a role in spreading best practices from the local level to the metropolitan region and to a national level through our affiliation with Every Hour Counts. By convening a number of local systems builders through our OST Systems Peer Learning Community, we’re providing the space for these local leaders to learn from one another and share their best practices. We’ve created a space where failure is accepted and honesty about the challenges faced in building effective systems is encouraged. We are also working to take collective action on shared goals, like creating a shared definition of quality, developing ways to share data across cities, or strategizing about how to authentically engage youth.
Karen: How do you see us maintaining our integrity as we do this work?
David: As we do this work, engage in these complexities, forge new relationships with institutions and individuals, it is absolutely critical that we integrate self-reflection along the way. A humble spirit, at the risk of sounding ridiculous, is a must as we co-create. Because this stuff affects people’s lives. Oftentimes organizations put up this mystical buffer between themselves and the lived, material reality of the people they are trying to serve—which commonly includes people who work there! We need to intentionally reach through that mire, and just be still. Observe. Feel. Notice who is there and who is not. Ask who would be safe there, and who would not be. Who is served, and who is not.
Better Together: Working Toward Healthy Communities in Minnesota
by Jorge Rivas, Research Associate & Karen Kingsley, Director of Public Policy and Communications
At Youthprise we believe that healthy communities are central to the holistic development of young people – and our recent partnership with Hennepin County is an example of our commitment.
Since 2006, teen births in Hennepin County have fallen dramatically and it’s safe to say that the Better Together Hennepin (BTH) initiative has had a hand in the decline. Representing over 8,000 youth and parents who have experienced effective, evidence-based programs, BTH participants have demonstrated positive changes in increased use of health services and contraception and improved attitudes towards healthy and responsible sexual behavior.
We view young people as having expertise in making decisions about their own bodies, but gaps in access to reproductive healthcare can make these decisions difficult. Access to choices is a part of healthy youth development and integral to building strong communities in Hennepin County, and in greater Minnesota. The Youthprise-Hennepin County partnership is intended to increase young people’s choices while educating youth and adults about the realities of sexual health for teens.
Better Together Hennepin does this work through two strategies: creating systems change and funding evidence-based programming. They effect systems change through partnerships with various organizations – from school districts to non-profit organizations to Hennepin County departments – and leverage resources that build allies in the field by multiplying funds.
Through the BTH partnership, Youthprise serves as a fiscal sponsor for the County, working in partnership to leverage and grant funds to programs working to improve adolescent sexual health. Our initial investments will target youth involved in the juvenile justice system and other youth that are typically underserved.
Beyond building more efficient systems, Better Together Hennepin provides direct funding for a variety of programs focused on healthy youth development. In addition to the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Project (TP3), programs such as the Teen Outreach Program (TOP) – one of the nation’s few evidence-based healthy youth development programs have produced results in reducing teen pregnancy and improving academic success. Delivered through partnerships with the Annex Teen Clinic, the Family Partnership, NorthPoint Health & Wellness Center and over 20 traditional, charter and alternative schools, TOP has an integrated health and youth development curriculum built upon learner-centered weekly meetings, community service and service learning. TOP youth go through a 9-month program designed to explore and test goal-setting and decision-making skills and improve their relationship health.
The curriculum, most interestingly, isn’t attached to any prescriptive ideas of abstinence or birth control use. Rather, the program is designed to educate young people and encourage them to make their own choices in determining their sexual activities and maintaining ownership over their bodies. By facilitating the process for young people to take an active role in their education as well as connecting them to caring adults, Better Together Hennepin is actively building better outcomes for youth. That’s something Youthprise can support!
Now Hiring: New Initiative at Youthprise Targets Hunger
by Lizzy Shramko, Storyteller & Online Community Builder
Because Youthprise prioritizes the holistic development of youth, we recognize that good nutrition is central to young people’s success. Food insecurity and lack of nutrition are linked to a number of negative outcomes for youth, including poor academic achievement, behavior issues, depression, suicide and health problems.
To ensure that low-income youth in under-served communities receive nutritionally balanced and appetizing meals, Youthprise is becoming a hub for the Afterschool Meals Program in the Twin Cities starting in fall 2014. To coordinate the initiative, we are currently recruiting for a Nutrition Manager. You can download a job posting here.
