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Community Programs to Promote Youth Development
pared. Beyond eliminating problems, one needs skills, knowledge, and a variety of other personal and social assets to function well during adolescence and adulthood. Thus a broader, more holistic view of helping youth to realize their full potential is gaining wider credence in the world of policy and practice.
This approach is not viewed as replacing the focus on preventing problems, but rather creating a larger framework that promotes positive outcomes for all young people. Public and private organizations are now engaged in a wide array of activities that fall within this framework. Such programs include mentoring, school-based community service programs and other volunteer activities, school-to-work transition programs, parenting skills, arts and recreation activities, among others. All are part of a new direction in public policy that places children and adolescents once again at the center of neighborhood and community life, where they can engage with caring adults inside and outside their families, develop a sense of security and personal identity, and learn rules of behavior, expectations, values, morals, and skills needed to move into healthy and productive adulthood.
Recent increases in funding from federal agencies, foundations, state and local governments, and the private sector have given impetus to these efforts and, at the same time, focused attention on the need to assess program effects and provide objective, reliable information to guide future investment. There is great diversity among the organizations that offer these programs, as well as the programs’ emphases, curricula, and populations served. Organizations offering youth programs range from large national youth-serving agencies, such as 4-H, Boys and Girls Clubs, Girls, Inc., Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts, to more local youth sports organizations, community centers, schools, libraries, faith-based institutions, museums, arts centers, service clubs, and numerous other grassroots organizations. Programs may target youth broadly or focus on a subset of them, defined by characteristics such as neighborhood, ethnic group, or special need. The focus of these programs may be general or specific (e.g., centered on sports, religion, or academic success).
This report focuses broadly on community-based programs for youth and examines what is known about their design, implementation, and evaluation. These are programs located in the communities in which the youth live. In the context of this report, communities may include neighborhoods, block groups, towns, and cities, as well as nongeographically defined communities based on family connections and shared interests or values.