By Melissa Quinn
Concerned that Alexandria’s adolescents are slipping through the cracks, city officials have teamed up with residents and a Washington nonprofit to craft an overarching strategy to bring them back into the fold.
The effort — spearheaded by the children, youth and families collaborative commission — seeks to streamline the plethora of services available to Alexandria’s youngest residents. By working with the community, officials hope to pinpoint areas in need of improvement for youth and maximize resources.
Despite being consistently ranked as one of the best communities for young people, officials have grappled with signs that Alexandria’s youth are ignoring what the city has to offer them. Studies conducted by the Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition of Alexandria in recent years indicate that many teenagers prefer to spend time alone or hanging out with friends instead of participating in city programs.
“We’re concerned about [young people’s] immediate success and future success to contribute to society,” said Ron Frazier, director of the youth services office.
Frazier’s team is working with members of Washington-based nonprofit Forum for Youth Investment and a design group that includes city residents to tackle the complex issue.
At a community meeting earlier this month — one of several that officials have hosted in recent weeks — attendees absorbed an array of data, like the city’s dropout rate, and highlighted the areas they felt most needed improvement. Using this feedback, the design team will work to develop a master plan with the goal to connect youth with city resources.
“We want a more cohesive plan in place,” said Elizabeth Gaines, vice president of policy and solutions for the Forum for Youth Investment. “We want to offer a streamlined way for young people to succeed in the community.”
Tammy Mann, chair of the youth commission as well as president and CEO of The Campagna Center, echoed Gaines’ sentiment.
“The whole goal is [to create] a blueprint for issues affecting young people,” Mann said. “Investments should be made to think carefully about where to achieve the outcomes articulated.”
Creating a master plan was a recommendation from the youth commission, Frazier said. The city offers a variety of services — such as tutoring as well as gang prevention and teen pregnancy programs — but many go unused.
In addition, programs are divided between two main age groups: from birth to teens and from teens up to age 21. The master plan would provide one document to accommodate children from birth to adulthood.
“There were little opportunities for all those groups to come together in one plan to say this is how we contribute,” Frazier said. “We wanted to see how they plug into the plan, and [how] we could marshal our resources together to produce a better outcome.”
Once city council set aside dollars for the plan’s development, Frazier enlisted the Forum for Youth Investment’s help to draft the overarching strategy. And his target audience has taken notice.
“I want to see the kids do better in life,” said 18-year-old Tanisha Bolden, a city resident who attended one of the community events. “I want to see them go to college and do the things their parents want them to do.”
Frazier hopes to implement the plan, which he describes as a living document, by the fall.
“We hope to help all youth thrive,” Frazier said. “We want to see some positive direction on some key indicators that contribute to youth success.”
The next meeting for the youth master plan is from 10 a.m. to noon at William Ramsey Elementary School on Saturday.
“The city has done a lot around youth development,” Frazier said, “but this is the next step.”