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Showing posts from May, 2012

Who benefits from 4-H volunteering? You might be surprised

You might think that the sole beneficiaries of youth program volunteering would be youth. But you would be mistaken -- the value extends to the community and to the volunteers themselves. A recent study of 4-H volunteers in the North Central United States documents the types and levels of contributions made by volunteers that benefit youth, their communities, and the volunteers themselves. More than half a million adults across the US give their time to the 4-H program and Extension. This is a lot of "people power". To put it in context, the YMCA and the American Red Cross -- two of the largest nonprofit organizations in the country -- are each supported by similar-sized corps of volunteers. Extension 4-H Youth Development, a public organization, is a key actor in the landscape of programs that recruit volunteers to promote the positive development of youth in communities. We can quantify this by turning volunteer hours into dollar signs at the rate of just over $20 p

Keeping program assessment "local" reaps benefits

By Deborah Moore Want to keep a youth workers in your organization? Try involving them in observational assessment! The recent release of the national YPQI study on improving youth program quality found one unexpected benefit to the process of observational assessment and planning process -- it increases staff retention. While it may seem hard to connect these dots, the finding does not surprise staff and consultants here at the Youth Work Institute who are working with youth organizations and staff throughout Minnesota to improve program quality. Key study findings Include: Using the YPQI intervention increases quality
 Staff retention increased at programs using the intervention
 The intervention works across a variety of youth work settings
 The intervention is a cost-effective, low-stakes model for improving quality These findings also connect to recent policy conversations happening in Minnesota and elsewhere that posed the question "Should youth programs be

Learning from Caine's Arcade: Programming free play

Last month, I presented an online webinar titled, " Natural Spaces: A Place for Positive Youth Development ." In it, I talked about four research-based design principles that I believe can improve the ways that our programs connect youth with nature: 1. Situate programs in youths' favorite outdoor spaces 2. Integrate more free play 3. Plan developmentally appropriate environmental learning activities, and 4. Use nature design principles In this session and others I've presented, the concept of 'free play' in structured programs seems hard for participants to grasp. Free play is not free time. And it is far more than something that only happens in nature-related programming. Free play is characterized by the following qualities: open-ended, few explicit rules or supervision, and free choice. Questions like these bubble up: "What do you mean?", "What does that look like?" Free play is important, but we seem to lack the concrete

Do you dare to be coached?

In my experience, most youth work professionals are constantly scrutinizing their own work. But how willing are we to allow others to do so? Could coaching be a key to developing satisfaction for professionals in our field? In a recent report, Dana Fusco explores "the tension between a trial-by-fire approach to training [of youth work professionals] versus the overtraining that can lead to the 'anesthesia of the expert' or the loss of the 'heart.'" She concludes that knowledge and knowing are positioned "not as end products but as processes within the learning journey that require ongoing visitation." I found an interesting complement to Dana's report in an article in the New Yorker , where surgeon Atul Gawande explores the use of coaches in professional fields, after realizing that while many professional athletes use coaches to help them be the best that they can be, doctors don't. As Gawande discovers, coaching as a concept for amateur

Communicating public value: If a young person develops in the woods, does anyone hear it?

We know that youth programs have public value. But does the greater community know? Recipients of public funds must defend their use of public resources by demonstrating the value to the community, not just the value gained by the individuals who participate. Can you articulate what that is? Have you been doing so? My Extension colleague Laura Kalambokidis works with educators in youth development and other fields across the nation on how to demonstrate the public value of their programs . Laura did a survey of educators that shows that of those who do not infuse a public value approach in their work, the primary reason is that they do not have enough time. To me, this suggests we view this approach as something "extra" to tack onto our plan of work. I would argue that demonstrating public value helps us to prioritize our work and involves changing how we talk about what we do and how we measure the impact of our work. Youth programs have societal impact. Here are a co