East Austin Youth Charter began when Public/Private Ventures, a national nonprofit organization, approached the city about participating in a new initiative. This initiative, Community Change for Youth Development (CCYD) involves five "core concepts" of positive youth development-supportive relationships with adults, constructive work experiences, activities for non-school periods, involvement in decision making, and support through transitions-and a process for implementing them. CCYD leaves the specific program model to be developed by the community. Further, the CCYD approach is based on the hypothesis that community mobilization is necessary for lasting community change.
The Community Services Division of Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department (CSD) had been working with others in the community to develop a proposal for an Empowerment Zone grant for a group of three adjacent neighborhoods in the East Austin area. Over 80 percent of the residents of this area are Latino, and 37 percent are poor. Although the group did not receive the grant, the process generated enthusiasm and a commitment to working together to benefit the community. Recognizing the limits of their ability, as a government agency, to involve community residents, CSD joined with Austin Interfaith (AI) as co-lead agency. AI is a part of the Industrial Areas Foundation, a nonprofit membership organization whose mission is to organize community institutions and residents for political action. AI had been working for 12 years in the community.
Between March and October 1995, the two agencies' staffs and residents worked to develop a plan. Several elements were important to their success: for the most part, the partners knew each other from their previous work on the EZ grant; they had a shared interest in seeing their earlier work take strategic shape; and they had a shared commitment to the process of creating a community that supports healthy youth development. It was important that they were "not chasing money." Early in the planning, one of the partners questioned whether the group even needed P/PV. CSD committed half of the small amount P/PV offered for planning, if partners would commit to the process. The group was prepared to work with or without P/PV funding.
Much of the planning time was spent mobilizing the community, informing them about CCYD, and determining the concerns and priorities of adult and youth residents. AI used neighborhood walks, house meetings, and community meetings in different locations around the neighborhoods to involve residents. They formed "action teams" led by residents to plan programs related to each of the core concepts. A leadership team of three CSD staff, two AI staff and two or three residents had overall responsibility for planning strategies and developing ideas for the plan; thus leadership was shared among the city, AI and the community. Service providers were organized into a separate group to prevent the loss of community control. Community churches and schools were involved through their association with AI. An outside expert conducted a household survey that provided information on risk factors and community attitudes. This information helped to mobilize all sectors of the community, including churches. CSD drafted the formal implementation plan based on the ideas developed and agreed on by the community.
Obstacles to planning included maneuvering for position and power, especially by some of the neighborhood associations, which tended to be negative about partnership activities that were not part of their agenda. When others did not adopt their agenda and they did not gain the power and resources they had hoped for, they left the group. The formation of a permanent Neighborhood Steering Committee (NSC) to direct the implementation of the CCYD plan has been a source of continuing controversy, and the group has had several configurations. The NSC has recently been restructured and now includes one youth and one adult community member nominated from each of three local churches, one high school teacher and a student, two community parents who are active in their children's elementary schools, a school district representative, a representative from Communities in Schools and one from Capital 4-H, the director of the local recreation center, a member of the UT Urban Issues Program, and the head of prevention programs of the Texas Youth Commission. The NSC has pushed the schools to be more active partners. The relationship of the NSC to the Service and Support Partnership of 24 local service providers and neighborhood associations is still being worked out.
Another roadblock was the need to overcome the usual way of doing things, that is, the City making decisions about programs and services rather than building communities by sharing power with residents. On the other hand, residents have had to learn to trust agencies and to fully participate in the development and implementation of the plan. These are continuing challenges. Building residents' capacity has been and continues to be a primary concern of P/PV, which has conducted workshops and retreats on defining roles and responsibilities, consensus building, decision making, conflict resolution, team and trust building, budgeting and the like. Residents were trained to make quarterly presentations to the funders. As residents have assumed new responsibilities, for example, for fiscal oversight and leadership, new capacities have to be developed. Redefining roles and responsibilities is an ongoing process. P/PV reviews the partnership's operation monthly, asking questions and pushing the group to evaluate and solve problems.
Youth Charter now operates with three separate grants: one from P/PV, one federal Title V juvenile delinquency prevention grant through the governor's office, and one Strategic Intervention for High Risk Youth grant. Additional city and county money comes from CSD. The effort is staffed by one adult organizer, one youth organizer, and, until very recently, one coordinator for each of the grants. The coordinators for the first two grants have now been merged. The NSC makes policy and planning decisions for the P/PV programs, and a Prevention Policy Board performs these roles for the Title V grant. These groups meet regularly. Coordinating these efforts is a work in progress and led to the appointment of the Texas Youth Commission representative, who serves on the Prevention Policy Board, to the NSC. The boards have standing and ad hoc committees, organized by sectors, that meet regularly and report back to the larger group. Residents lead the committees and boards.
Those involved in Youth Charter consider the partnership a success in a number of ways. It has established a conversation in the community among key institutions, residents, and youth. It has raised the level of awareness of the issues facing youth and the strengths of the community and outside institutions and has increased accountability. At the end of its second year Youth Charter has begun to change the system of supports for children and families in an enduring way: involving adults in several programs, linking youth to existing enrichment activities, creating new programs for non-school times, providing job training, career awareness opportunities and jobs, developing programs for youth moving into middle and high school. More youth are involved, and preliminary results indicate that more youth are remaining in school. P/PV collected baseline data on various behavioral measures, including arrests, sexual experience, gang membership, alcohol and marijuana use, carrying of weapons, use of force, and participation in protective activities, such as sports, recreation, religious activities, and job training. They have been tracking participation in Youth Charter programs and will survey youth behaviors again at the end of the third year. Until then, impact remains conjecture. Youth Charter staff have begun tracking participation themselves in order to have more immediate feedback.
While rates of teen pregnancy are high in the East Austin area and the community is concerned about the issue, Youth Charter has not done direct prevention programming for two reasons. First, the youth development philosophy supports programs that emphasize assets and provide opportunities for youth rather than those that provide specific intervthe PRECEDE model. Comm perhaps, is the fact that two large Catholic churches in the area are very involved in Youth Charter efforts and only support teen pregnancy prevention activities within very limited parameters. The city's Family Health Unit operates a multi-component teen pregnancy prevention effort in the area, loosely patterned after the South Carolina school-community program. It includes education of parents and other youth leaders on how to talk to youth about sexuality and a family life education program that reaches all seventh grade students in the local middle school. Youth Charter staff maintain close relations with these programs; both are housed in the same city department, and staff communicate regularly and cooperate whenever possible without any formal, written relationship. Youth Charter participants are referred to these programs. Youth Charter also plans to develop Family Learning Centers, which will provide various educational activities, including pregnancy and drug and alcohol prevention, in the near future.