Thriving Through Change—How Developing K.I.D.S. Went from Serving up to 196 Youth Each Week to Reaching an Audience of 35,000
By: Kristine Uyeda
On an ordinary day, you might have found Developing K.I.D.S (Kingdoms In Different Stages) programming running in local community buildings or schools. Youth from ages 5-18 would gather after school for a variety of supportive activities—homework help, social-emotional lessons, science and art activities, help completing essays for college applications, peer discussions, and healthy meals. Participants helped out at meal times and shared the responsibility of caring for Mr. Benny, an adorable, fluffy rabbit housed at one of the sites. You would have heard a lot of laughter and earnest conversation between youth and the staff.
In the face of COVID-19, Kim Johnson, Founder, President, and CEO of Developing K.I.D.S. and her staff faced the challenge of translating a deeply engaged, face-to-face program model into one that could be delivered remotely and equitably. The process began with reflection on mission and organizational priorities. From there, Kim considered how to shift in ways that kept everyone safe and leveraged the strength of her team. Once a framework that supported high-quality youth development practices was identified, involving the team and stakeholders was key.
“Staff, parents and youth weighed in and co-created the design. We continuously engage youth and parents in facilitation, brainstorming, reflection and evaluation in a virtual format,” says Kim Johnson. In addition, the organization immediately reached out to funders and major donors, communicating their plans for pivoting and foreseeable challenges.
To create an inclusive program, Developing K.I.D.S. created a virtual model using a variety of platforms that are most accessible for youth and families without internet service at home. Kim and her Program Director, Tenecha (Toy) Bland, also considered the talents and skills of each team member. “This was a time to build on those talents and strengths while providing space for the team to grow in new areas. Communication, patience and scaffolding have been key components of this process,” Kim relates.
The attention to staff development has paid off. Toy observes, ”They are all emerging as greater leaders. They are taking greater initiative to provide better programming. They are compassionate about the families that we serve. They check on us to make sure that we are OK during all of this.”
Each day, Developing K.I.D.S. posts a number of engaging videos, opportunities for homework help, and check-in sessions on their Facebook page and other social media outlets. They maintain a weekly calendar, as well as provide reminders of upcoming sessions to keep youth and families aware of available programming. Here’s a STEM video on creating invisible ink with Youth Services Coordinator, Tyrone Bean. You’ll find links to the website and social media at the end of this story, if you’d like to see more.
Even with the exponential growth in their social media audience—their posts now have a reach of over 35,000–maintaining youth and caregiver relationships continues to be a priority. Once in-person programming was suspended, staff immediately began weekly youth/caregiver check-ins by phone, Facetime, video conferencing, or even TikTok. As needs have been identified, and processes refined, the team has become even more intentional with outreach. Now, each youth has an individual action plan in place. Developing K.I.D.S. is also committed to the emotional well-being of staff. They take their team’s emotional needs into consideration through individual check-ins, twice weekly staff video conferences, and self-care time requests.
To support program quality and team growth, Toy leads professional development and training for her staff virtually. She says, “We still use the Youth Program Quality Assessment (YPQA) tool. I pull one item from the YPQA and provide training on that during our team meetings. It’s a lot of listening for me and making program adjustments to stay innovative.” This practice, along with stakeholder feedback, enables the organization to utilize the Plan, Assess, Improve model to continuously improve program quality.
While it has not been without challenge, Developing K.I.D.S. has worked diligently to create high-quality youth development programming that can be equitably accessed through social media, to maintain youth and caregiver relationships, and to develop staff engagement and leadership—while caring for the social-emotional needs of all involved.
What have been some takeaways from this experience?
- Conversations about quality practices and professional development are critical
- Engaging youth can be as simple as creating a challenge and a hashtag
- Be prepared to accommodate a learning curve—staff may need more time to prepare and deliver programming
- Update human resource policies to include working from home
- Having strong systems and tools in place can ease the challenge of working remotely: direct deposit for payroll, bill pay systems, communication systems like Zoom and RingCentral for video conferencing, Google document sharing for collaborative work and document storage
Want to know more?
