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Youth Development Training and Resource Center: A Model of Collaboration
Submitted by Wendy Wheeler on Mon, 11/30/2009 - 17:58.
Youth Development Training and Resource Center (YDTRC) in New Haven, Connecticut models collaboration at every level. The product of a partnership between two local organizations – Yale University’s Consultation Center and New Haven’s Citywide Youth Coalition – YDTRC now serves as a nexus of professionals, information, and support for a state-wide collaboration for youth development. And to top it off, YDTRC is orchestrating yet another collaboration: the network of sites, youth, and youth workers that are united in collective leadership and service-learning for the Innovation Center’s Learn & Serve America initiative.
Initial support for YDTRC – an organization dedicated to strengthening the field and practice of youth development within the state of Connecticut – came directly from the grassroots. Local community-based organizations, particularly those affiliated with Citywide Youth Coalition and the Consultation Center, were concerned about the lack of professional development for people working with youth in direct service; this need was met in 1993 when funds from both the Connecticut’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven helped to found YDTRC. In 1998 a five-year grant from the Family and Youth Services Bureau of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, helped YDTRC implement a statewide youth development demonstration called Connecticut for Community Youth Development (CCYD). These funds, used over the course of six years, further established YDTRC as a leader and resource across Connecticut and in the field of youth work.
Since that time “YDTRC has become a truly amazing resource,” YDTRC’s director Deb Stewart says. “We’re linked to so many resources, both for the nonprofits and the funders serving youth across the state. We’re learning about how to engage young people, how to bring them to the decision-making table, and how to involve them in planning and designing programs.”
But YDTRC’s most well known resource is the Advancing Youth Development (AYD) 30-hour professional development course offered twice yearly – all sessions co-facilitated by a qualified AYD alum. AYD prepares front-line youth workers to understand adolescence and to focus on developmental outcomes for all youth regardless of the setting. Since its debut in 1993, YDTRC has offered the course nearly 50 times; over 800 youth workers have taken the course and its curriculum has indirectly touched thousands of Connecticut children and youth in diverse agencies and community or school-based programs. YDTRC has also conducted the AYD training in other New England states – Vermont and New Hampshire – in collaboration with the New England Network for Children and Youth.
Based on their strong record of collaboration, YDTRC was an obvious partner for the Innovation Center in our collective leadership and service-learning initiative; the difficulty for YDTRC, however, an organization supporting so many successful youth organizations across the state, lay in selecting just two sites for the initiative. With support from the Innovation Center, YDTRC is facilitating service-learning and collective leadership at two local sites: Hill Youth Action Team (HYAT) in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, and the YMCA in the Dwight neighborhood.
“It [service-learning and collective leadership work] was an easy sell [to the two sites],” Ms. Stewart says. “They were really eager to jump on board. Now our role is to support them with training and technical assistance. We convene them, provide extra supplies, and link them to outside resources. We’re also doing some direct leadership and development training with the young people.”
The YMCA has focused its service-learning work to violence prevention and improving police and youth relationships; Hill Youth Action Team (HYAT) is focused to gang violence and teen pregnancy prevention. Work at both sites is already underway: youth and youth workers are researching their issue areas and thinking constructively about action steps. Two weeks ago the YMCA youth team hosted a panel of police officers to answer questions they had gathered from local youth; the young people plan to use video footage of the panel to spark further discussion in their neighborhood about improving relationships with local law enforcement. This is part of the YDTRC “Reaching for Respect” project, a part of Connecticut’s efforts to reduce the disproportionate contact of minority youth with the justice system.
The work is not without challenges – neither for YDTRC nor for the project sites. “Young people who have been doing community service seem to have one impression or experience with service; this service-learning brings a new dimension to them and to the work,” Ms. Stewart explains. “It’s also difficult for the youth workers. With help from outside resources we will adhere to the principle of service-learning in our work… we’re really trying to reinforce the process.”
To that end, YDTRC has partnered with a local “guru” on service-learning, Linda Chaffin of the School for Ethical Education. Her group of well-trained high-school youth makes mini-grants to other youth projects and now, they are sharing their experience and knowledge of service learning with HYAT and the Dwight neighborhood YMCA: collective leadership and collaboration in action.
Learn more about YDTRC's 30-hour professional development course, Advancing Youth Development.