What does it mean to be interested in Youth Development?
In 2012, after a number of strategic planning sessions, evaluations of prior grants and discussions with our two founders, we refined the priority areas of interest for the Foundation to include Youth Development, Mental Health, Community Benefit and Human Services for Children, Youth and Families. One thing we have learned in six years is that these areas of interest cannot be evaluated in isolation. We often struggle to categorize our grants. Many, if not most, have elements that could be classified in all of our priority areas. In reviewing applications, we often ask ourselves, “What outcome are we seeking?”, because the outcome sought by a supported agency may only be part of a larger goal.
So, what is “youth development?” As we look to the future, we see the need to develop our children, our greatest resource, into adults who have the preparation and character to take on and resolve problems that loom on the horizon and beyond. Many of these problems cannot even be imagined today. How do we prepare them for these challenges? Many say that the solution lies in education. We see it as a much broader issue involving many factors that affect the growth and development of our youth.
There have been and continue to be extraordinary efforts and resources directed at education in our city and state in an effort to reform our school systems and better prepare children for college and career. We applaud these efforts. But in our view, success will not be measured only by the college-readiness of the child. Children need much more than academics. They need to learn how to live in a changing world. Competency in math and science is important but more so is the development of moral character, the components of which include honesty, hard work, perseverance, respect for others, personal responsibility, a determination to achieve, a sense of right and wrong, teamwork and hope and optimism for the future. We look for programs that teach these things.
Many children live in substandard conditions. They face challenges such as inadequate housing, inadequate nutrition, fragile or fractured families where the income of the family unit is insufficient to pay for basic needs, abuse or neglect by parents and caregivers who have lost hope or have chosen to escape through drugs and alcohol, and environments where children are not spared from witnessing violence and crime. Many are homeless and others who have homes do not have their own beds. Sometimes biological factors or the substandard conditions noted above lead to mental illnesses or other mental health deficiencies that impede the development of children and accelerate the decline of the family.
We support many programs that address these problems, but a program that remedies only one of these problems in isolation does not necessarily lead to a positive outcome. Children are under stress from many sources. We want to be in partnership with agencies that see this, that understand the dynamics of youth development, and that want to be in partnership with others who have complementary strengths. We see this in the after-school programs that emphasize character development as well as academics. We see it in programs that provide access to physical and mental health professionals or to therapists and other professionals who understand family dynamics and can help parents know and understand how to care for and nurture their children. We see it in programs that offer a safety-net of food, shelter and financial guidance to those who encounter unforeseen catastrophes. All of these are important and essential to the development of our youth. It is a tremendous task, but we are pleased to be a part of the task force seeking to bring more hope and promise to the next generations.
Finally, one post-script about community benefit, and yes, celebration. Youth development also involves recreation and celebration and joy. Our community, working together, can foster this. What better example could there be than the new Perot Museum of Nature and Science. We have been so pleased to be a part of this new community asset. It sparkles, it inspires, it’s fun. Thanks to all who worked so hard to make it happen. We will enjoy it for decades.
Thornton Hardie, President