Better

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   Growth, next steps, acceleration, expansion, all of these are words we use to convey the need for our programs to continue to get better. This concept of getting better isn’t some arbitrary statement but one that should be deeply grounded in your programs mission and vision. There should be a drive to be better at engaging youth, better at recruiting quality staff, and better at  impacting your communities.

Are you serving the youth in your communities to the best of your ability?

   This simply question should continue to drive your organizations steps in evaluation and improvement. From this questions stems conversations about community partnerships, family connections, funding, staffing, mission, vision and what your best might look like.

   One of the tools that we use to evaluate our programming is a SWOT analysis. We reflect on the past few months to year and create a table that looks at our Strengths, Weaknesses, our Opportunities and the Threats to our success. This exercise will be able to help lead your discussion on what has been working to make you successful but also allows you to identify ways to improve. This strategic planning tool has led to new initiatives, new conversations and partnerships that allow our youth to thrive.

   A major step to answer the question of serving youth in your community should be in asking youth themselves. Incorporating youth voice and perspective into any youth organization is vital in the evaluation and improvement of a youth program. Many organizations proclaim to be for youth voice, but simply err on a side of youth tokenism where they do not have any real say or power in the programming. If youth are the ones we are hoping to impact the most, shouldn’t they have a voice in how to do that best? From creating youth panels, youth evaluations, or more natural conversations with stakeholders (directors, community members, program directors) are all ways to incorporate youth voice.

   The youth that we work with deserve our best. By creating systems that allow for us to evaluate and improve the programs we work in we position ourselves to maximize our impact.

Reflect, Evaluate & Improve

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As we begin 2019 it is a natural time to reflect on the previous year and dream about what this upcoming year will bring. For your youth program it is also a natural time to evaluate your program and look for innovative ways to improve. Setting a culture that values evaluating and improvement is vital to a successful program. When we don’t take on this viewpoint we are in jeopardy of allowing our programs to grow stagnant, outdated and make choices that are not aligned to our programs mission and vision.

During these next couple weeks, take time to examine your programs and ask a few questions about what is working and not working. Are your current systems and procedures helping you to meet your program goals? Are we serving youth to the best of our ability? Does our programming reflect the values of our organization? What is working well? Where is an opportunity for us?

By asking these questions, and having a conversation with your staff, you can begin to get a clearer view of your program and identify areas of improvement. The next step is to create organizational goals based on those areas that need improvement and how to sustain what is working well. When we create a culture that values evaluation and looking at ways to improve, it sets the tone that allows for personal development within our programs.

What are you doing to get better today?

‘Tis the Season

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’Tis the Season for giving. From Christmas trees, hot cocoa and loads of presents, everyone is excited during this season. Stay tuned throughout the next couple weeks as we do some gift giving of our own.

This season is also a time to give thanks. Being grateful for the past year, thankful for our friends and all the things we have received. This week we want to share about one our friends, Orange. Over the past few years they have given a lot to a many people by sharing strategies and resources to help organizations impact the people around them.

One of the greatest gifts that Orange has given us isn’t something material though. It’s funny, sometimes the best gifts are something that you can’t hold in your hand.

For us, that gift was passion. They have helped to  reignite a fire in our organization that has allowed us to connect to our community, help youth and engage families.

It is easy to get stuck. Doing the same thing, feeling like your efforts don’t matter, and hearing a  lot of negativity from burnt out people can sometimes make all that we do seem small compared to what stands against us.

Orange helps breathe life back into the our efforts. From working alongside people in the trenches with us, hearing the positive things that are happening around the world, looking at the strengths of our youth and leveraging everything we have to make a difference in our communities.

This year, get plugged in with Orange. They’ll help you build a strategy for your programs, you’ll hear success stories and get connected to a community of people that believe in uplifting communities. Reignite the passion that got you where you are now.

It’s Personal

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Orange Conference is right around the corner and soon you will be able to call dibs on all the great speakers, information, and fun that is coming. If you are looking for a conference that gives you the latest information, the best strategy and the most fun then Orange is where it’s at. On October 18th, registration will be at a huge discount so sign yourself, and your team, up to go.  This year’s conference theme “It’s Personal” will help your program reach more youth and leave a legacy in your community for years to come.

Why go? It changed how I engage young people, families and the community. Orange Conference helped me to see the bigger impact that youth groups can have on parents, schools and communities. They helped inspire me to do more for my staff and volunteers and gave me the tools I needed for them to do more for our youth.

