National Seed Community: Orlando, FL
With the support of My Brother’s Keeper, Orlando Community and Youth Trust expanded its youth programming delivery from temporary Americorps Vista to two full-time staff members. A $1,000,000 investment by the city allowed it to expand its evidence-based mentoring program to four city neighborhoods, five middle schools, and seven recreation centers touching 450 youth in the past year.
MBK Coordinator Bobby Belton explained, “you can’t build capacity with people coming and going every two years.” With the stability of staffing, the initiative divided its focus between two areas. One effort would focus on building the community collaborations that make effective programming possible. The other creates the necessary programming to support young men of color in the schools and neighborhoods.
“We want to be the people to fall back on,” reflected Director of MBK Orlando Abe Morris. “We’re creating a holistic approach to make sure all the needs of the youth are met and to see the community rise as a whole… If you’re behind the eight ball in the equity conversation, you’re not thinking about what you’re doing after you graduate. You’re just hoping you graduate.”
To make graduation more likely and to identify community needs, the staff of Orlando Community and Youth Trust built a three tiered listening approach. In addition to available data, it adds direct community input, observations from partners at neighborhood-serving organizations, and policy and system-wide insights from city and County leadership.
By forming deep connection with the youth participants and accessing information from multiple sources, the team designed a playbook for individuals and groups where Monday and Wednesday are individual one-on-one meetings, Tuesday and Thursday are group-based discussions, and Friday programming gives youth something to start the weekend off right with informative trainings or creative and fun activities. Especially during the isolation of the pandemic and the volatility of the 2020 uprisings, this virtual “Barbershop experience” is credited with reinforcing essential coping skills not just for direct participants but indirectly for all household members who may have been exposed to programming due to tight quarters and virtual sessions.
The 36-week curriculum is focused on four core questions:
Through My Brother’s Keeper, advocates and staff gained access to a community of practice that exposed them to others who are tackling similar problems and to whom they could share both the successes and the challenges of the unique work of supporting young Black men and men of color in target neighborhoods. While the experience of being connected to a national network of practitioners was enriching for the staff who directly participated, they focused on transferring the lesson such exposure provided and systematizing curriculum development, solid staffing structures, and deepend community relationships.
Morris concludes, “Nothing is bigger than the system you create. When the sun sets on your time, it will be what’s left for the next person to jump in to.”