by Jessica Werner
One year ago, my fourth grader came home from school for the last time. It was to be two weeks, then a month, then a year. We’ve now adjusted to this new reality (individually and collectively) with a false sense of normalcy in the day-to-day, yet it’s almost impossible for me to wrap my head around the fact that it’s been a whole year.
And I know many of you feel the same way.
While no one could have envisioned these past twelve months, the youth development sector and our YDEKC members have responded with resiliency and commitment. Even as their own families struggled to make ends meet, to grieve the loss of loved ones, or to become remote-school supports for their own children, they have adapted to these massive changes and found ways to continue supporting youth and each other. Now, many nourish the hope that more vaccines will mean a return to in-person gatherings. We at YDEKC are looking forward to more of the powerful youth development programming that our sector provides (both in-person and virtual) — much like the programs represented in our 2019 Mini-grantee Impact video.
In March 2020, Youth Development Executives of King County postponed our in-person Mini-Grantee Celebration and rapidly shifted strategies in how we were supporting the field. We began offering remote trainings and virtual capacity-building workshops and hosting opportunities to connect with other executive leaders through regular biweekly informal check-ins. We also curated a weekly COVID-19 newsletter known as the YDEKC Response & Roundup; this weekly mailing ran through the spring and early summer to ensure our members had access to safety information, funding opportunities, and advocacy alerts.
Our program team quickly adapted, too. Our professional-learning content was re-tooled for virtual settings. We learned how to produce events on Zoom and hold conferences on Sched, and we were able to redesign our fifth annual (first virtual) Social & Emotional Learning Symposium, Whole Child, Whole Day: Heart, Mind, & Body. Six plenary sessions and twelve unique workshops were offered online over three Fridays, and 200 people signed up. This short compilation highlights key messaging from the event. Many people reported that it was one of the most impactful and community-focused events they’d participated in to date in the remote setting. One participant remarked:
“I do not have any suggestions for improvement. Every part of the Symposium was so well-conceived and skillfully facilitated. It was a joyful and powerful learning experience, and I thank you for all the thought, energy, and care devoted to creating this offering. I will spread the word to fellow educators for next year!”
The essential nature of supports offered by K-12 “partners” became even clearer through the pandemic. Engaging activities and programs for school-aged youth were both in-person and remote, and both schools and community-based organizations were working hard to navigate new terrain. We ramped up our offerings related to School-Community Partnerships.
- We completed our third Partnership Cohort — incorporating a focus on SEL — with a group of sixteen youth-serving organizations, as highlighted in our online Zine.
- Over 100 youth development workers and educators attended our open workshops, including our Building Sustainable School-Community Partnerships and Programs series (register for the next one here).
- Our team finalized an eight-session School-Community Partnership Curriculum that we shared with two dozen participants for our first ever Partnership Toolkit Training of Trainers series.
- We also partnered with School’s Out Washington colleagues to launch a monthly Partnership Quick Connections series to bring the School-Community Partnership Toolkit to life. These virtual, thirty-minute sessions — many of which feature guests from around the region — focus on key strategies for building and strengthening partnerships. We share follow up information after each session link to tools and resources; register for upcoming sessions and check out the series recordings!
Meanwhile, as we worked to share supports (and wellness resources) with our members, our policy team kicked into high gear. The cost of providing in-person programming skyrocketed — due to the need for smaller staff-to-child ratios, low enrollments, program closures, and more — which threatened the closure of many organizations. We worked to ensure that the funding needed to sustain our sector would be available as quickly as possible.
- We partnered closely with Washington Nonprofits and with our national partners through the Every Hour Counts network to ensure that nonprofits (not just small businesses) would be included in federal relief efforts. (Hot off the presses: As I write this, the American Rescue Plan has included specific and large supports for summer learning and after-school programs in a way that newly recognizes the essential nature of our sector.)
- We met with Representative Adam Smith and reached out to others in our federal delegation, ultimately contributing to nonprofits being included in the Payroll Protection Program and other relief efforts.
- We partnered closely with School’s Out Washington, Mentor Washington, Communities in Schools of Washington, and dozens of other local and state-wide organizations and agencies to more formally launch the Washington State Youth Development Strategy Table. Our aim: to build an office and a funding stream for youth development, embedded in the relatively-new Department for Children, Youth & Families for Washington State.
We were able to make significant headway despite the pandemic (or maybe because of it). With school-age child care and other youth-development supports emerging as essential during this past year, recognition that our sector is underpaid, underfunded, and under-supported became widespread.
Awareness-raising efforts and collective advocacy for COVID relief funding resulted in $9.4 million in funds for youth development, distributed in late 2020 through School’s Out Washington. Just a few weeks ago during our Youth Development Advocacy Week, we helped to coordinate thirty meetings with State Representatives and Senators, representing King County to increase visibility and commitment to youth development and school-aged child care.
In King County, we participate with the King County Human Services Alliance and the Brave Commitments Table to continue the push for sustainable and durable funding for all human services and to ensure that youth services and supports are part of the agenda. We also hosted the Best Starts for Kids Community Conversations to inform BSK 2.0 and will be working hard to ensure that the BSK Levy renews in 2021!
Our continued and deepening focus on racial equity has been a priority for YDEKC and our members for the last ten years, since our first summit. With the murder of George Floyd in late spring 2020, the call to action and accountability for all of us increased exponentially and continues to be an area of growth and focus for us. We are working to be much more explicit in some of our implicit assumptions about how to create more equitable school-community partnerships; how to make sure our policy positions are anti-racist; and how to ensure there are supports available for the well-being of both young people of color and the leaders of color providing essential supports for kids.
YDEKC: 1 Year Older
In the fall of 2020, YDEKC completed a strategic planning process, which also resulted in the updating of our mission statement: “YDEKC connects, strengthens, and amplifies the leaders of youth-serving organizations so that Black, Indigenous, and young people of color thrive.” We are working to more deeply live in our mission, and in December we hosted a 10 Year Celebration acknowledging how far we’ve come and how much work remains before us.
We look forward to partnering with you in service of thriving leaders, thriving organizations, thriving youth in 2021.