OST in Public Housing: Big Challenges, with Bigger Rewards

Expanded learning providers and coordinators are used to forging partnerships in their communities, but many have not considered the possibility of partnering with a local housing authority. As part of the growing trend to create self-sufficiency in public housing communities, developers are increasingly involved in the business of providing afterschool and summer options for children of residents, and with budget cuts, they are increasingly reliant on partnerships with outside organizations to fund and operate these programs.

Photo courtesy of Boys and Girls Clubs of Santa Monica.

Parachute games at Mar Vista Gardens. Photo courtesy of Boys and Girls Clubs of Santa Monica.

One such partnership exists between the Boys and Girls Clubs of Santa Monica and the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) at the Mar Vista Gardens public housing complex. The partnership was highlighted in a recent webinar from the Afterschool Alliance as an example of successful collaboration: before the Boys and Girls Clubs of Santa Monica opened a site in Mar Vista Gardens, only about 100 students from that community participated in its afterschool or summer programs. One year after bringing services into Mar Vista, though, over 600 Mar Vista youth (almost 100 percent) were regular participants in these programs.

Low median incomes, high crime rates, and relative geographic isolation are among the barriers students living in public housing face to accessing quality after-school programs. By bringing expanded learning opportunities into these communities, providers can serve many students in their target populations whom they previously could not reach. Proximity to home also makes it easier for parents to be engaged in the program. The Boys and Girls Clubs of Santa Monica found that the parents of students attending programs at the Mar Vista Gardens site were among the most involved compared to parents of students at other sites.

Making such a partnership successful, however, requires a good deal of research and planning at the outset. According to representatives from both HACLA and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Santa Monica, if residents had not supported the creation of an afterschool program in their community, trusted the individuals responsible for the program, and felt included by those in charge of planning and implementation, the proposed OST program would not have been able to thrive. Achieving community consensus on the project, in turn, required full commitment to shared goals by the housing authority and OST provider alike.

There are a number of factors unique to public housing communities that might affect the ability to build consensus, including informal structures of leadership and communication among the residents (including gang affiliation) and informal or unspoken rules regarding the use of recreational spaces. Cognizant of these potential hurdles, HACLA was committed to getting community input throughout the planning process. Both HACLA and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Santa Monica emphasized the importance of engaging residents at every step of the way—including selecting the organization that would ultimately fund and run the program, designing and scheduling activities, and recruiting staff members. In addition, Boys and Girls Clubs of Santa Monica attributed the success of its program in large part to the recruitment of an executive director who was confident and experienced at communicating with similar groups, including gang leaders, in other communities.

To learn more about the potential benefits and roadblocks associated with housing authority partnerships, view the recorded webinar and read the companion article on Afterschool Alliance’s blog, Afterschool Snack.

Has your organization partnered with a housing authority? Share your experience in the comments.

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