Communication Strategies to Build Public Will
Communication is vital to building public will in support of afterschool, and is critical to the success and sustainability of programming. Key to building long-lasting support is the use of communication strategies that target specific audiences. To build a broad base of support, afterschool champions must tailor their messages to achieve buy-in from varying audiences. Many small cities and rural communities recognize this challenge, and have employed nuanced communication tactics that work to attract a diverse array of afterschool program support.
Garnering City Council Support
In Juneau, Alaska, the Juneau Afterschool Coalition recognized that city council support was crucial to securing continued programming. In urging the council’s investment, the coalition adopted an advocacy method built on data-demonstrated need and measurable outcomes.
By highlighting district-administered survey findings that showed a majority of Juneau middle school students were not participating in afterschool programming, the coalition was able to emphasize the need for a renewed approach. This data acted as a guidepost as they structured a program model that focused on middle school students.
Through seeking an understanding of the afterschool program landscape, the Juneau Afterschool Coalition was able to fill demonstrated gaps and champion afterschool programming as a worthwhile investment. Coupling this information with research and data that demonstrated the positive impact of quality afterschool programming on a number of social, emotional, health and educational outcomes, they were able to make a compelling pitch for city council support. By presenting this programming as a fiscally responsible alternative to past investments that did not meet a demonstrated need, they earned both the city council’s support and $50,000 from the city’s general fund to support an increase in middle school afterschool programming.
Addressing Community Concerns
Rather than starting with the premise that afterschool is the answer, some cities start with a community concern. For Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park, Minn., juvenile crime was becoming an increasing concern in the local community. In 2006, the neighboring cities decided the time had come to combine resources and address the issue collectively. Together, they convened a series of community summits to gather information and ideas from community stakeholders. With the help of local police departments, community leaders identified that the majority of youth crime in the city was occurring immediately after the end of the school day – between three and five p.m.
Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center recognized afterschool programming as a practical response to youth disengagement and delinquency. A range of community leaders were substantially invested in positive outcomes for young people, and worked to engage government and education partners in a community-wide collaborative action plan. By emphasizing the mutual benefits of reduced youth crime for both community members and community institutions, the communities brought together seven anchor partners – two cities, one county, two school districts and two institutions of higher education – to create the Brooklyn Bridge Alliance for Youth.
Through a formal joint powers agreement, the Brooklyn Bridge Alliance for Youth works to develop a community in which youth can thrive, feel safe, connect to positive adults, envision a positive future and have access to the resources they need to reach that future. In addition to these seven organizations, the two communities also created the Brooklyns’ Youth Council, which is overseen by the Brooklyn Bridge Alliance for Youth. The Youth Council’s mission is to represent youth in communities by providing a voice in collaboration with the community and local government to positively raise awareness of problems facing youth.
Building and maintaining public will and support for afterschool is not just important when establishing new programming or trying to coordinate existing services. It is also critical to sustaining the work over time.
Umatilla, Ore., uses social media to communicate with a broad range of stakeholders. For example, they use of Facebook to communicate about their program including activities, events, registration and other opportunities that participants and their families can engage in.
A small town in Louisiana learned the hard way about the value of having strong public support. A couple of years ago, Donaldsonville’s only afterschool program, Bright Futures Community Learning Center, was facing a funding gap. Fortunately, their director understood the importance of community buy-in and spent much of her time telling the organization’s story and the talking up the positive impact the program had on the city’s young people. She documented the program’s successes and used the local newspaper as a platform to share the positive impact the program had on the community. As a result of her efforts, the community raised enough money to fill the gap and keep the door of Bright Futures Community Learning Center open.