A Commitment to the Future: ALEC, RPTS & Texas 4-H Partner to Impact Youth Development Programs

By: Mollie Lastovica

Providing professionals in the youth development field with resources and training opportunities to engage in positive youth development, the Sequor Youth Development Initiative has made positive strides in securing a brighter future for the nation’s youth since 2009.

Currently, three members of the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications faculty serve on the executive committee for the Sequor YDI. Professor Tim Murphey, Ph.D., Assistant Professor John Rayfield, Ed.D., and Assistant Professor Lori Moore, Ph.D., represent the department on the committee comprised of delegates from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Department of Recreation, Parks and Tourism Sciences and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service’s Texas 4-H and Youth Development Program.

“Its mission is to advance youth development programming for youth development professionals in the state of Texas through offering professional development, working with stakeholder agencies, conducting project evaluation and acquiring grant dollars to fund research efforts related to youth development,” Rayfield said.

Initially funded by Texas A&M University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, the initiative is also supported by the Sequor Foundation, a charitable organization that has committed to provide 10 years of funding at 45,000 dollars per year to the youth development initiative.

What is now a collaborative effort between RPTS, ALEC and Texas 4-H, the Sequor YDI program focuses on applied research and evaluation, youth development information dissemination, training and education to provide youth development tools across the state and nation.

“The Youth Development Initiative was a natural extension of the youth development program we have in the RPTS department,” Peter Witt, Ph.D., Co-Chair of the Sequor YDI and Bradberry Recreation and Youth Development Chair in the RPTS department said. “We had considerable interest on part of the Director of Extension at the time, Ed Smith, in having Texas 4-H and Youth Development and our department working closely together.”

The initiative not only provides research on youth development issues, but also, it conducts “train-the-trainer” workshops and events throughout the year.

“The overarching goal is to meet the needs of public and not-for-profit agency managers, staff and researchers for science-based information to improve youth program staff competencies, program design and evaluation,” Chris Boleman, Ph.D., Co-chair of the Sequor YDI and Program Director of Texas 4-H and Youth Development said. “Our job is to continue to vision and plan for the future to ensure YDI is reaching the needs of the target audience(s) and maintain relevancy with youth after school programs and the professionals that provide leadership to them statewide.”

By partnering with state and national organizations related to youth development, the YDI works to disperse innovative research and training methods for professionals in the field both state and nationwide.

“Youth development is absolutely critical,” Witt said. “About 20 years ago the model most programs used changed drastically from a deficits approach where we focused on youth overcoming their problems to a strengths approach where, no matter what stage the youth are at, we focus on how to help them transition from adolescence to adulthood.”

The YDI works with youth development professionals to help them expand within all aspects of their field.

“There are many youth development organizations out there that are all dedicated to positive youth development, but there is little out there to give the practitioners in the field,” Rayfield said. “We haven’t done much in the past to give them the resources to continually grow in and improve their profession. If we continue to do research on those areas and can pinpoint what some of our best practices are in youth development then we can replicate those things across not only Texas, but the United States.”

The collaboration across disciplines and entities of the Texas A&M University System is part of what makes the Sequor YDI unique.

“Each of us brings different strengths,” Boleman said. “RPTS has a rich history of conducting outstanding research in the youth development field. ALEC provides tremendous strength with hands-on learning, teacher training and leadership development. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service’s 4-H and Youth Development Program is connected directly with youth audiences, volunteers and Extension educators. We have immediate access to clientele and are known for a very practical approach to experiential learning.”

Rayfield agrees that working together serves to improve the outreach and impact of the YDI’s work.

“If you go out and put together a team of individuals who can work on a project together, it works well because each department brings a different skillset to the table with different sets of expertise,” Rayfield said. “It can make for a really rock-solid team when you are working on a proposal or putting together a project where you are pursuing external funding.”

As the Sequor YDI looks into the future, members of its executive committee foresee a solid commitment to continuously evolving youth development programs.

“Youth are the most precious commodity we have,” Boleman said. “As this state continues to grow, we have to ensure we have a mechanism in place to educate and develop young people. We typically think about a youth’s time in schools, but what happens after school and in the summers? The YDI helps to develop professionals that work with youth during these most critical times.”

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