These examples of community programs for youth represent just a few of the many diverse programs operating throughout the United States. There are various efforts at both the individual organization level and the broader community level to promote adolescent development through community programs. While many youth organizations, foundations, and citywide initiatives support youth development concepts and practices, there is little agreement on what specifically constitutes a youth development program and little systematic information on the breadth and diversity of efforts to provide these kinds of opportunities.
Community programs for youth vary in many significant ways. A program represents a number of elements and decisions that together constitute a program setting. Some of these dimensions represent choices made, such as the program focus, curriculum, and membership; others are not choices but the consequences of structural arrangements, organizational affiliations, local community issues, geographic location, funding, and political climate.
This chapter creates a bridge between the framework for adolescent development and program design and implementation by providing examples of ways in which community programs for youth incorporate the features of positive developmental settings described in Chapter 4. Committee members observed a variety of community programs for youth and reviewed literature describing these programs. We also drew heavily on the findings from studies that used various nonexperimental methods to describe the design, implementation, and management of a number of community programs for youth that appear to work at the community level.
Nonexperimental studies provide valuable insight about these programs because they generally go beyond traditional evaluation input factors, such as size, funding, activity focus, and participants served and help elucidate the realities of program practices and consequences. Although these studies cannot draw conclusions about the impact of program design characteristics on adolescent outcomes, they can help program planners and program staff build internal knowledge and skills and can highlight theoretical issues about the developmental qualities of programs. Nonexperimental studies can also help develop a solid understanding about program operations, components, and relationships in order to inform the design of future experimental evaluations.