BCM Sparks Major Initiative to Uplift New Orleans Youth

youthshift2Baptist Community Ministries has evolved to become more strategic in creating and leading positive change, moving from grantmaker to community partner.  A prime example of this progress is its support of YouthShift, a bold movement to improve the lives of New Orleans youth.

Since 1995, BCM has provided grants to excellent nonprofit organizations that share its Mission. BCM’s expert, experienced staff use tools such as data and proven best practices to support positive impacts and build organizational capacity in community nonprofits.

“We’re not about picking winners, we’re trying to build a structure for community change,” explains Luceia LeDoux, BCM Senior Vice President for Grants.  “We understand that the quality of the program is key, not just the largesse of funding.  In many cases, the parts are all here, what’s needed is a vision.”

A major example of BCM’s work as visionary is YouthShift, a collaboration of more than 200 local nonprofit organizations working together to achieve positive change for the 78,000 young people ages 25 and under in New Orleans.

New Orleans children and youth have long faced major challenges.  Currently, more than one in three live in poverty.  Births to teen mothers and infant death rates are higher than national averages.  Strikingly, 20 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds are unemployed, and 18 percent don’t work or go to school. (Statistics from The Data Center Youth Index 2015.)

Starting in 2011, a group of community leaders who work with youth came together in frustration to consider how to make their work more impactful.  From these conversations, YouthShift was born, and it soon grew into a movement with BCM emerging as its anchor funder.

BCM has supported YouthShift with technical assistance, backbone support and expertise since its inception.  Says Jennifer Roberts, BCM Vice President for Education Grants, and a leader in YouthShift’s steering committee, “In order to best serve our youth and create opportunities for them to be successful, we had to come together with a common vision and set of solutions to which all nonprofit organizations and agencies working with and on behalf of young people could contribute.  BCM support bought time, space and expertise for organizations to come together and hammer out collective goals and possibilities for collaboration that could best serve the young people in New Orleans.”

YouthShift Has Made Impressive Progress.

YouthShift identified community priorities by engaging hundreds of leaders, community members and youth themselves.  They determined what “big picture” youth issues needed solutions.  After several months of focus groups, meetings, interviews and data analyses, hundreds of “local conditions” were whittled to a list of 22 priorities organized into six priority areas–health and well-being, economic stability, learning, space and place, safety and justice and youth voice.  Hundreds of nonprofit leaders and youth-serving agencies were then asked:   How do we improve outcomes in these six areas?

This led to the creation of a major publication, A Call for Connection, a roadmap and rallying cry for organizations to collaborate on solutions to increase opportunities and outcomes in these areas.  A Call for Connection proposes five priorities for nonprofit organizations and agencies: emphasizing youth and community voice in programming, acquiring better data from which to make decisions, improving program quality, integrating policy agendas for collective voice and building backbone supports for community organizations so that they can be more effective. The next step is for teams to identify an action plan for each area.

“Young people don’t live in schools or programs–they live in communities,” says Roberts. “This means that all programs that affect young people need to be coordinated and aligned and moving in the same direction to best support that child’s development. We aren’t just building capacity of organizations or young people–we’re building the capacity of the systems that serve them to ensure that every interaction between an adult and a young person is quality.”

Thus, in September, BCM kicked off the first-year pilot of the New Orleans Youth Program Quality Initiative.  This gives organizations and agencies that work with youth comprehensive ways to assess their program quality, plan for improvement and participate in coaching and training to achieve measurable progress in the day-to-day ways in which their staff interact with young people. It also hits all five YouthShift recommendations mentioned in the publication A Call for Connection.youthshift

Roberts expresses the enthusiasm shared by the movement’s leaders.  “All young people should have champions, and YouthShift seeks to leverage the city’s wealth of youth programs to build a bridge for youth to make their way to a happy, healthy and secure adulthood. By improving the way we as adults work with and for young people, we can bridge the gaps so many New Orleans youth face.”

BCM’s approach to grantmaking can be based on Jeremiah 29:11, as relevant to 21st century New Orleans as it was in ancient times.

“I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”