motives, desires, and expectations... know them!
- RESPECT: rules
for adults working with adolescents.
- BELIEVE: youth
have the capacity. You can only facilitate, not save.
- INVEST: your
time... consistently and predictably.
- ASK: specific,
relevant questions. Do not lecture. Youth already know the answers;
they only need your reinforcement and resources.
- LISTEN: sincerely,
completely, without judgment. Be risk worthy!
- FOLLOW THROUGH
With whom do you most enjoy interacting? Who most needs and would use
a center? Who is already serving your market and how? What unique niche
will you fill? Your most important source for answers are your target
youth. Ask them! Involve them everywhere you can. Consider very strongly
their advice, but because this is a business, somebody has to make timely
judgments and decisions. That's you. You must balance a welcome/open
environment with a focused appeal. You need buy-in, but not exclusivity.
With limited resources you can't serve everybody, so narrow your market
(i.e. age, music, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, "good" vs.
Recruiting: This will largely
happen by word of mouth (youth to youth) Chose two or three key leader
youth from your target market and allow them to make activity and facility
use recommendations. Give their ideas space, supplies, equipment, etc.
Age Limits: If you want to serve
youth in the high school age group or higher, you must have separate
space (and lots of it) exclusively for them. It is simply not cool to
hang out with younger kids. Having a lower age limit of approximately
14 yrs. (freshman in high school) is a natural cut-off. Also, do not
separate artificially at ages 18 and 21. While these are landmark ages
for schools, alcohol, grants, courts, etc. it is better to allow up
to approximately age 24. These age groups usually interact well, but
keeping an eye on older guys hitting on younger girls is a must. The
challenges and opportunities of this adolescent age group are unique
and deserve all the resources your program and staff can muster.
Seek the ideal location and building, but set a start date and settle
for the best site available on that start date (even if it's your garage).
Location: safe (gang neutral, little traffic, etc.); public transportation
and parking very close; neighbors compatible with hours of operation
and sometimes loud activities. If a good investment, buy.
Building: big enough and open layout to allow many youth with differing
interests. Prefer all space to be on ground floor for easier supervision.
Dependable heating/air conditioning and plumbing are a must. (If it's
too uncomfortable, nobody stays).
As an individual or group you may not have "training or credentials."
So what! You can and should create this, but volunteers and older youth
should only be used for initial start-up or to enhance the operation.
Generally, volunteers are not dependable enough for the consistency
youth need. As soon as possible hire professionally paid, trained, and
respectful adult staff (this does not mean they need a PhD).
/ days of operation
Your priority should be the needs and habits of the youth, not the desires
of adults. After school hours and into the late night hours are when
most youth crime occur and when youth will attend your center. Weekend
nights will depend on your willingness and ability to provide the highly
social party or dance type activities.
It's fine to have a safe and accessible place, but kids will get bored
and leave if there's little to do that they find interesting. Observe
and ask what youth are already doing and have an interest in. Provide
space, equipment/supplies, "coaching," and progressive challenges. Balance
fun with focused activities. Be willing to take risks with activities
you may not understand (e.g. rap music, breakdancing, graffiti murals,
Adolescents generally know what's acceptable and what's not. Have youth
determine the few key expectations needed to maintain safety and respect,
and the consequences for inappropriate behavior. Keep "rules" either
out of sight or posted to a minimum. Ask youth to comply when behavior
is inappropriate and respectfully explain why inappropriate. Crisis
may call for more assertiveness, but it can still be done with maximum
respect. Apply consequences fairly and consistently. Do not exclude
youth affiliated with a specific group (e.g. gang, tagging crew, etc.).
If their behavior is unsafe or disrespectful, invite them to return
when their behavior changes.
Do not require an I.D. to enter and participate, unless you create and
file the I.D.'s at your center.
Get the best and try to buy new. Not only do youth deserve it, but new
lasts longer and comes with warranties and manuals. Donated/used is
OK, but are often flawed, so check it out before you accept delivery.
General liability, officer's & director's liability, and building hazard
insurances are commercially available and not that expensive. You will
not be able to insure or waiver-protect every youth activity. Please
do not let the excuse of "liability" stand in the way of providing relevant
For site, utilities, people, equipment, supplies, insurance, etc.
- First you need
oversight and protections so people with money will know their investment
will be spent on what you promised.
- Create triple
oversight for all finances: board of directors, bookkeeper, independent
- If needed,
find an existing nonprofit organization which will agree to be your
short term fiscal parent.
- File papers
as soon as possible with federal IRS (501-C3 nonprofit), state,
and city. You can do this yourself, but it helps to have an attorney.
- Get copies
of other nonprofits' annual reports to find out who is donating
money. Call those organizations/people and find out if your program
qualifies and how to apply. Some states have a statewide association
of nonprofit organizations or publish a guide to local charitable
givers. Start calling.
From the very first day and night keep track of what's happening. Maintain
the discipline to do this every night. We suggest the following minimum
records to get started:
- Nightly Report:
journal of participant issues, incidents, needs, referrals, etc.
This must be kept confidential (for staff eyes only).
Count: For small centers a sign-in sheet can work well, but eventually
youth will ignore it and it's too expensive to have staff baby-sit
it. Another choice is to do a walk-through count twice per night,
and then correlate those numbers to occasional sign-in numbers.
but DO it
- DON'T allow
"committee-ism" to impede your process or dilute your product.
- DON'T accept
funding with youth participant restrictions such as mandatory ID's,
dress codes, school enrollment, volunteer time, etc.
- DON'T wait
- DO evaluate
all risks, then be willing to take some.
- DO set an absolutely
final start date.
us know how you do!