Think back to when you were a kid. What were your favorite activities? We’ll hazard a guess and say that they took place outside of the classroom – after school, on weekends and during holidays breaks. Whether you were more athletic, artsy, or academic, these activities create fond memories that stick with us as we grow up.
From summer camps to swim lessons and every art class in between, it goes without saying that programs designed specifically for youth play a vital role in their lives. Taking it one step further, making these activities accessible and inclusive empowers them to be their authentic selves.
There is a myriad of benefits to offering and participating in youth programs, but let’s break it down into two pillars. On an individual level, these programs fulfill more than just kids’ physical needs (they have social and emotional needs too!). Plus, on a wider scale, they connect communities, strengthen peer relationships, and set up future generations to thrive.
Parks and recreation agencies are in a unique position because they serve communities of all shapes and sizes. At their core, they’re all about enhancing the lives of all residents, and one way to do this is by ensuring that youth opportunities are accessible to all. According to a recent report on youth sports from the National Recreation and Park Association, the majority of park and recreation professionals agree that they play a role in ensuring fair and just access to youth sports.
Not sure where to start? Don’t go anywhere – we’ll cover that later in this article!
Youth programs support their development
When a kid participates in a youth program, they get to create friendships, build social skills, and learn how to negotiate. Whether they’re working on fine motor skills in soccer practice, stretching their creative muscles in art class, or exploring new ideas in science club, each one of these skills benefits them in everyday situations outside of the activity. They gain a foundation for physical and mental well-being that will stick with them well into adulthood!
Lindsay Leiby, Program Supervisor with the City of Cuyahoga Falls (Amilia client since 2020) has seen firsthand the impact on kids in her town:
“City-run youth programs are an amazing outlet for kids who have interests that lie outside of typical school subjects. They get to show off their personality and develop hobbies that they’re passionate about. It also gives them an opportunity to explore other career avenues aside from what they see in school. You’d be surprised at how many ‘shy’ kids come out of their shells!”
Un aperçu de ce que la ville de Cuyahoga Falls offre aux jeunes de sa communauté!
Youth programs connect our communities
While youth programs hold benefits for each individual kid, they also work to strengthen ties between other participants in the program, residents in your city and wider communities. According to Lindsay, “chances are that most of the participants in the program don’t already go to school together. This allows them to make friends with other kids who they didn’t know prior – I’ve seen it happen before my very eyes!”
For example, your agency may choose to partner with a neighboring city to hold events for youth to mix and mingle. Or maybe you want to rent out the local high school gym for youth basketball games. When you work together to share land and existing indoor and outdoor facilities, and potentially, gear and equipment can be shared, you also open the door for more youth to participate in your programs.
“We currently have a partnership with the Cuyahoga Falls Library for Storytime in the Park, which will be hosted outdoors during the summer months,” says Lindsay. “Our community events programmer is also working on a Summit DD Welcome Celebration in partnership with the Summit County Developmental Disabilities Board, to welcome them to Cuyahoga Falls and offer a festival to families and celebrate inclusion. It’s an exciting step!”
Building a robust catalog of youth program offerings also serves as a strong foundation for future generations. Think about it: if you had a positive experience participating in an activity as a child, wouldn’t you want the same for your kids?
Strategies to get started with inclusive youth programs
Now that we’ve covered why youth programs are so important, it’s time to outline some ways to make them more inclusive and accessible!
- Ensure local, affordable, quality options are available to all the kids in your community. You’re in luck because SmartRec can help you target parts of your community that may not otherwise be able to afford your programs with the help of our segmentation tools, and also offer them special prices through discounts and scholarships. Learn more in our webinar round-up here.
- Lindsay’s tip: If you can, try to make sure you have programming in all wards of your city, to ensure you are reaching a variety of citizens
- Show diverse images in your marketing materials – this could include images of kids with disabilities and visible minorities
- Recruit volunteers and staff with diverse backgrounds to attract diverse populations
- Use social media to create opportunities to break down barriers and increase a sense of belonging. Lindsay suggests asking your city council members to re-share information about your programs! Read our other tips for standing out on social media here.
- The last one is simple: just ask diverse groups for their input. Every small action counts!
It’s clear that youth programs are a win-win for you and your community, but you can take them to the next level by ensuring inclusivity and access to all. One other way you can increase accessibility is by bringing your activities online or upgrading your current activity management platform.