Uncertain Future

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In January, the American Youth Policy Forum celebrated its 10th anniversary by issuing Decade of Service Awards. Youth Today was surprised and honored that it was recognized for outstanding media coverage of youth issues. It was especially gratifying because Youth Today was selected by an anonymous jury of influential leaders in the youth field, many of whom, we assume, have received less than superlative news coverage in our paper.

We add this to earlier awards from the D.C.-based AIDS Alliance for Children, Youth & Families for public service reporting, and the Ohio-based North American Resource Center for Child Welfare for “intellectual integrity and moral courage consistently displayed.”

While we appreciate these awards, what Youth Today really needs is a reward in the form of paid subscribers and advertisers.
More than 80 percent of our readers elect not to pay $18.50 per year for 10 issues. Some national youth service organizations don’t so much as subscribe for their CEOs and even fewer choose Youth Today for advertisements for jobs, conferences or even disseminating positive program results.

Understandably, their relationship to Youth Today is sometimes uneasy and ambivalent. Is Youth Today an unofficial public relations arm of the youth field? No, it is not. Might Youth Today report in a critical or skeptical manner on their leadership? Yes, it certainly might. Do national CEOs with hundreds of affiliates want their local managers reading Youth Today and learning about trade business developments outside of official channels? No, they do not.

In the century-long history of nationwide organizations in the youth service field, most national leaders have pursued pauper-thy-neighbor organizational development strategies. That parochial agenda has stymied the emergence of a cohesive and adequately funded field emphasizing positive youth development and related prevention services. Today, national leaders have increasingly come to resemble college presidents – small of stature with eager, outstretched hands.

Thankfully, there are past and present leadership exceptions: Mid-century Kansas City Boy Scout leader Ross Bartlett, retired Big Brothers Big Sisters CEO Tom McKenna and departing Urban League CEO Hugh Price, along with current executives such as YouthBuild’s Dorothy Stoneman, the National Crime Prevention Council’s Jack Calhoun, and Stuart Smith of Camp Fire USA. All built successful careers promoting their own organizations in tandem with the youth field as a whole.

There is a National Collaboration for Youth, a part of the D.C.-based National Assembly of Health and Human Service Organizations. But, despite heroic efforts over the past two decades by its current and past directors, the group functions more as a forum to keep an eye on the opposition than as a catalyst to advance comprehensive youth services.

Witness the fate of the Younger Americans Act. The national CEOs couldn’t even get Congress to hold a hearing on the legislation enthusiastically launched by now-Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2001. But some CEOs did manage to convince Congress to earmark millions in noncompetitive grants to their own organizations.

Over the next six months, Youth Today anticipates a pronounced drop-off in the level of foundation grant support that has made Youth Today possible. We do not begrudge the cuts. After all, some 15 foundations, led by the Ford Foundation, have been generous indeed. And Youth Today is definitely not an entitlement program.

That leaves Youth Today’s fate squarely in the hands of the children and youth field itself. First, the staff of Youth Today must continue to produce a credible newspaper that program managers find of sufficient value to pay for. Second, these managers must opt to pay for Youth Today to go to multiple work sites. If agencies with 50 or 1,000-plus staff each take out a single subscription, we will not survive.

Just to pay Youth Today’s $500,000 annual printing and postage bills, we need 27,000 subscribers. We have about 11,000, yielding $200,000 in subscription income. Given the deep slashing of the budgets of so many youth service groups, the request for 1,600 additional managers to take out 10 subscriptions each may seem futile, but that is our goal by year’s end.

In its 11 years of publishing, Youth Today has been told many times that “it can’t be done.” So why stop now?