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By Jenny Pedraza
Whether it’s an after school tutoring program, a sports activity, or summer camp, high-quality out-of-school time (OST) programs provide children with learning and enrichment experiences. These experiences have been shown to have positive effects on school attendance and behavior, as well as personal and social well-being.
The quality of these OST programs often comes down to the very people directly interacting with youth.
In response to a community-identified need for high quality, unique and diverse youth development workshops, this summer, the Virginia Commonwealth University Center for Community Engagement and Impact will launch a comprehensive approach to professional development for youth-serving organizations.
Offered through CEI’s Mary and Frances Youth Center, “The Toolbox at MFYC” will begin offering workshops this fall.
“When youth development professionals build relationships with youth, they are thoughtful, creative and use every ‘tool’ available to meet young people’s needs,” said said Tina Carter, MFYC director. “And when those OST staff members enhance their skills, they ultimately provide a better environment in which youth can thrive.”
The MFYC is a regional leader in university-community collaboration for positive youth development. The center has been providing training opportunities to area youth development professionals for the past 10 years, and is uniquely positioned to leverage the resources of VCU and the community to support quality improvement in the OST system.
The Toolbox will bring together content experts in positive youth development to teach youth development professionals how to work with children and youth, build program management skills, and develop social and emotional learning skills.
A wide variety of professional development opportunities will be available and are designed to meet the needs of each organization. Sample upcoming topics include cultural awareness; BEST Training; ACE Interface; and Mental Health First Aid. Supervisors, directors and program coordinators, board members looking to better understand quality youth programming or anyone who wants to grow and develop their ability to work effectively with youth are encouraged to participate. Some trainings will be free and open to all, while others will have a fee.
On-site trainings will also be offered for organizations looking to benefit from a cost-effective way to ensure all program staff learn the same knowledge base about critical issues and best practices.
Carter said the training community is not designed to replace current efforts, but rather to streamline local and in-house efforts where overlap exists and provide logistical support to organizations that desire to deepen impact. In July, United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg assumed full responsibility for the day-to-day operations of the Richmond Youth Program Quality Intervention (YPQI) program, previously co-lead with the MFYC for the past eight years.
The Toolbox aligns with the Richmond OST Alliance as it works to ensure all K-12 children and youth in the City of Richmond, and their families, have access to and engage in high-quality OST experiences so that youth make a successful transition to adulthood, and the families of Richmond thrive.
“It is critically important for OST professionals to be equipped to meet the ever-changing needs of youth and their families,” said Shanelle Ebanks, Richmond OST Alliance. “Youth development professionals hold a critical role to ensure the physical safety of a child while supporting their short- and long-term social and emotional needs. While some of these needs are consistent - food, safety, security - many are ever-evolving, like quality and safety in increasingly virtual platforms amid the COVID-19 pandemic.”
In 2018, Altria, Community Foundation and Robins Foundation came together to answer Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s call for quality OST programs for all Richmond youth. The Toolbox will support the Richmond OST Alliance to help build access, data sharing and communication to support quality OST programs.
For more information, visit The Toolbox at MFYC.