by Caitlin Brown, Youth Support Network Manager
The past year has been rife with heartbreaking stories of the widespread, devastating impacts of COVID-19. Families, particularly in low-income communities of color, have experienced death, illness, eviction, homelessness, loss of employment, and hunger. Alexandria’s vulnerable youth have also been exposed to these distressing events, thus experiencing unprecedented childhood trauma.
With limitless creativity, courage, and commitment, youth-serving organizations reimagined programming by providing free and subsidized childcare, supporting students with distance learning, and pivoting educational programs to virtual formats. Despite harrowing circumstances, this citywide collaboration was a sterling example of community partnership. Recognizing the pandemic’s impact on youth, the critical work of youth-serving providers, and the desire to build upon existing collaboration, ACT for Alexandria partnered with the Frank & Betty Wright Foundation, Alexandria City Public Schools, the City of Alexandria, youth-serving community organizations, and other stakeholders to establish the Youth Support Network.
The Youth Support Network seeks to establish a collaborative educational ecosystem in Alexandria that will provide comprehensive assistance, professional development, and resources to programs serving youth in grades K-12. Network participants include a variety of community partners, such as nonprofits, libraries, museums, faith-based organizations, City government and the school system. The network includes programs that address a variety of interests – from sports, to STEM, to the arts. Programs involved in the Youth Support Network will maintain and create equitable opportunities for youth and deliver high-quality programming, while continually seeking to improve best practices and collaborate with others.
As the community continues to seek a “new normal,” the Youth Support Network is prioritizing the social-emotional wellbeing of Alexandria’s youth, as they recover from the traumas experienced during the pandemic. The Youth Support Network’s social-emotional learning initiative is designed for programs serving children in grades K-5 and the dedicated staff members supporting them. Social-emotional learning “is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions” (Collaborative for Social-Emotional Learning). The initiative will offer professional development opportunities to aid youth-serving providers in establishing positive developmental relationships with youth, centering holistic wellbeing and growth.
ACT’s hope is that the Youth Support Network will expand into a multi-year, multi-faceted initiative that will have a far-reaching impact on the educational, social-emotional, and career-readiness outcomes for Alexandria’s children and youth.