The Children’s Aid Society’s Next Generation Center
South Bronx, N.Y.
Objective: To provide the expertise and best practices of the child welfare, workforce development and youth development fields to disconnected young people, ages 14-24, as they transition to adulthood.
In a Nutshell: The Next Generation Center (NGC) is a one-stop shop offering services such as life coaching, job readiness training and subsidized internships, educational support and guidance, housing search assistance, legal counseling and referral services, life skills workshops, leadership training and recreational, arts and cultural activities. Open five days a week from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. during the school year, with slightly reduced hours during the summer, the program primarily serves its younger members, ages 14 to 17, during the after-school hours and its older members, ages 18 to 24, during the day.
In the job readiness training, for instance, members initially spend up to six weeks, under the supervision of a staff member, working on service projects designed to develop good work habits. If they succeed in this period, members can apply for an internship in one of three “Work Crews”: NGC Youth Educators, in which members educate other youth on various topics; NGC Catering Company, in which they learn all aspects of the catering business; or NGC Geek Squad, in which members learn computer technology and sound and video editing technology. Interns earn a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
Where It Happens: Located on 172nd Street and Southern Boulevard in the Morrisania section of the South Bronx, NGC’s 6,000-square-foot facility includes a large common area with a lounge space and café-style dining area, professional teaching kitchen, lending library, technology lab, sound/video editing studio, art studio and a fitness/dance studio. It also has three large all-purpose workshop rooms—the Game Room, the Futures Room and the Life Room, which is equipped with a washer and dryer for members to use.
When It Began: NGC opened in early 2006 in a two-room storefront and moved to its current facility in January 2008.
Who Started It and Who Runs It: The Children’s Aid Society, a nonprofit serving needy children and their families at more than 45 New York locations, approved the NGC after receiving a proposal from Lynn Echenberg, who at the time was in her first year working in the Children’s Aid Society’s Office of Public Policy & Client Advocacy. Echenberg, who had prior experience advocating for foster youth and youth aging out of foster care and said she developed the NGC model out of years of conversations with young people, remains the NGC’s director today. The center’s team includes program director Carline Theodore, who has her master’s in counseling; social worker Natalia Giordana, who has a master’s in social work; a team of six full-time youth development professionals, all with bachelor’s degrees, who serve as coaches and run employment, education, technology and leadership programs; an administrative assistant; a security guard; and an after-hours administrative assistant.
Obstacles: Getting disconnected youth, many of them out of school and long accustomed to being failed by adults and systems, to respond to outreach measures. “For example, we could not condition membership on compliance with rules or service plans, because the young people who need us the most would be the most likely to struggle with compliance and follow-through,” Echenberg said.
How They Overcame Them: “To overcome this challenge, we engaged our staff in rigorous training around two evidence-based practices: motivational interviewing and restorative practices,” Echenberg said. Motivational interviewing focuses on increasing young people’s intrinsic motivation for change, while restorative practices entail using rule infractions or other conflicts as teaching moments, rather as a reason to kick a youth out of the center.
Cost: $1 million a year.
Who Pays: NGC is supported by several foundations, including the New York Life Foundation, the Cleveland H. Dodge Foundation, the Rosalie K. Stahl Trust, the Gap Foundation and New Yorkers for Children.
Who Else Has Kicked In: NGC also receives some government funds from the New York State Office of Children & Family Services and the New York City Administration for Children’s Services.
Youth Served: Target populations include youth in foster care as well as those who have aged out of foster care, youth who have dropped out of high school or are at risk of doing so, and youth re-entering the community from juvenile justice facilities. Through referrals from foster care agencies, family court, the Legal Aid Society and Lawyers for Children and through word of mouth, NGC has expanded participation from 20 teens when it opened, to 1,300 teens this year.
Youth Turn-On: “Members connect powerfully to staff who are seasoned youth development professionals,” Echenberg said. “Because we are committed to community-building and have involved young people in every aspect of the center’s planning and development, our members feel a real sense of ownership over the center. They help us welcome guests and new members by providing tours and talking about what the center means to them.”
Youth Turn-Off: “We do meet resistance sometimes with newcomers to our restorative circles. But in no time at all, our members learn about the power of coming together to work through problems,” Echenberg said.
Research Shows: No research or studies have been conducted yet, though outcomes related to employment, educational progress, housing, and other relevant factors are being tracked and an evaluation study is planned, according to Echenberg.
What Still Gets in the Way: “Funding is always an issue, because we can’t rely on multi-year public grants,” Echenberg said.