June 23, 2014

Our Youth, Our Future

Sophia wakes up every school day and gets to work. She makes sure the three kids in her family wake up, get dressed in proper clothes, eat breakfast, put on their jackets and shoes and make it to the bus stop on time. Sophia bears the weight of keeping the household running. Sounds like a typical morning, except it isn’t. Sophia is six years old.


Sophia, like many youth in our community, face incredible challenges at home and at school. As a supplement to daily school curriculum, the Youth First after school program, a special initiative of Saginaw Community Foundation, exists as a safe and nurturing environment for students K-5. The program creates a positive atmosphere where children can thrive.

“We provide structure in the lives of the children we serve. Many of the kids that participate come from difficult environments,” said Tifani Hall, Youth First site coordinator at Thomas White Elementary in Bridgeport Township. “Youth First is a safe place where kids can be kids.”



Youth First after school program at Bridgeport's Thomas White Elementary

Tifani Hall, Youth First site coordinator, reads a story to children at Thomas White Elementary in Bridgeport Township.


Building character, creating leaders

Youth First was established in 2008 as an evolution of the Operation Recreation program that was created in 2005 after the City of Saginaw eliminated recreation funding for youth programs.

“The goal was to create a well-rounded after school learning experience that combined recreation and academics,” said Debra Shelton, director of Youth First.

Participating Youth First students learn leadership skills through multiple experiences including: program development, leadership training classes, youth advisory council participation and service learning projects.

Students are able to choose from nine activity-focused themes including academics, visual and performing arts, career exploration, family involvement, fitness, life skills, recreation, sports and technology. Youth First is provided at no-cost in four participating schools across Saginaw County to reach at-risk youth. It is funded through a federal grant from the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program.

“By shining a bright light on the impact of positive youth development, Youth First teaches leadership skills to today’s children to create tomorrow’s leaders,” said Shelton. “We are truly making a difference.”


A proven curriculum

The Youth First program, while based on a blend of youth development models, primarily plans activities to meet the Search Institute’s Developmental Assets® – the most widely used approach to positive youth development in the United States. Search Institute has created lists of 40 Developmental Assets tailored for specific age groups spanning early childhood (ages 3-5), grades K-3 (ages 5-9), middle childhood (ages 8-12) and adolescents (ages 12-18).

According to research, youth who have access to the most assets are least likely to engage in four different patterns of high-risk behavior, including problem alcohol use, violence, illicit drug use and sexual activity. Also, they are more likely to do well in school, be civically engaged and value diversity. Unfortunately, the average young person experiences fewer than half of the 40 assets.


Celebrating victories

Youth First is designed to enhance the education of children who attend low-performing schools or live in high-poverty areas. It helps these children attain the skills required to meet state and local curriculum standards. According to a recent survey conducted by the Michigan Great Start Readiness Program, nearly 70% of combined children in the districts Youth First operates in are at or below the poverty line.

For students like Sophia, participating in Youth First will make a difference in her life.

“Our program exposes children to other adults that care about them,” said Hall. “It’s really important for these children to experience that.”

And when Sophia smiles in class, listens to stories with wide-eyed anticipation and learns character-building life skills, Hall knows she is doing her job.

“We don’t give up on kids,” remarked Hall. “We celebrate the victories. We are a family.”





Making an Impact: 2013 Annual Report

2013 was another great year of making an impact in Saginaw County. Download a PDF and read more inspiring stories and see what is going on “behind-the-scenes” in our latest annual report.