Community-Based and YDS


Out of School Time activities are vital to helping youth thrive…

For the past two decades, there has been large investments in community-based out of school time (OST) programs for youth.  Participation in organized activities outside of school can enhance youths’ academic, social, emotional, civic, and health outcomes, and reduces risk behaviors.   OST youth spaces, however, are typically adult-driven with programs and services provided for youth.  Young people are rarely provided the opportunity to lead their own programs, let alone participate in higher organizational roles that would allow them to contribute to their agencies.   

To date NZ has worked intensively with over 70 organizations to support these entities to amplify youth voice through building youth-adult partnerships. Groups include:

- Community After-School Programs
- Adolescent Health Centers
- Libraries
- Arts Organizations
- Local Municipalities

Research demonstrates that providing youth greater voice and leadership in the programs that serve them has many benefits.  When youth have opportunities to make meaningful contributions in an organization their participation grows, as does their engagement, interest, and investment.   A greater leadership role not only provides young people all the current benefits of after school programming, but provides new opportunities to develop 21st century skills such as problem-solving, communication, collaboration, creativity and critical reflection that are essential to college and workforce readiness.  Finally, one other important outcome arises when young people are engaged in meaningful decisions-- civic engagement, experiences that are critical if society expects them to become active citizens in a democratic society.

Since 2010 the Neutral Zone, in partnership with the Weikart Center for Program Quality and Michigan State University’s Community Evaluation Research Collaborative (MSU), has developed the Youth-Driven Spaces (YDS) model.   YDS is designed to help organizations that serve older youth incorporate practices and strategies that use program, organization and governance roles as an opportunity to build youth proficiencies as well as increase their participation and engagement.