Best Practices - Vol. IV

Mayor Michael D. Morrison

Youth in Lighted Communities

The City of Waco Recreation Department had identified a shortage of qualified individuals who could serve as sports officials, scorekeepers, recreation aides and lifeguards. The department developed a program to train its own future staff. At the same time, the local Camp Fire organization and the Advocacy Center were wanting to develop a counseling program which would include conflict resolution and self-esteem in an outdoor recreation setting. The three departments combined their needs and developed the Youth In Lighted Communities project.

When the inner city teen project began in 1995 it served 25 youth between the ages of 13 and 21. In 1996, funding was secured to increase the program to 90 youth. Currently, there are 93 in the program. Programs are offered at two recreation centers and a camp. During the 1996 summer season, 10 youth who completed the program were hired by the Recreation Department. In 1997, there are 20 positions advertised for youth and additional Counselor-in-Training slots. During the year, youth who completed specific training programs had on-going jobs as basketball officials, babysitters and assistants at special events. The program included weekly group and individual counseling, job training in the fall and spring, two weekend trips to Camp Val Verde, a job fair in the spring and volunteer community service. Youth were able to see their community in action through special events such as a trip to a play, Baylor football games, riding with police officers and visiting hospital emergency rooms.

In the eyes of Waco officials the program has been very successful, allowing neighborhood youth to obtain training which offers them an opportunity for a year-round part-time position. Youth have become more active in neighborhood activities through volunteering at such events as Juneteenth, Brazos Nights, Feast of Sharing, Games of Texas and Cinco de Mayo. Through the conflict resolution and self-esteem activities which are part of the program, youth have been able to resolve problems at home, in school and with other participants in a positive manner.

While the City of Waco Recreation Department served as the lead agency for the program, cooperative relationships were developed with the original partners -- Camp Fire and the Advocacy Center -- and also with the Waco Independent School District, McLennan County Youth Collaboration, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and two social sororities at Baylor University. Youth who participated developed contacts with other agencies through the program's community service component.

Cost for the program was covered by a matching grant obtained through the Juvenile Justice Department. The City of Waco, Camp Fire and the Advocacy Center all shared in the 50 percent match to obtain the grant. Funding to pay the youth for services rendered was obtained from existing funding allocations and/or from private companies who hired the youth to assist with special events and projects. The Recreation Department intends to continue operating this program through entrepreneur clubs at each of the three recreation centers.

Waco officials say that a pool of qualified candidates for recreational services jobs had not existed prior to this effort. The number of individuals who will be qualified for employment has been expanded and the number of youth who may want to pursue a career in community service has been increased.

Contact: Sally Gavlik, Recreation Superintendent, (817) 750-5980

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The United States Conference of Mayors

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