12 Strategies from The Spot Youth Center

  1. Your 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!
    • COMMIT

  2. Your youth market
    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. "bad", etc.).

    : 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.

  3. Site
    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).

  4. Supervision
    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).

  5. Hours / 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.

  6. 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, etc.).

  7. Rules and Restrictions
    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.

  8. Equipment and furniture
    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.

  9. Insurance
    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 youth alternatives.

  10. Money
    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 auditor.
    • 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.

  11. Records
    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).
    • Participant 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.

  12. Plan, 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 for perfection.
    • DO evaluate all risks, then be willing to take some.
    • DO set an absolutely final start date.
    • JUMP!


Let us know how you do!