One of the biggest areas they helped me to grow was in being strategic. With limited time, limited resources, and limited help I have to choose my battles wisely. Orange was great to see how I can create different events to impact the lives of young people. While there were good things happening, new strategies helped to improve systems, people and provided intentional steps that allowed our programs to flourish.

I can’t wait to head back for 2019; for the new theme, for awesome speakers, new ideas and to see old friends. Can’t wait to see you all there.

Caught in the Act

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Finding ways to encourage staff and volunteers is vital to a successful organization. Yet, we forget to do it, or we can feel like we might embarrass someone, or hurt someone’s feelings because if they were “left out.” Giving people a shout out can shift the culture of your group to something amazing.

Instead of things to fix, it is the vision of something that is working.

Instead of negative behaviors, it is encouraging one another as we do the right thing.

Instead of correction, it is spotlighting successes.

One way we here are working to stay positive and focus on the great things we are doing is adding a section to our weekly communication. Every week we send out emails to our staff and volunteers. We have recently started a section of that email called “caught in the act.” It simply a time to highlight staff and volunteers who are doing things that meet the expectations of our mission and visions, as well as, things that go above and beyond. From innovative ways of supporting youth to highlighting the ways people are supporting one another in the workplace.

Writing simple “thank you” notes is another way to show appreciation. Every month, we have our team leaders send out a few thank you notes to their teams, volunteers and supporters simply saying thanks. What is awesome is our team leaders are able to tailor those notes to the individuals specifically.

By highlighting the people that make the organization successful we can start building a culture that supports our youth best.

Partnering with Parents

 

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There is not a more influential person in the life of a youth you work with than their parents. This is why it is so important to partner with parents. The things you are guiding youth through and the skills you are developing in them can have maximum impact when they are reinforced at home. To bridge the gap between your program and the home, communication is key to set parents up for success.

Having a plan for communication that is consistent allows parents to know what to expect and when to expect it. The goal for the weekly parents email is to inform, equip and encourage. We inform parents of events, programs, and discussions that are happening in group. Then, we can equip parents by giving them conversation guides and questions to further the conversation at home. Equipping parents also looks like sending out resources to reinforce the power of family. Parenting is tough, working with youth is tough, yet when we can encourage one another we realize that we are all in it together.

Our friends at Orange set up youth programs to do just that. They have a new Parent Cue Live event that will help parents rediscover what their kids need most in each phase of life, reprioritize how to engage their kids, reimagine how to talk with their kids about critical issues and rethink how parents can partner with churches and other organizations to impact the future of their kid’s life. We are super excited for these events coming up. Check out the website here to learn about when they are coming to a city near you.

We wanted to give you something else for free! We created a back to school guide on ways to partner with your kid’s teacher. If parents, teachers and other caring adults all work together to influence the lives of our kid’s they will create a place where youth can thrive.

Group Identity Crisis

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When working in community coalitions we must be united in our efforts. These groups are made up of agencies and individuals that share similar goals, but still hold onto their unique systems, procedures, or niche in the industry. Yet, each organization is not the puzzle unto themselves, but merely a piece of a bigger puzzle that we need one another to be a part of.  Here are a few ways that we have been able to clarify our group identity, create cohesion, build momentum and impact the lives of youth in our community:

Clarify the Win

Many of these coalitions are struggling with group identity. They ask themselves: who are we and why are we meeting? One of the first steps then is to clarify the win. We re-evaluate our mission and vision. Personally, I love the simplicity of a Vision Frame. Many churches use this model, however, I have found it useful in other organizations, non-profits, youth programs, youth councils and coalitions. We go through what the vision of the group is, and we word our mission in a way that allows us to take steps to meet that vision. For instance, one of the coalitions vision is to see youth free from substance abuse. Therefore, this particular groups mission is to inform and equip community organizations, schools and parents about resources in the community to help young people struggle with substance use. We can then create measures and strategies to help us know if what we are doing is actually working. The values of the vision frame help us maintain our group identity and guides the action steps and decisions that we make. For example, one of our values is youth voice. We then make sure that we have a young person at the table to help inform decisions and any publications we produce. Through this process, we have been able to quickly build group cohesion, come up with action steps

Just Hit Something

I used to coach football for middle schoolers. As they were just learning the fundamentals of the game there would be times when mistakes were made, assignments got messed up, or they would just look puzzled. As we corrected the mistakes and made progress towards to everyone being on the same page, I would give the players some advice. I would say, “when in doubt, hit something, and hit it hard.” These groups would do the same thing, puzzled glances, unsure of action steps and hesitation that stopped the group from the work we were supposed to do. I suggested that we just hit something, and hit it hard. At the same work group, our mission was to inform the community about resources to help adolescents with substance use. I suggest we start with a community guide to available resources. We all pooled together to talk about what resources are available, the steps parents would take to get help, conversation starters and contact information for agencies. The plan is to distribute it to schools, our individual organizations, and programs that work with youth in our county.

