Strategic Plan for ROOTS Teen Center
I. Forming the Strategic Plan
In 2014, the Northern Berkshire Youth Collaborative, an initiative of the UNiTY Youth Development Program at the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition (nbCC), deepened their conversations of the need for a place where young people can gather. It was through these conversations and multiple visits to teen centers across the state that The Teen Center Task Force developed and began meeting in and around the community. The Task Force was comprised of representatives from New Hope United Methodist Church, Mass College of Liberal Arts (MCLA), nbCC, MASS MoCA, other faith organizations, and northern Berkshire residents. The common thread was a deep desire to walk alongside the youth, support their voice within the community, and provide a safe platform for them to express themselves.
The voices of the youth were vital and valued in this process. We invited youth with whom we worked with in and through different organizations to participate in multiple events throughout the process. On December 14, 2015 the task force coordinated “Youth Unite” to get more feedback from youth in this area. We also used information gleaned from a youth conference held at MASS MoCA on November 15, 2013, called “The Summit 4 Teens.” This event culminated in the formation of a Dream Big Task Force, which encouraged participants to begin conceptualizing a space for youth. We are also grateful for the Berkshire Hills Internship Program (B-HIP), whose summer 2014 project involved submitting a plan called the “Berkshire Blueprint” for the formation of a youth center.
In addition the Task Force conferred with similar organizations in the region, including Youth Inc. in Adams, Dial SELF in Greenfield, and the Railroad Street Youth Project in Great Barrington; these models for working with youth provided a basic framework for the strategic plan that is listed below.
The task force applied for a grant from the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church. The task force and New Hope UMC were awarded with a Hebrews 11 Grant for $100,000 over the course of three years. With this initial funding the task force was able to become a formal Board of Directors and a Youth Board.
II. The Mission and Vision of ROOTS Teen Center
The Mission of ROOTS: To be a place in Northern Berkshire County where youth ages 14-22 are heard, encouraged, and empowered.
The Vision of ROOTS: Through our hearts, minds, hands, and voices, we strive to be healthy and impactful youth, ready for the challenges of today and dedicated to building a stronger tomorrow.
- Heart – Health and Wellness, Mentoring
- Mind - Drop In Homework Center, Job Skills, Internships
- Hand – Artistic Expression (visual, musical, drama)
- Voice – Leadership Development, Social Justice, Service Learning
III. Core Values for the Teen Center
When discussing the idea and concept of a teen center in the northern Berkshires, the Teen Center Task Force received many encouraging and inspiring responses about what a teen center should be. One of the most telling responses came from a youth at the Youth Unite event, who shared that a youth center should be a “home.” Within this statement we hear the desire of youth to have a place where they can be who they are in an environment that will not only support their identity but also give them a place to grow. The values of ROOTS come from these voices and from the responses of adults who work with organizations and agencies that have contact with youth:
Open Environment: ROOTS creates a safe environment open to all youth ages 14-22. ROOTS recognizes and upholds the inherent worth of all individual youths and is an inclusive and nurturing place for youth, welcoming youth of any gender identity or expression, race, ethnic origin, economic reality, family status, sexual orientation, ability or social standing through the doors. ROOTS will practice this value as it engages youth in the community.
Place to Grow and Explore: Youth feel welcomed and at home at ROOTS. Both the physical structure of the building and the atmosphere within contribute to this sense of home. ROOTS will not just be a place for youth to gather, but also a place for youth to grow and develop. ROOTS is a place where young people can explore new ideas, new forms of expression, and new experiences.
Relationship-Building: ROOTS is a place where friendships are made and social isolation is decreased. ROOTS encourages young people to build healthy, strong, and nurturing relationships with each other, mentors, volunteers, and the larger community. These relationships built at ROOTS will also create a wider community dedicated to youth and youth work in the area, particularly among organizations that are already working with youth in the northern Berkshire area.
Youth have a Voice: From the beginning, youth have had a voice in creating, implementing, and operating ROOTS. The Youth Board, consisting of a minimum of 5 consistent members, has helped to shape and form ROOTS. As ROOTS moves forward, the Youth Board will play an integral part in shaping a functioning and healthy teen center. The Youth Board works directly with the Board of Directors to shape and inform programming for youth in the northern Berkshires. Youth Board members are encouraged to engage with the larger youth community through outreach at community events and at the schools. In this way, youth not only have a voice at the table but also have opportunity to see how their voices can bring about positive change in their neighborhoods and in their community.
