Reflections from the Frontline: Learning the Tricks of the Trade in Evaluating a Unique Youth Program
by Carly Beneteau
Youth Programs Coordinator, Youth Opportunities Unlimited
YouthREX Online Evaluation Certificate Learner
One of the many things that makes Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU) in London unique is the fact that we own and operate Social Enterprise businesses. What that means is that we own and operate businesses that provide training and hands-on skills through employing young people, while also selling products and providing services that, in turn, support more programs and services for youth. We have a café, a woodshop, a recycling centre, retail sales, and a food production facility.
Most job openings want you to have experience – but how do you get experience if you have no work experience? Through our Social Enterprise programs, we are able to act as the training ground for young people – all while providing them with a safe space to try, learn, grow, and possibly fail.
I highlight this part of YOU because this is a program that can be tough to evaluate! Funders want to know how many weeks of training youth completed or whether they obtained a job afterwards. However, an important measure we value is the growth and development we see in the young people while we are working alongside them. The accomplishments of a youth being able to talk with a customer while they are struggling with social anxiety, or for a youth to be consistently on time to a jobsite that week – these are paramount successes that remain challenging to measure and report on.
Completing YouthREX’s Online Evaluation Certificate: Program Evaluation for Youth Wellbeing reinforced the importance of including youth in our evaluation processes in a meaningful way, so they can recognize their own development while helping to capture those intangible accomplishments to share them with our stakeholders!
One way we have been able to involve youth in our program evaluation to date is to have youth attend (if possible) whenever YOU is asked to give a presentation about what we do. Staff work with youth before, during, and after the event to ensure that the youth is supported and understands the value and purpose of their contribution. For example, we hold monthly dinner clubs at our café and current youth are invited to share a few words about their experiences with guests. In addition, we also hold an annual breakfast fundraiser where we invite a past youth participant to be our keynote speaker. It is truly an inspiring event where a youth describes their journey and what YOU means to them.
Carly Beneteau has been employed with Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU) for six years, but has technically been with the organization for seven, as she actually started at YOU as a placement student. She is a big proponent of experiential learning. Her current role is Youth Programs Coordinator, which means she tracks program budgets, helps prepare various reports, problem solves for youth in programming, and is a general go-to person if staff have questions. Her work is something different every day – from administering surveys to youth to testing their client tracking software to ensure processes make sense. “It’s ever changing!” Carly explains. “I think that’s what also makes the work we do with youth so interesting and exciting – they are always changing, too!”