How to support kids on nights, weekends, and all summer long
The pandemic’s impact on kids—namely their education and their well-being—is a top concern in every community. It’s heightened the need and the will to rethink how our society supports children and prepares them to lead us all into a vibrant future. As we repair and build anew, it’s essential that the buck doesn’t stop with schools.
No single institution or system can shoulder the great responsibilities of supporting kids wholly, including academics, mental and physical health, social and life skills, career exploration, etc., etc., etc. Remember, it takes a village*.
So let’s acknowledge the village, support its many pieces, and knit them together so we can truly give children wholistic wraparound services and loving support from all directions.
To start: let’s talk about afterschool providers. Afterschool providers—or, as they are called in the field, out-of-school time providers—are experts in areas where solutions are urgently needed, like tutoring, trauma support, physical and mental well-being, and college and career exploration. But they are often left out of the public discourse, and, as a result, overlooked when it comes to funding.
We sat down with a group of afterschool leaders to ask them what they needed to be of best support to children and youth. Here is what we heard:
Give afterschool workers a deserved wage boost.
It’s common for front-line youth program workers to make between minimum wage ($9.87 in Michigan) to $15. The same wage you’d pay a babysitter, but these adults do so much more in their professional role. They stand as instructors, tutors, coaches, counselors, and resource connectors. Most importantly, they serve as windows and mirrors for the youth they support—windows to a better world than what the youth may think possible and mirrors of accountability, guiding young people to be upstanding community members.
“There is a national awakening about the way we use people’s labor,” said Meghan Sobocienski, executive director of Grace in Action Collectives. She called on foundations to lead the charge on wage equity for nonprofits.
Trust afterschool leaders to run their programs with head and heart.
Trust was a common theme of the conversation, showing up in multiple ways.
One line of trust discussed was between funders and program providers.
“What does trust-based philanthropy look like in a real-world scenario? General operating multi-year grants,” said Suma Karaman Rosen, executive director of InsideOut Literary Arts. “I will say this every time I have an opportunity to say it. I say this even as an org that gets funding from Skillman on an annual basis—it’s not a multi-year situation. At the beginning of the pandemic, there were a lot of foundations saying they were going to make things easier: changing grant applications, reporting, etc. And then after that moment, it felt like it all went back to normal.”
Renee Fluker, founder and president of Midnight Golf Program suggested that funders could be of better support to the full network of afterschool providers by coordinating funding to spread it more evenly and prevent gaps. “It seems like the foundations and companies could be talking to each other,” she said.
Jessica Hauser, executive director of the Downtown Boxing Gym, reemphasized that the grantee-funder dynamic should be “based in trust and solid relationships.” She shared, “There needs to be space to say, ‘we thought it was going to look like this but we’re doing this amazing thing instead’.”
“I’m a social entrepreneur and invest in startups all the time. I can’t imagine going to a founder and saying, ‘I’m giving you this amount of money, but you can only spend it on this.’ At the end of the day, we want to know if they met financial goals, etc. How they get there, we’re flexible on. As investors, our role is to give them the dollars to get there. If we take some of those principles and say, ‘Look, you pivoted. Help me understand the pivot.’ That’s where trust comes in. Organizations have the leadership to pivot as needed and, in our case (as out-of-school providers), that’s growing the business to serve more youth, deeper impact in the community, etc,” said Shawn Wilson, president & CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan.
These leaders also talked about the tendency of funders to be paternal, asking nonprofits to make adjustments “based on an idea from a conference” rather than trust those working on the ground to hold the best practices.
Skillman Foundation President & CEO, Angelique Power, agreed. “There is a fallacy of expertise in philanthropy. We are not the people with the answers. We are people privileged to have money to invest in the organizations and in the people who are the real changemakers.”
Angie Reyes, executive director and founder of Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation, added local insight: “A big part of what we see in Detroit is a part of the bankruptcy and emergency management. At one point, we had no elected representatives speaking on our behalf. In that vacuum, philanthropy stepped in and philanthropy became the voice of the community and was making policy decisions, speaking on behalf of the community without consulting the community, sometimes in a very paternalistic way. And we still have that approach of speaking on behalf of the community rather than giving them the tools and space for their own voice.”
So what of local best practices and community voice? One element touched on was the tendency for these organizations to select leaders, staff, and board members that represent the community in which they serve.
“Almost 90% of our staff live in this neighborhood,” said Christine Bell, executive director of Urban Neighborhood Initiatives. “My hope is that whoever sits in this seat next lives here and grows up here.”
A true testament to the power of their programs, many have staff that came up through the programs as kids and have stayed on as employees to support the next generation of youth.
“I was a participant (at Boys and Girls Clubs) and as soon as I turned 14, I asked if they could hire me to work the front desk,” said Tiffany Brown, who went on to found her own nonprofit, Developing Despite Distance, while also serving as the co-executive director for Detroit Food Academy.
Invest in youth leadership.
The best way to learn isn’t by listening or watching, it’s by doing.
It can be hard for adults to step back and play a supportive role while youth lead. To learn how to do this, talk to afterschool providers. This is a sector that is ahead of the curve when it comes to supporting youth-led programming.
The 10-24-year-old participants of Detroit Food Academy create their own food and sell their products at area stores and Eastern Market in Detroit.
Grace in Action Collectives provides an array of opportunities for youth to build their entrepreneurial muscle. Young members of Radical Productions uses their technology skills to solve community problems. The youth involved in Stitching Up Detroit offer graphic design, textile design, and screen print services.
Urban Neighborhood Initiatives has a youth advisory board that conducts community listening sessions and organizes efforts to solve for the needs and desires they hear from residents. “Our young people are driving a lot of community development work… including building parks and maintaining green spaces,” said Bell of Urban Neighborhood Initiative.
Physical space matters. If it’s a place for youth, let them design it.
These afterschool leaders spoke energetically about the importance of lively, creative spaces for young people. And who is livelier and more creative than youth themselves?
“Young people need creative space that are designed by them,” said Sobocienski.
“The Yunion has been blessed to be afforded resources to build out a youth-focused space. We recently came into our first building that we own, with support from Ralph C. Wilson (Jr. Foundation) through their Generator Z, to create a youth advisory design team to design a youth-focused space,” said Nicole Wilson, executive director of The Yunion. “I would love to talk with the team about how we designed that youth advisory design team and how they helped us build out our space.”
Hear from more Detroit youth champions
Share your thoughts about what’s needed to support Detroit kids here.
Artwork created by young artists from Grace in Action Collectives.
*Regarding “It takes a village”: One might propose, “What about parents? It’s parents’ responsibility to prepare their kids.” I would say, more accurately, it’s parents’ responsibility to make sure their kids are prepared. I don’t know any parent who doesn’t enlist the help and expertise of others. Kids require multiple caring adults in their lives including teachers, coaches, mentors, employers; perhaps college advisors, therapists; and the list goes on. A multitude of different relationships and experiences supports learning, skill-building, confidence, and more. But many of these engagements come at a financial cost to parents. How do we structure a village—a society—that provides an array of supports at an early age so young people can explore and maximize their potential?