A Case Study of one Youth Development Organization: How Camp Fire Boys and Girls is meeting its goals and objectives within the context of the summer youth program
Lawton, Jodie Suh-Ann
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Today' s youth have a plethora of choices to make ranging from the simple (Do I want to eat breakfast today?) to the more difficult (Who will I make friends with? Will I try drugs/alcohol?). It is the more difficult questions and their answers that have many people concerned with today' s youth. The answers to those questions may lead them into lives of criminal activity or lives devoted to attaining scholastic and/or personal success. There are many factors influencing the answers to the more difficult questions, such as community, family, teachers, and friends. These factors are essentially forces in young people's decision-making, pulling them in all sorts of directions as they are attempting to become individuals. One factor that has become increasingly important is that of community. Many youth say that they have nothing better to do with their time than "hang out" with their friends on the streets. This may lead to involvement with drugs, alcohol, gangs, etc. Traditionally the focus has been on the family and what the family should be doing to curb such activities. However, these claims of youth indicate that something must be done within the neighborhoods and communities as well as within the family in order to give them other opportunities to grow and develop as healthy individuals. Because of this, over the past several years there has been a growth in neighborhood and community organizations that provide alternatives to "hanging out" on the streets. These organizations attempt to address the needs of youth, specifically to "promote the positive, healthy development of young people" (Building Developmental Assets, Camp Fire publication). Some of these organizations offer programs for the youth such as summer day camp, after-school activities, peer mentoring, big brothers/big sisters, and sports club. Through these programs, organizations hope to make those difficult questions with difficult answers into difficult questions with simple answers: those that lead to the positive development of young people. With the expansion of such organizations, several questions arise. In general, what are those organizations doing for the youth? What are these alternatives to "hanging out" on the streets? What is involved in some of the programs offered? Are the programs implemented and provided by these youth organizations truly meeting their set goals? To what extent are the young people involved in the program? How may such involvement or enjoyment be measured? These are the questions that must be examined to determine whether the existence of youth organizations and their programs are worth the effort, time and money. One youth organization is Camp Fire Boys and Girls, which was founded in 1910. Originally, it was an organization only for girls, however in 1975 it was expanded to also include boys. This organization became a part of West Michigan in 1919. Today it has such programs in West Michigan as Extending Our Reach, Traditional Club Program, Life Skills Curriculum, and Special Sitters. The mission of Camp Fire Boys and Girls is "to positively influence the life development of children and youth through cooperatively developed community efforts." This organization believes that evaluation is an essential part of any youth development program. Because of this, in the summer of 1998 Camp Fire hired me, as an intern, to conduct an in-depth case study of how the existing summer youth program held at Oakdale Elementary School is meeting its set goals and objectives. Oakdale Elementary School is one of three sites located throughout the city of Grand Rapids that are considered to be high-risk environments. This program is part of the national initiative of Extending Our Reach, which was designed to provide various activities with the goal of promoting healthy development in all senses and lower the potential for risk-taking behavior. This case study provides an opportunity for one to examine the questions and issues mentioned above. It is my hope that this case study will provide useful information to both the organization at hand and to other organizations with similar programs. There is little research conducted on such existing youth programs, and this may be a useful resource for future studies.
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