The mission of Developing K.I.D.S. is to strengthen urban communities by guiding youth in their mental, physical and educational growth; helping to strengthen and empower young adults; and providing opportunities for all to become strong contributors to their community.
Our thanks to Developing K.I.D.S. team members Kim Johnson, Founder, President, and CEO, Tenecha (Toy) Bland, Program Director, and Tyrone Bean, Youth Services Coordinator for taking the time to share their experiences with us.
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By: Kristine Uyeda
How do you take a proven youth literacy program into a digital platform and make it equitable, impactful, and sustainable?
Over the course of the school year, Center for Success provides structured after school programming for elementary and middle school students. Youth have access to transportation from partner schools, nourishing meals, high-quality enrichment activities, and participate in one-on-one individualized literacy mentoring designed for each youth’s unique needs. In addition to their onsite programs in Detroit and Pontiac, Center for Success also supports youth at five Brilliant Detroit locations and the Downtown Boxing Gym.
Andrea Meyer, Executive Director at Center for Success, had never been in a leadership role where she faced the kinds of decisions that now confronted her and the Board of Directors in the wake of COVID-19. The Board, understandably, wanted to preserve the long-term financial viability of the organization. Their first impulse was to pause programming and lay off staff. This wasn’t an option in Andrea’s mind—neither for the families they served, nor the program staff. So she went to work on creating a new path forward.
The two pressing issues were: what would it look like to re-envision and execute programs virtually, and where would the funding come from to continue operations. Andrea didn’t position herself as the authority figure who had all the insight. She employed an inclusive process and went to staff to see how they felt about continuing and what they wanted to contribute to the process. She asked, “What do you know about your students, what do you know about yourself, and how can we translate that into a digital platform.” She was blown away. Staff came up with inspiring ideas and were completely committed to navigating this next step with her.
The process of rebuilding for online learning was anchored by two beliefs: that learning can happen anywhere and that they were going to model what it looks like to be a lifelong learner. As staff dug in and began developing ideas, a program with a variety of offerings emerged. Simple activities like Riddle of the Day and Read Aloud Storytime were augmented by more structured experiences like science activities, homework help, and Mommy and Me Yoga which has featured themes like animal shapes. Center for Success also worked with their volunteer literacy mentors to train them on Zoom. The organization researched accessible online reading sites so that youth and mentors could continue their work together. By tapping into their partner organizations, like Accelerate4Kids, they are able to loan iPads to families who wouldn’t otherwise have access to necessary technology.
The results? Facebook and Instagram, where they post enrichment videos, have expanded their reach considerably. Meals are still available for pick-up at some sites and in other cases from partner organizations with more accessible locations. The Center for Success has retained almost all of their youth despite the move online. Staff reached out to teachers to get access to the homework assignments from partner schools and are supporting youth’s home learning. Parents who’ve listened in on mentoring sessions have gained tips that will help them work with their children. And youth are asking to attend more than just their regular literacy mentoring sessions, so the staff is working to give youth more access. Because staff hours are not completely utilized by virtual programming, the organization is supporting staff professional development through a variety of activities.
Taking stock of lessons learned, Andrea Meyer emphasized how important is has been to be continually looking at what’s working, and understanding safety, student voice, leadership—all things that feel innate now because of the Assess, Plan, Improve process Center for Success learned with through the Youth Development Resource Center. She sees opportunities to deepen some of the experiences they’ve created for youth. Andrea envisions the enrichment videos continuing once youth are able to return to onsite programming—but instead of staff creating these videos, she wants youth to take the lead. Youth and their mentors are growing seeds from seed kits that the Center for Success put together. This parallel project is an opportunity for learning and relationship building as youth and their mentors share the process. Andrea hopes to develop some additional projects that could take place throughout the year and help youth and mentors learn together through shared experience.
