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play / 2014

LA for Youth

LA for Youth

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Violence Prevention Coalition

We at @LA4Youth want to create vibrant youth centers and foster a countywide culture that invests in youth vs. incarcerating them!

Please describe yourself.

Collaboration (partners are signed up and ready to hit the ground running!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

LA for Youth seeks to promote investment in and strengthening of LA’s youth as a way to increase public safety and build strong communities.

Does your project impact Los Angeles County?

Yes (benefits a region of LA County)

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • South LA
  • The effort is County-wide, but with an emphasis on communities in most need (South LA and East LA)

What is your idea/project in more detail?

California is #1 in prison spending, but #49 in K-12 spending and #50 in spending for higher education. Investing in incarceration is not a strategy for successful youth. We know that investing in our young people means investing in a successful, safe future for everyone. LA for Youth is a cross-sector, cross-county collaborative aimed at changing the budget priorities of LA County to emphasize youth development. By empowering young people, engaging allies, and working with public agencies, we aim to re-allocate County funds away from suppression to support the development of youth centers, youth jobs, safe public spaces, and increase youth engagement in schools in an effort to make LA a great place to play for everyone.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

Over the course of the coming year, we will build on the established foundation to bring additional partners into the collaborative. While our overall goal is to create a Department of Youth Development in the County of LA, there are several short- and medium- term goals that will help move the long term campaign forward while also achieving immediate change.

We will conduct community asset mapping with young people, to identify existing community resources, and prioritize one or two parks or recreational spaces in the community to reclaim as youth-centered spaces. Activities may include holding events, raising awareness in the community, litter removal, and advocating for funding for specific local improvements.

Additionally, we will work with young people to create a strong case for support of the campaign that includes youth language and imagery. We will then educate local communities about the goals of the campaign in an effort to increase community engagement and buy-in. Further, we will create 3-5 video and/or performance projects that help capture the stories of young people in at-risk communities in order to re-shape the narrative around young people. These pieces could be shared online, through social media, and in a performance at a park. Our goal is to increase community’s sense of their own safety, and to re-frame how young people are seen. By engaging with community members to tell the story of young people’s experiences we hope to dispel misconceptions around actual safety and increase inter-generational connection among community members.

Additional efforts may include developing joint use agreements with schools, parks and rec centers to maximize the use of existing spaces as effective and engaging community spaces. Further activities may include collaboration building and advocacy training, creating a Peacebuilders Round Table to ensure ongoing communication and knowledge sharing, to coordinate truce building, rumor control and inter-neighborhood relationship building among intervention workers and service providers in order to prevent street-based violence throughout the county. Additional goals include establishing training in partnership with a local college or Cal State to provide nonprofit management and leadership curriculum to youth, leveraging opportunities for co-located services in community spaces, and bringing in technical assistance to support the long-term sustainability of the youth spaces and centers.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to PLAY today? In 2050?

LA for Youth will help Los Angeles re-imagine its relationship to its young people. Instead of being afraid of our youth, this campaign will support a structural shift that emphasizes investing in children as a way to improve a community’s sense of safety, increase local use of park and public spaces, and empower young people themselves to see themselves as valued members of their communities.

This effort is not about starting from scratch, it’s about re-purposing what we have, and re-framing our priorities. By engaging youth themselves in this effort, we are not only pushing for systems change, we are concretely developing the leadership of some of our most at-risk young people. We are re-framing their vision of themselves from “always in trouble” to someone who makes a positive contribution to their community. By training young people as leaders and providing a path to long-term success by connecting them to other youth leaders, community colleges, and even their local middle and high schools, we will be increasing the safety of their communities, and increasing their access to safe public spaces. Additionally, this effort will be particularly attentive to young people returning from incarceration. These young men and women are often the most at-risk for committing new crimes. LA for Youth would include efforts to reconnect these young people to their communities, provide support groups and ensure funding for positive activities as part of an effective strategy to make LA a better place for all youth to play.

