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Reaching new youth audiences through partnerships

By Joanna Tzenis

Community-based programs are great at connecting with local youth. Universities have deep pockets and organizational infrastructure. Partnerships between them can combine these strengths.

In a previous blog post, I discussed how all youth can and do benefit from youth programs, but they are disproportionately valuable to the welfare of low-income or marginalized youth. Ironically, there is a shortage of youth programs designed for this audience. How can a large organization connect with youth locally? Research suggests that the key to engaging new audiences in youth programs lies in partnerships. There is a need for universities to partner with smaller, autonomously funded youth programs because these programs are most effective at reaching youth in high-risk situations.

Autonomously funded youth-serving organizations historically do an exceptional job at reaching low-income youth audiences because they are so tightly embedded in the communities they serve. But because of their small size. they are less likely to have adequate funds to support their program.

Smaller organizations, especially those in low-income areas, invest the majority of their time and resources in competing for funds from a small funding pie. With such a big chunk of their time and resources spent on fundraising, there is little or no time for staff development, program design, and education design. Instability of funding squanders smaller organizations' unique ability to contribute to the positive development of young people living in high-risk environments.

Land-grant universities on the other hand, are less apt to have the intimate relationship with communities. But they can offer partnering organizations stability in funding, as well as training resources, staff development, and program design. An ideal community-university partnership weds the assets of larger land-grant universities to the assets of smaller community organizations.

Our own Urban 4-H Youth Development office does a great job of partnering with small local groups, such as Emma's Place, a residential community just east of St. Paul in Maplewood. I'm sure there are many other examples.

What do you see as effective ways to strengthen relationships with new youth audiences? What further benefits do you see as a result of community-university partnerships? What are the challenges in forging these partnerships?

-- Joanna Tzenis, assistant Extension professor, Children, Youth and Families at Risk (CYFAR)

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