Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Introduction to the A Future Anticipated Cohorts

When Aliquippa Impact first formed in 2005, our organization sought to develop quality, youth development programs for students in the Aliquippa school district.  Over the following years, our programs took on many shapes and forms.  They sometimes served large numbers of students and sometimes served small numbers of students.  They were at different times focused on literacy, global education, environmental awareness, or the arts.  The sometimes served younger students and sometimes served older students.  For years, we tweaked our programs to fit what we were learning about our community as we became neighbors in Aliquippa.  These were years of great lessons learned in program development as we sought to better serve our city.

However, while all of this program experimentation was taking place another strain of community impact was simultaneously developing.  It was growing subtly, but it was becoming more and more pervasive in our organization’s activities nonetheless.  It seemed to do less with official programs and more to do with compassionate presence in the lives of the youth we had come to build relationships with in Aliquippa through our programs.

Our programs were growing, and we were getting better at delivering these programs to the community.  These programs, whatever their exact nature, served as the catalyst for relationships with youth and families in our neighborhoods.  Yet for all of the effectiveness these programs yielded, they did not constitute the greatest way we were impacting youth or what was making our organization most distinct.  It was a faithful, unwavering, hopeful presence in the lives of the students we served that was making all the difference.

In 2006, our staff and volunteers began to spend regular time in what we then called an “active street presence.”  This was basically any type of relational time spent in the community apart from our official programs.  We would play kickball with kids in a public housing community, sit on the front steps of a youth’s house with their family simply talking and listening, and again and again we were a phone call away in times of crisis.  Eventually, we proved to some of our youth that we were not going anywhere – we were committed to them and the community we called home.  Even if a youth stopped attending one of our official programs for a time, we would still pursue them in the streets.

As we targeted small groups of students in our community and kept “showing up,” relationships between our staff and volunteers and the youth in the community grew strong and deep.  We noticed these relationships proven over time had a magnetic affect on the youth who had been most regularly sought after.  Although the pull of the streets, delinquent behavior, and gang activity was as strong as ever in the community, these youth showed more resilience toward their negative environments.  Somehow, the relationships our organization had built with these youth – not just in our programs but in the streets – had imparted hope into their souls and in turn affected the decisions they were making.

In 2010, Aliquippa Impact’s board decided to build on what we were doing best – providing tangible hope to youth so they could have purposeful futures through relationally-focused solutions to obstacles they faced.  The result of this effort is the A Future Anticipated (AFA) Cohorts.  These cohorts are clusters of youth who are supported by each other and our staff through compassionate presence and the provision of safe, positive youth development environments.  As youth participate in these cohorts, we build relational bridges between them and needed opportunities so they can achieve their own goals and acquire healthy developmental assets.  The result is youth who live with purpose and become catalysts for change in Aliquippa and beyond.   

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