Against a backdrop of new reports citing disadvantages faced by boys and youth of color and a community unnerved by rising violence, the Oakland Fund for Children and Youth is at work developing a new strategic plan for how best to help Oakland's children. And it's asking for community input.
Oakland residents - especially youth and parents of young children - are invited to come to a strategic planning meeting this Wednesday, Aug. 22, at City Hall. The fund’s Planning and Oversight Committee is hosting the meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. in Hearing Room 4. (see agenda)
The committee, a City Council-appointed body of youth and adults, teachers and social service workers, will be listening to opinions on what's most needed to help children thrive. The Wednesday hearing is one of a series of meetings held this summer as the fund's Planning and Oversight Committee considers what should be priorities for OFCY's next three-year funding cycle, which begins July 2013.
So far, safety and job preparation have dominated talk at these meetings.
"I would say there is a lot of push for providing good, safe and enriching programs for kids, safety being an issue this year," Michael Wetzel, program planner for OFCY, said of input to date. "And with the economy, we're hearing the need to really help youth get jobs and prepare for career and have the skills, tools and support to get good-paying jobs and careers. Those are the two main things we've been hearing – among 700 other things."
The Oakland Fund for Children and Youth was created in 1996 when voters passed a measure known as the KidsFirst! initiative calling for setting aside a certain percentage of the city's unrestricted general fund to devote to children and youth. The measure has been amended and renewed through the years and in its latest incarnation - Measure D, passed in 2009 - the fund was structured to operate in three-year funding cycles, to receive 3 percent of the city's unrestricted general fund and to seek community input in determining priorities and evaluating proposals. It also stipulated that funds be used towards four goals. Those are:
- Support the healthy development of young children
- Help children and youth succeed in school and graduate from high school
- Prevent and reduce violence, crime and gang involvement among young people
- Prepare young people for healthy and productive adulthoods
Currently, OFCY funds 123 programs run by nonprofit, private and public agencies. These range from Jumpstart Oakland and numerous other preschool programs for little children, to the Lincoln Child Center’s preschool mental health consultation services to myriad school and job programs for older youth such as College Track Oakland, the Biotech Academy at Oakland Tech High School and the Model Neighborhood program. Fund recipients include the DreamCatcher shelter for homeless youth and the McClymonds and Life Academy Youth and Family Center. They also include after-school programs at most Oakland Unified School District campuses and about a dozen summer programs.
Priorities for the next three-year cycle are shaping up along these lines, Wetzel said: For young children’s development, the committee tentatively hopes to fund mental health and development consultations, summer pre-kindergarten programs and programs to engage parents in early care.
Towards the second goal of helping children succeed in school and graduate high school, the committee is targeting school-based after school programs for elementary and middle school students, transition programs for youth in high school and youth leadership programs.
For the goal of reducing violence, crime and gang involvement, the committee is eyeing more summer programs, youth leadership programs and after school programs in middle and high school. Lastly, to help youth transition to adulthood, the committee is looking at career and workforce preparation programs and academic support for disconnected youth.
In recent months, the Urban Strategies Council of Oakland and the California General Assembly's Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color have issued reports identifying and decrying the educational, health and family support disadvantages faced by boys of color. Urban Strategies found that many African-American boys in Oakland schools are missing significant amounts of classroom time because of absenteeism and use of suspensions as discipline in a system that is still biased against children of color. The Assembly Select Committee study found that throughout California boys of African American, Hispanic and Southeast Asian heritage face more violence, more health problems and fewer school advantages than children need to thrive.