Alexandria, Va. – Five times, America’s Promise Alliance has named this small city one of the nation’s 100 Best Communities for Young People. That’s not good enough for Tammy Mann.
Mann – chair of the city’s Children, Youth and Families Collaborative Commission – recently stood before a crowd at City Hall to accept the annual award, and pledged that the city will not rest on this laurel: It will win again, she said, and will do even better by creating “a blueprint for action that will improve outcomes for youth for countless years to come.”
That blueprint is a child and youth master plan – making Alexandria (pop: 144,000) one of a growing number of communities that are using such plans to fundamentally improve services and supports for young people.
“A well-done youth master plan does provide a blueprint for the community – but it does much more,” said Elizabeth Gaines, senior policy director at the Forum for Youth Investment. “Leaders use master plans as calls to action, generating excitement and rallying key players – from youth and families to business and philanthropic leaders – around the cause.”
Alexandria stands as an example of why more communities are developing youth master plans, even when not faced with a crisis.
Trying to do Better
While the city does well on many measures for children and youth, some populations of young people are struggling. “Alexandria, like much of Northern Virginia, is very affluent, but there’s also a lot of poverty,” says 17-year-old Emma Beall, vice chair of the collaborative commission's advocacy subcommittee. And she noted that the 3,000 students in the city’s public high school come from 120 countries, reflecting a wide variety of experiences, skills and needs.
Seeking to do better for all children and youth, city leaders successfully applied to join last year’s Ready by 21 Virginia Cites Challenge, through which the Forum provided five communities with training on Ready by 21 strategies – like aligning and coordinating the work of all stakeholders in the community, agreeing on specific goals for all children and youth, and establishing measurable outcomes to gauge progress.
Then the city committed to carrying out those strategies by establishing the Children, Youth and Families Collaborative Commission, which advises city and school officials about policies that affect youth and families. The commission’s first major initiative is developing the child and youth master plan.
The commission turned to the Forum, which has helped to create youth master plans in communities (such as Nashville, Tenn., and Grand Rapids, Mich.) and states (such as Maryland and Massachusetts). The Forum has now partnered with Alexandria to gather and analyze data about city youth, reach out to stakeholders, facilitate public forums, assess input and draft the plan.
The city used the America’s Promise awards ceremony to kick off the community outreach effort. The commission passed out “Save the Date” cards for the public forums and is working with neighborhood organizations to spread the word. The Department of Community and Human Services issued a news release urging citizens to participate.
Youth voice is critical to the process. Beall spoke at the kickoff and will work on the plan. She later explained that a well-thought-out plan for all young people is essential, because “a one-size fits all model doesn’t work. You have to ensure programs are in place that target specific groups and issues, leaving no one behind and preventing achievement gaps from occurring in the first place.”
See Ready by 21 resources for developing a big picture, goal-oriented action plan.
To find out how the Forum helps communities develop youth master plans, contact Ian Faigley at 202-207-3334 or firstname.lastname@example.org.