From these things, people have said we have made more progress in a month then in two years. It happened because we were able to step back, clarify the win for the group, find ways to work together in what unites us, and we decided to take action, even if it was a small thing.

Momentum

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Most youth programs have a major event sometime throughout the year. Maybe it is a Fall Weekend, a fundraiser dinner, a conference, a big training or a week long Summer Camp. These experiences are often the pinnacle of the year for volunteers, staff and the youth you work with. It is ‘THE’ event you want youth to attend. Youth leave these events charged up, equipped, and ready for what is next. Yet, programs often fall short in the follow-up. The momentum of these “mountain-top” experiences can do amazing things for your group if you allow them too. Here are a few ideas to keep the momentum going and leverage them in your programs.

Post Event Meetings should be scheduled even before you host you big event. These events help youth continue to form the connections they made at camp, at the conference, or when you went somewhere for the weekend. Challenge them on what they learned while away and what they are doing with the new information. Make sure to invite ALL youth, not just those who were able to attend your event. Make it a celebration!

In leverage the “mountain top” experience you can use it to help recruit new youth and build some hype and energy around your program. Get on social media and like all of the youths videos and pictures of them at camp. Use it to build conversations, tag new youth, and even as promotions. Have a contest for the best recap video, and use that video to promote camp for the next year. That video can also go to youth who were not able to attend and families so that they can stay in the loop.

Using the momentum of these BIG events can also help you to create some changes. We were able to create camp as a “vision” of what we want regular meetings to be. Coming off a first camp with youth, we were able to shift some culture things that needed to change based off the trust, fun, and relationships that were built at camp. Using this trust to make a shift in culture with the positive things in mind can be a great strategy.

Post-event strategies are vital to continue with the momentum and energy created during your event.  Don’t miss the opportunity to connect with youth, families, volunteers and staff to bring the energy of these BIG experiences into the daily grind of your programs.

Losing the Battle

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Are you willing to lose a battle to win the war?

This thought recently came to me when talking with a room full of probation officers. They were upset that their youth weren’t engaging with community programs. I asked them how these conversations go, how these programs get selected and I asked them about youth themselves. The current process is a P.O. would select a program they felt fit the youth and tell the youth to attend. For me, this current process is losing the battle and the war for the hearts of our young people.

Breaking down the situation I encouraged them to define the win, which was to get young people connected to a positive community program. This is the goal, this is the win.  We began a conversation that would empower youth to select programs that played to their strengths and brainstormed strategies for the P.O’s to be more than just P.O.s but positive adults in the lives of these youth to encourage them and even attend programs with them.

What the P.O.’s would have to lose something: their feeling of control.

Are we willing to lose the battle of control over young people, in order to empower them to make decisions that align with the values in which we teach them, in order to win the war. Can we set aside the secondary, and focus on the primary.

Somewhere you are struggling with coercing a young person; struggling to engage them in the program, to change a behavior, or to eat their vegetables. What would it look like to empower them to make a decision, to offer a third option, to teach them the value and the end goal of the decision-making process. When we can empower youth to make their own decisions we communicate that we trust them and believe in them.

Fear is a Liar

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I still think there is a possibility that there is a shark in any swimming pool I go into. There is this small nervousness of going in the deep end and not being able to touch bottom. This past weekend I was able to help a friends son swim around for the first time in the deep end. There was a lot of nervousness and fear but we took steps towards the ultimate goal. He swam around in a float, walked around the edge, hung onto me as I waded in the deep end, practice floating, and swam back and forth in the shallow end without touching the bottom. By the end, he swam in the deep end  and was jumping off the diving board with no fear!

Over the years, we have seen an increase in youth who are worried, anxious and fearful of the world around them. As adults we get to help youth to deal with and overcome these paralyzing emotions. Here are some ideas that have help me work with youth to overcome fears and worries.

I try to take their fears seriously, even if they aren’t that serious. By validating their fear, you are able to acknowledge it and begin the process to move past it.

Communicate with youth about when you were able to overcome your fears and the result.

Take baby steps and don’t push them past their comfort level. Create a strategy together of what those steps look like.

Be close to them as they work through their own worries. We all are capable of pushing past our comfort zones when we know someone bigger has our back.

You may even be in a season of worry and fear. Who can you connect with to help you overcome those feelings?