Is program sustainability all about money?
Grants can offer new resources and opportunities to youth programs and the communities in which they take place. The Minnesota Sustainable Community Project (MN SCP), funded by the USDA from 2008 to 2013, helped us to create eight new youth programs throughout the state. In these programs, youth developed leadership skills, gained new mastery and expertise in a subject area and made plans to meet their long-term goals in education.
We knew the benefits to these communities could not be fleeting. To sustain them beyond the life of the grant, we worked within a research-backed conceptual framework.
Mancini and Marek's research says that sustainability is not synonymous with securing more funds. Rather, it refers to the capacity of a program to sustain the benefits it provides. They identified seven factors critical to program sustainability:
- Leadership competence
- Effective collaboration
- Understanding the community
- Demonstrating program results
- Strategic funding
- Staff involvement and integration
- Program responsivity
One factor critical to the success of our program at an American Indian Magnet School was effective collaboration, which refers to building a broad base of support of community stakeholders. In this case, the school administration, teachers leading the program, community elders and the 4-H youth development program actively supported the program's goals and guiding principles. Each stakeholder was committed to continuing the programs worked together strategically to secure a promise fellow to lead the delivery of program of the program within the school's after school program, while the program still is supported by the larger 4-H organization.
Another critical sustainability element was program responsivity. This refers to ability of a project to adapt programming and meet changing community needs. This essentially means that the program needs to be flexible and not be married to sustaining the precise program activities. For example, we had three programs in Willmar Middle School. However, once the grant ended, there were no longer enough funds to pay for three different program deliverers, so the three groups consolidated, led by one 4-H program coordinator, who now has been able to include this program into her plan of work.
Sustainability is a dynamic concept the goes beyond the mere securement of more funds. What do your sustainability efforts looks like?
-- Joanna Tzenis, assistant Extension professor, Children, Youth and Families at Risk (CYFAR)
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