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How to stay relevant

By Brian McNeill

When developing a lesson, event or program for youth, it can be hard to think about what will appeal to encourage youth to register and attend your program. Will it be the food, the activity, the time of day or the lesson that will really get their attention? Fireworks before, during and after? How can we compete for their time and attention?

Planning can be a real challenge and it can make a youth worker wonder, “Is my program is relevant to youth today?”

Those of us who have been in the field for a while see patterns. We can identify what will interest families and what programs to avoid. But for a young professional, it can be hard to know what will grab a young person’s attention and keep them coming back. Another challenge is that we must also prove to our stakeholders that our programming is valuable for youth and benefits the community.

Daniel Perkins and Lynne Borden did some research on this. In Community Youth Development: Programs, Policies and Practices, they name four areas to focus on to make sure that programs are relevant.

  1. Ensure that the 5 C’s  -- Competence, Confidence, Connection, Character and Caring --  are part of the structure of the program.  Add another “C” --  Contribution -- to the planning. Ensuring youth have the opportunity to contribute to their community in some way is important to the success of the program. 
  2. Name clear skills or competencies the youth will learn.
  3. Make sure the program addresses multiple learning styles. 
  4. Build a positive relationship with adults and peers. Adults and peers should work together on activities to build relationships. 
In reflecting on my earlier years of youth work, I can identify with the four practices. Today more than ever, step 4 is essential. Crafting time to foster connections with the program participants and having time for them to establish connections with peers is important. In a highly technology driven world, a safe place to practice communication skills is critical to the participants.

Building in the fifth “C’ of contribution and providing a place where youth can communicate with others in the community could be a place to start.

Today, more than ever, youth work is relevant to our communities and society. How have you kept your youth program relevant?

-- Brian McNeill, Extension educator

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  1. The 5th "C" is so relevant as I think about working with all youth, but particularly adolescents. Many of them join programs or organizations for very selfless reasons such as wanting to give back. They bring their life experiences and want their voice to be heard. Many of them value their time and want to give it to something they believe in. Providing opportunities for youth and adults to build a plan is the foundation for a successful program.

  2. In my experience with youth programs, I can relate highly with number 2- being very clear with the outcomes and purpose of the program, and what the youth will gain by participating. Our youth today are being pulled in many different directions, and have multiple program opportunities or options they can choose to focus their time. They like to know exactly what they will be doing, or what they will gain. As said in the comment above, they value their time and if the program and outcomes are clearly defined, they may be more apt to participate because they know exactly what will be expected of them and what they will gain.

    1. Janelle, I would agree that being very clear is very important especially with those youth who are active in a lot of activities. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Thank you for bringing to the fore these important points, Brian. I am always excited to work with volunteers on step 4 and look forward to doing more this year in particular.

    1. Heidi, I would agree especially in our world today. Building positive relationships with youth and adults is very important. We all need to build positive relationships with young people.

  4. Thanks for bringing to light the 5 C's Brian. Each of these are important pieces of programmatic structure. The C that stands out for me is Connection. It is important to create programs that connect with youth in a meaningful and relevant way. Each generation of young people has their own characteristics and unique perspective about the world. As a youth development organization, we need to stay connected to how youth like to learn, create pathways for them to play a role in program creation, and avoid a "one size fits all" approach. That is one way we can stay relevant.

    1. Mike, I would agree that making Connections are very important and that we need to make positive connections with youth. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


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