As the hub, Youthprise will facilitate food procurement and delivery and provide resources and support to afterschool programs to launch their meal programs for youth ages 18 and under. The Afterschool Meals Program is a federal program that is part of the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), which is administered by the Minnesota Department of Education Food and Nutrition Services division.
Increasing the number of meals served in afterschool programs has been found to increase enrollment and retention of youth participating in school and afterschool programs as well as increase the long-term educational, health and life outcomes of children and youth involved. Afterschool programs have found that providing meals and snacks attract new youth to their programs and help them stay engaged.
Hunger Free Minnesota (HFM), a statewide collective action initiative focused on ending hunger in Minnesota, is a key partner in this initiative. HFM reached out to Youthprise to expand participation in the Afterschool Meals Program in Minnesota. They had found that many afterschool programs wanted to participate but were put off by the logistical challenges of managing a food program. HFM determined that having an organization like Youthprise serve as a hub would allow many more afterschool programs to participate.
Building Systems & Learning From Our Peers
by Jorge Rivas, Research Associate
As a funding intermediary, Youthprise carries the responsibility – and the challenge – of providing real, practical assistance to our grantees and partners. In that work, we find that we regularly need to reassess how we approach issues and spaces for growth. As we continue to develop new ways of supporting our partners, the value of conversation has become increasingly evident.
Youthprise is dedicated to being a learning organization and to creating spaces of collaboration and co-creation with our partners. As a funder, this is easier said than done. Building on work that was started before Youthprise’s creation, we convene our systems building partners in a “peer-learning community” that provides a space where people can learn together and offer support for each other’s work.
The peer learning community brings together staff from citywide efforts that are working to build more effective out-of-school time (OST) systems. These local collaboratives include youth-serving organizations, municipal government, school districts and nonprofits that are building shared data systems and community-wide quality improvement efforts. Members of the peer learning community include: Sprockets, Saint Paul’s OST network, Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board, Brooklyn Bridge Alliance for Youth (Brooklyn Park/Brooklyn Center), Northfield Healthy Communities Initiative; Itasca Area Coalition for Youth (Grand Rapids), Venture Youth Alliance (Fargo/Moorhead), and Duluth.
Building trust and safety in the group took time. Karen Kingsley, Youthprise Director of Public Policy and Communications, points out that at the first few meetings it was tough to shake the perception of the meeting as a ‘funder’s event’:
“It took a lot of work with this group before they felt comfortable enough to share ideas and failures with each other and, honestly, with a funder.”
In our work, it can be difficult to admit failures. Much like the king with a cadre of “yes men,” funders can often be unaware of issues brewing on the ground floor of the organizations and communities they serve. To combat that phenomenon, it became an organizational imperative to rid ourselves of any entitlement or misconceptions that come with the work and focus on being another partner at the table, albeit with a unique set of resources.
In time, the conversations at the peer learning community started to embody the learning spirit. Participants grew more comfortable and the conversations more relevant to the daily work of systems building. The community aspect of “peer-learning community” took on greater significance as participants took opportunities to question, lean on and ultimately vent to their counterparts. For these community and organizational leaders, the peer learning community has become a welcome respite from the often-burdensome responsibilities of leadership.
One regular participant put it like this: “It is the only table I can come to and meet with others doing similar work, a place where I can be a learner and not leading the charge. The peer learning group provides a place for me to refresh and reenergize for the complex work of systems change.” Another added, “The work of coordinating an OST system provides unique challenges and opportunities. Having the chance to connect, strategize, and share with others in similar roles has been extremely valuable. “
Owing to our larger organizational commitment to creating safe and collaborative spaces, it only makes sense that this peer learning community has worked as well as it has. At Youthprise, we believe it is possible to create learning spaces across racial, geographic, bureaucratic and cultural lines. Operating under the understanding that people, not entities, make up the institutions with which we interact, we can see that our role as an intermediary can often be misconstrued as that of a go-between or middle man for money and ideas, and that is just a waste of our capacity. Our values and ethics, things that are commonly seen as auxiliary for many organizations, are our assets when we seek to bring people together.
It’s a different type of product that we’re selling – not grants or data or youth engagement, although we do those things, but connecting people to one another.