By seeking a structural shift in how Los Angeles invests its money, this campaign will result in long-term change that will resonate for decades to come. LA for Youth asks Los Angeles to invest in youth development not just for today, but to create a cycle of hope for generations.

Whom will your project benefit?

The project will benefit the young people in Los Angeles County, as well as their families, and the communities where they live. By shifting the County’s relationship to its youth, by promoting youth investment, LA residents will benefit from healthier, stronger young people who are more engaged in school, more physically active, and more involved with civic institutions. Young people facing a lifetime of repeat incarceration (at significant cost) will be redirected to more positive activities, including long-term employment and meaningful careers.

Because LA for Youth is focused on improving conditions and support for our most at-risk and under-served young people, the primary beneficiaries will be low-income communities, and neighborhoods with high rates of youth suspension, and little access to safe public spaces. The areas of Boyle Heights and South Los Angeles will be primary areas of focus. Additionally, we anticipate that young people ages 12-24 will be the primary population this effort will engage.

As a whole, this effort will lead to stronger families and communities, and a better Los Angeles for everyone - not just now, but also in the future, as these young people grow into future leaders of Los Angeles.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

We are tremendously excited by the complementary skills and strengths of our partners. We believe this presents a uniquely powerful combination that will be able to move what’s a pretty substantial effort. The core organizing collaboration is between the Youth Justice Coalition (YJC) and the Violence Prevention Coalition (VPC). Youth Justice Coalition did the original research and laid the foundation for this effort. YJC engages and empowers young people to be community organizers and advocates. This project will help leverage their existing work with at-risk youth. Their partnership ensures that youth voices remain at the center of the effort – a key factor in the success of this collaboration. The Violence Prevention Coalition brings in a broad and diverse membership base, and serves as a non-service-providing neutral body to convene, facilitate, and shepherd this effort (our second and third key factors for the collaboration’s success).

We will bring in already-committed allies in the Boyle Heights Building Healthy Communities Hub, including their Youth Engagement and Community Engagement Committees. This represents six core partner organizations, as well as several supporting organizations. These partners are already working with technical advisers through the Advancement Project (whom we hope to bring on as an official partner) on deconstructing the City budget, and engaging City leadership in support of the effort. We have begun conversations about engaging the South Los Angeles Building Healthy Communities partners in this effort as well, which would bring an additional dozen organizations into the coalition. All partners will help ensure community and youth voices are leading the effort for change. Additionally, the project will be a vehicle to grow local capacity around civic engagement and advocacy implementation, to ensure the long term sustainability and community ownership of the effort.

It is important to note that engaging these additional coalitions would represent longstanding partnerships, and organizations with a history of working together for systems change.

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Play” metrics?

  • Access to open space and park facilities
  • Number of children enrolled in afterschool programs
  • Per capita crime rates
  • Percentage of residents that feel safe in their neighborhoods
  • Number of parks with intergenerational play opportunities (Dream Metric)
  • Number (and quality) of informal spaces for play (Dream Metric)

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

By increasing youth awareness of parks and open spaces through youth-driven community asset mapping, we will increase their usage. Additionally, by focusing young people on reclaiming parks as a youth space, we will improve parks and open spaces, and increase youth and family park use. By increasing investment in youth development activities, we will support increased funding for after school programs and activities, which will in turn increase enrollment. As young people are increasingly directed towards after school programs, employment, and community engagement, crime rates should drop. Similarly, by promoting more interaction among community members, by increasing youth investment in their own communities, by increasing awareness of the positive stories of young people, residents will feel increasingly safe in their neighborhoods. Finally, by including inter-generational videos and/or performances as part of our work plan, we will help create opportunities for inter-generational engagement.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

The most significant measure of success will be the creation of a Youth Development Department in Los Angeles County!