Perhaps one of the biggest aha! moment occurred around parent engagement. A clear interest in and need for parent workshops surfaced as a result of the online mentoring. Staff are already thinking about ways to provide resources and skills to parents so they feel confident in supporting their young readers at home.
And what about the funding? Andrea went to funders with a game plan for continuing to provide high-quality programming online. Funders worked with her to open up funding for organizational costs to support programs, and to extend the timeline for expending grant funds when the Center for Success received second round CARES Act PPP funds. Because they had a clear and compelling vision of how they were going to continue to serve their youth and families, the Center for Success was even able to engage two new funders.
To be sure, this has been a big lift for the organization. Throughout the process they’ve remained focused on their mission without overlooking the needs of staff. Melanie Wiggins, Lead Literacy Instructor, shared, “We’re doing so much but the message has always been ‘take care of yourself and your family first.’ There is a safe space among the staff to be open about where you’re at and what you’re feeling. To really be seen and heard and valued as staff? That’s been huge.”
Thinking about what’s next, Andrea noted, “There’s so much to learn from this, but we’re going to come back stronger. Yes, this is a hard thing, but we do the hard things so we can make sure we do the right thing for our families.”
What have been some takeaways from this experience?
- Do what you know
- Trust your staff and empower them to shape change alongside leadership
- Going to funders with a plan makes it easier for them to say yes
- Volunteers are committed to youth and will adapt to new tools
- Listen to what youth and families really need—in some cases, this might mean backing off
Want to know more?
Center for Success unites literacy and community to empower students in the journey of education.
Our thanks to Center for Success team members: Andrea Meyer, Executive Director, Anna Rosevear, Program Director, and Melanie Wiggins, Lead Literacy Instructor, for taking the time to share their experiences with us.
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By: Sara Plachta-Elliott, Executive Director, and Kelsey Thompson, Improvement and Impact Fellow
A dream summer for most youth is to play and create in a safe, fun space with adults who care and give them the freedom to be who they are.
Youth who attend the S.A.Y. Detroit Play Center on Detroit’s East Side engage in a variety of enriching developmental learning activities — sports, robotics, tutoring and music. A fully decked out music studio offers a real-world experience. But, a safe space isn’t enough to engage youth and keep them coming. That’s where caring adults who are trained in positive youth development come in.
Over the summer, S.A.Y. Detroit Play Center’s staff joined seven other organizations that collectively operated 18 summer camp sites across Detroit to participate in the Youth Development Resource Center’s first Summer Learning Program Quality cohort. This was funded by The Skillman Foundation through grants to YDRC and the National Summer Learning Association. This effort is an extension of YDRC’s Acting with Data Learning Community, which offers data-driven youth program quality improvement support.
In May, S.A.Y. Detroit Play Center and the cohort of summer program teams attended a Summer Learning Institute to learn about key indicators for summer learning program quality, such as helping youth gain skills through hands-on collaborative learning.
In July and August, while kids filled the building, YDRC assessors and coaches visited S.A.Y. Detroit Play Center. They interviewed staff, observed the quality of activities with the Summer Learning Program Quality Assessment, and coached the staff as they identified improvement goals.
During the full-day observation in the music studio, program partner Notes for Notes provided a particularly engaging experience for youth. Why was it high quality?
- Staff guided youth using questions rather than giving answers.
- They used paired work groups and gave youth opportunities to plan and execute their ideas.
- The whole group discussed the Center’s values and how they could be incorporated into music — linking an abstract concept with a concrete experience.
- When staff praised the youth for their great work, they included details about focus and creativity — all positive feedback that might motivate a young person to achieve more in another setting like school.
One improvement goal staff identified was working to make sure to offer youth reflection opportunities — whether on the basketball court or in the tutoring space. When adults give youth control over their own learning, in a supportive space that facilitates their creativity, anything is possible!