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Published on May 24, 2012

Chester Youth Collaborative Focuses on Older Youths

 

In Brief

  • The Chester Youth Collaborative (CYC) and its network partners recently completed the “Chester Older Youth Plan: 2012-2016.” The plan was adopted by the mayor of Chester, John Linder, and the Chester City Council this January.
  • The plan offers a five-year strategy for meeting the needs of older Chester youth (ages 12-22) during the non-school hours.
  • The emphasis on programming for youth in the “non-school hours” (specifically the hours between 3 and 6 p.m. and during the summer) is critical.
  • Research suggests that older youth are more likely to be unsupervised, and to take part in risky behavior, during these times.

The Chester Youth Collaborative (CYC) and its network partners recently completed the “Chester Older Youth Plan: 2012-2016.” This plan, which was adopted by the mayor of Chester, John Linder, and the Chester City Council this January, is a five-year strategy for meeting the needs of older Chester youth (ages 12-22) during the non-school hours.

The emphasis on programming for youth in the “non-school hours” (specifically the hours between 3 and 6 p.m. and during the summer) is critical. A growing body of research suggests that older youth are more likely to be unsupervised, and to take part in risky behavior, during these times. Quality programs that operate at these times must employ specific strategies to recruit and retain older youth, as research also suggests that these youth are generally less likely than their younger peers to participate in traditional after-school and summer programming. 

The CYC is working to help fill this void by creating a roadmap for a citywide system that supports four opportunities for older Chester youth: Quality Out-of-School Time options; consistent access to critical Health and Wellness information; a Workforce Preparation system that emphasizes “21st Century Skills” development; and stronger connections to viable Post-secondary Options after earning a high school diploma or GED.

Bilal Taylor, policy and development coordinator of the CYC, says, “A city-wide system that creates more opportunities across these four areas is essential if older Chester youth are to make a successful transition to adulthood.”

The CYC has been working to increase the “quality and quantity” of opportunities for older youth in Chester since it was formed in 2005.  Its strong track record in the community led the Chester City Council to name CYC as the “official youth development resource” for the city in 2007.  Since that time, the CYC has worked with its member youth-serving organizations to strengthen their existing programs and identify areas where new programs could be piloted and subsequently sustained by forming new  partnerships with concerned professionals from other sectors that have an interest in the success of older Chester youth. 

A critical part of assessing these gaps was to work with community youth & adults to see where they felt the greatest needs for older Chester youth were (through its “Big Ideas” Survey and various events and community forums).  These conversations pointed to a range of challenges; as well as a host of community initiatives (operated by the Chester Mayor’s Office, Crozer-Keystone’s Community Health Department, and others) that could be strengthened to ensure that the non-school hours become a time of great opportunity for older Chester youth.

In many ways, the Chester Older Youth Plan is a critical step toward bringing this vision to reality, according to Taylor. Specifically, CYC staff and partners feel that full implementation of this long-term citywide strategy would help to address several systemic barriers that presently hinder older Chester youth from accessing the critical services provided by CYC partners and other providers in the city. These barriers include no set standard for what “quality programs” should look like; a lack of awareness on the part of youth and families about where these quality programs are; and no system of transportation to help youth safely access these opportunities. 

Beyond connecting youth to quality programs, the plan will benefit the city of Chester by putting together the pieces of a system that can impact some of the most pressing needs for youth. The plan specifically calls for a coordinated citywide effort to give every older youth in Chester early exposure to the workforce; a path toward a post-secondary option after graduation; and the support they need to make decisions that will support their healthy growth and development.

The good news for the city is that many efforts are already being undertaken by the many educators, youth-service professionals and others that work tirelessly to make a difference in the lives of older Chester youth. 

CYC Director Janet Riley-Ford says, “The CYC looks forward to highlighting the efforts that the city of Chester is undertaking to be a first-class city in terms of its coordinated plans to support its older youth throughout the year.”

Throughout 2012, CYC staff and partners will coordinate further community events to involve greater numbers of stakeholders in this important work.

For more information on the Chester Youth Collaborative (CYC), contact Riley- Ford at Janet.Ford@crozer.org.

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