Recognizing that that goal may take longer than the timeline of this grant, we have created additional evaluation measures that will let us know the project is on track and achieving important successes. We will measure success by the number of youth engaged in the campaign over the course of the next year, by the amount of increased funding we are able to re-allocate on both a City and County level towards youth development (even if there is not yet an official Youth Development Department), and by an increased number of residents who feel safe in their communities. Additional metrics may include comparing crime rates over the course of the year, hours of park operation and programming increasing, increased library hours/funding, and increased number of youth enrolled in after school activities and programs.

We anticipate we will also have concrete projects, including youth art projects, community asset mapping results, and performances held in parks and public spaces (we will measure the number of youth engaged in the performances, and the number attending). All of these will contribute to the evaluation of the project’s success.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

1.) An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

It’s an old lesson, but one that’s still true. Los Angeles cannot be a great city if it continues to be a leader nationwide in incarcerating its children. Fortunately, there is an alternative. Investing in prevention works. By investing in youth development as an alternative to youth suppression, we can build a healthier and more humanizing environment for our youth. We can move ourselves one step closer to ending the school-to-jail track, help keep LA students in schools and out of lock up, help reduce both street and police violence in our neighborhoods, and provide jobs and sustainable positive places for our youth to work and get involved in their community. We would be making Los Angeles a better place to Play by ensuring more of our young people are in parks and schools, instead of in detention.

2.) Solutions are collaborative, and long-term change requires changing systems, not just individuals.

This effort is not a direct service project, providing support to one individual at a time. There is tremendous value in direct service programs, but it’s important to articulate that this is a different thing. This effort represents bringing together numerous agencies, organizations, and individuals to create a change in our system, and a change in the way communities and young people see themselves. If successful, the outcome could benefit numerous programs by creating greater structural investment in things like park maintenance and programming, after school programs, youth development, youth job training, arts programming for young people, and would also provide a hands-on civic engagement experience. All of which would help ensure this is not a one-time project, but rather something that can be sustained over the long term.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

We will be building upon strong existing partnerships, with significant research and coalition-building already in place. We have already begun a County-wide education campaign, and are enlisting regional partners to help move this effort on the City level. Thanks to training from another partner, we have mapped out a timeline for action to correspond to the City’s budget cycle, which positions us perfectly to achieve significant youth development funding within the next twelve months.

We are concluding research on existing Youth Development Departments nationwide, so we will have models and examples to reference to help build the case for support. By drawing on examples that have already been created, we can make a strong case for implementation, and employ lessons learned from other cities.

Additionally, a portion of this project is focused on changing community’s perception of violence, and increasing access to safe public spaces. These are big goals, and hard to measure. Our thinking is that by connecting these less tangible outcomes to a specific campaign, we hope to leverage the LA for Youth efforts to gain community buy-in, engage residents, and create opportunities for education, engagement, empowerment, and evaluation.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

Research, including data collection and analysis to evaluate the effectiveness of the programs and to share lessons learned will be a challenge, as some benchmarks can be subjective. Part of this includes the fact that while achieving the campaign goal is a concrete, measurable outcome, it will take a full year to achieve, so implementation and the results of that success will not be felt until the following year. As a strategy to counteract that, we have included some along-the-way goals to measure successes and accomplishments that will help support the overall objective of creating a Youth Development Department.

A second major challenge will be to ensure that once established, a Youth Development Department supports community-based programming, and doesn’t simply retain the money within public agencies. We have built a strong relationship with Californians for Safety and Justice, and the Advancement Project, both of whom have strong expertise in drafting language that promotes public private partnerships and prioritizes funding be directed to community-based work. We would hope to leverage their expertise to help ensure the creation of a countywide Youth Development Department would direct funding to community.

Additionally, as part of this effort, the project will be training, educating, and empowering youth, community members, and residents. By increasing their civic engagement, we hope an additional outcome of this project will be a community that is engaged with their elected officials. This shift in relationship will help support accountability over the long term. By changing the culture of communities, by increasing the use of and the perception of parks and open spaces, we will create a climate and culture that will be positively re-enforcing and perpetuating.

What resources does your project need?

  • Money (financial capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Technical infrastructure (computers, etc.)
  • Community outreach