Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Tribute to CNYD, Part 2

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
As a former practitioner and CNYD staff person, I was saddened to receive an announcement letter from Founder and Executive Director, Sue Eldredge, that the Community Network for Youth Development (CNYD) was closing its doors. To review the full announcement letter and where you can still access CNYD resources, click here

CNYD served as a true pioneer in promoting the ideas of youth development by creating youth program training methods and tools, and a large demonstration through a citywide initiative, the San Francisco Beacon Initiative. CNYD staff had a large influence on the early afterschool movement in California, producing the Youth Development Guide for Afterschool with CDE and for advocating and offering training for the first statewide high school afterschool initiative in the United States. CNYD also served as a training ground for some of the most influential trainers and consultants in the afterschool field. 

CNYD has generously allowed the Learning in Afterschool & Summer project, and other leading organizations, to post CNYD's publications and tools on their websites. You can access those by going to our research and literature page and scrolling down. Access the page by clicking here.  

You can join us in thanking CNYD for all its contributions to the field and your work by adding a message of appreciation to this group card by July 15, 2013.

I contacted Sue Eldredge for responses to a few questions. Below is part 2 of a conversation with Sue Eldredge. 

Q: What do you believe is CNYD’s legacy?
A: I think CNYD's greatest contributions to the field have been in the practice arena with breakthroughs in assessing program quality and youth experience to drive continuous improvement at program and organizational levels.  When the field was struggling to define realistic and legitimate measures of accountability and tangled in debates that mostly centered on longer-term measures of healthy development, CNYD was an important force that shifted the conversation to focus on more immediate measures of program quality and the resulting developmental experiences of young people in youth programs and youth organization settings.  We were fortunate to form a very productive practice/research partnership with Jim Connell and Michelle Gambone to
Sue Eldredge
develop the CNYD's Youth Development Framework for Practice, associated measures of quality youth experience and one of the first research-based youth survey instruments.  These tools were used in learning communities that engaged youth workers and organizational leaders in continuous improvement processes that led to some of the first examples of youth development supports and opportunities that were "measureable and moveable".  This work was recognized in the National Academy of Science's study, Community Programs to Promote Youth Development, the definitive research effort that validated the youth development field's contributions to the healthy development of young people.  This field blazing work has had long-lasting influence in the afterschool and out-of-school time fields and is evident in the widespread focus on program quality improvement.

In the practice arena, CNYD was on the forefront of innovations in training and capacity-building.  We were one of the first youth development intermediary organizations to shift from traditional training approaches to lead learning communities where practitioners knowledge was mined to promote peer exchange and learning.  Some of our earliest professional development in the mid-1990's taught practitioners how to integrate assessment into practice so they could use the data that program leaders collected to understand if the new practices they were putting into action were making a difference for young people,  These new approaches set a standard for the field of youth development capacity-building. 

In very practical terms, CNYD's talented staff and those we worked with helped shape the youth development field in the Bay Area that we know today.  When our work began no one identified professionally as belonging to the youth development field.  The community of practitioners that CNYD supported grew over time to become just that—a professional community that identified as a unified field, with a shared vision and values, common practices and standards of accountability.  Most importantly, the youth development community came to identify as allies and partners working with young people to support them to grow up with optimism in the future, in communities where healthy relationships with adults and their peers are fostered, and with meaningful opportunities to contribute, to lead and build real skills.  While CNYD is sometimes described as an important catalyst for this field development, it was the rich partnerships we were so fortunate to have at all levels that enabled all of these gains.

Q: As you look ahead, what do you see as the major hurdles that the youth development field will face in the future?
A: The youth development field's commitment to the holistic development of young people and the principles of partnership and respect for young people are deeply rooted.  Skilled practitioners have always worked with young people from this place of understanding.  In many ways we took great concern not to name the "youth development movement" as new, but rather an important shift in focus at a policy level.  The real field breakthroughs were at a practice level.  In order to keep the field alive and thriving we will need to continue to reframe and refresh key youth development principles and practices so that they are relevant to the current dialogue and focus for policymakers, funders and practitioners.  You can see this demonstrated artfully in strands of the work that are being done at the Forum for Youth Investment, the Weichert Center for Youth Program Quality and in the Learning in Afterschool and Summer learning principles that are guiding afterschool work.  There are some very promising new research understandings about how young people grow and learn, especially in the arena of neuroscience.  Aligning this new understanding of research to practice to provide new and better ways to support young people's development seems very promising.

Q: Do you want to share your future plans?
A: After so many years of leading and growing CNYD, I am pausing to catch my breath and look with fresh eyes at new opportunities. I am intrigued by the potential that neuroscience research has to inform break-throughs in practice.  I am loving having more relaxed time to spend with my nine year old daughter Gracie.  And I am extremely thankful for my years leading CNYD and for the incredibly talented and committed staff and colleagues that surrounded me.  It was a very unique point in time when so many forces and talented people were aligned to have influence.  I have been extremely fortunate to have had my personal passions align with my professional commitments.   

Sue Eldredge was the founder and Executive Director of the Community Network for Youth Development (CNYD) for twenty years. CNYD’s work led to the infusion of youth development practice into policy, capacity-building and evaluation efforts in the Bay Area and in ever wider arenas.  A graduate of Stanford University, Sue’s past experience includes work in the philanthropic world, research, and design and delivery of training and technical assistance systems for nonprofit, educational and governmental agencies.

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