Expression Zone: ROOTS is a place for youth to safely explore and express their thoughts, ideas, hopes, and struggles. Through the arts, ROOTS will function as an “expression zone” that will include a variety of mediums, including both the visual and performing arts. Providing this outlet for expression and formation of identity is essential in the establishment of ROOTS as a safe place. Adults will be brought into ROOTS to help teach classes, guide dialogues, and present workshops in different mediums for expression. Works created at ROOTS will be shared with the larger community as a way of telling the stories of the youth in this area and building community pride in its youth.
IV. Partnership with the Northern Berkshire Community
To build a sustainable teen center, support from the community and from organizations that desire to work with youth is essential. Several partnerships have already formed to build a foundation for ROOTS. New Hope United Methodist Church, nbCC, Common Folk Artist Collective, MCLA, Berkshire Community Action Council, Williams College, and the Massachusetts Food Bank have already proved fruitful.
New Hope United Methodist Church
- Fiscal Agent and Initial Sponsor of ROOTS
- Volunteer support from church members
Northern Berkshire Community Coalition
- Partner and collaborator for ArtDoors Summer Program
- Support in strategic planning, convening, and Board Support
- Recruitment of youth
- Coordinates the Northern Berkshire Youth Collaborative and monthly community forums.
- Partnership and support in Youth Substance Abuse Prevention efforts
Common Folk Artist Collective
- Partner and collaborator for ArtDoors Summer Program
- Internship opportunities for youth
- Youth Development programming centered around music & the arts.
Mass College of Liberal Arts
- Center for Service & Leadership provides volunteers
- College Internships to build capacity
Massachusetts Food Bank
- Designing a nutrition program
Berkshire Community Action Council
- Provides paid internships to high schools through Project Reconnect
- Provides college interns and volunteers
ROOTS will continue to cultivate new partnerships to help with the programming, the volunteer support and the financial contributions, in addition to the three existing partnerships mentioned above. Partnerships can include, but are not limited to, community organizations, the faith community, and institutions that will host ROOTS interns. In the coming five years new partnerships will be acquired and cultivated across the state in the various capacities:
- Financial Partnerships: support in dollar amounts, in-kind, and/or staff sharing costs
- Programmatic Partnerships: outside organizations lead programs or host events
- Internship Partnerships: hosts for academic year and summer internships
- Volunteer Partnerships: organizations that help supply volunteers, mentors, professional speakers, and college students
Potential partners include: Williams College Outing Club, Interfaith Network of North Berkshire, Bascom Lodge, Barrington Stage Company, MASS MoCA, Hancock Shaker Village, IS 183 Art School of the Berkshires, City of Williamstown, City of North Adams, The Friendship Center Food Pantry, Berkshire Youth Development Project, and the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative.
V. Four Areas of Programming
The vision of ROOTS is that through the development and support of youths’ hearts, minds, hands, and voices, we will nurture the development of healthy and impactful youth, ready for the challenges of today and dedicated to building a stronger tomorrow. The four areas of programming/support are directly related to the heart, mind, hand and voice of the youth.
Heart (Health and Wellness, Mentoring) Components:
- Drop-in center to provide youth with a safe space for out-of-school time;
- Resource center for physical and mental health organizations;
- Education and programming for substance abuse;
- Healthy cooking classes and meal-planning;
- Mentorship programs between youths and adults;
- Outdoor opportunities such as a hiking group, skiing excursions, a community garden, and group games;
- Notices about free meals and assistance programs for youth
- Programming to promote inclusivity, particularly for gender identity and expression and sexual orientation.
Mind (Education, Job Skills, Summer Internships) Components:
- Drop-in center with volunteers from MCLA and Williams College to do homework help;
- College and career readiness training (including field trips to visit colleges);
- Programs about higher education, financial aid availability, and other post-high school options;
- Academic year internships with local organizations;
- Eight-week summer internship opportunities with area organizations; and
- Job skill training, including interview classes, resume and cover letter writing workshops, and time management support.
Hand (Artistic Expression) Components:
- Art classes with free field trips to the local art museums;
- Talks and workshops with professional artists, particularly local artists;
- Open mic nights and performances;
- Writing workshops, music lessons, and dance classes;
- Development of visual literacy skills through guided discussions;
- Drop-in studio space and a gallery space for display; and
- Community engagement with the arts.
Voice (Leadership Development, Social Justice, Service Learning) Components:
- Youth Board membership;
- Youth-led projects;
- Youth presence in community projects;
- Youth leadership training programs, i.e., public speaking, community mapping, meeting facilitation;
- Youth activism that identifies and addresses community needs;
- Service-learning opportunities;
- Speakers on key issues happening in the community; and
- A share event/open house with the larger community of the northern Berkshires.