Years ago as a teenager in Marshall, Missouri, Elaine Metcalf remembered wondering how she would ever make it through high school, much less college.
"You see, I wasn't identified or pegged to go to college," said Metcalf. "I never took any college prep courses and barely remember taking the ACT. It if weren't for the mentors in my life back then, I would have never made it through my formal education."
Fast forward to today, as Executive Director of Pro Deo Youth Center in Lee's Summit, Missouri, Metcalf says she can easily reflect on the lessons learned as part of an afterschool professionals team. Pro Deo Youth Center reaches teens where they are with what they need to survive life and to succeed at it.
"Even in our suburban community, local kids appeared to be falling through the cracks of society—how could that even happen?!" Metcalf said. "Our team strategizes on ways to engage the teens and to meet their individualized needs. We do this through constant communication and a belief in the vision of keeping the teen center alive and well in our caring community. Pro Deo Youth Center was formed because of the keen observations and caring hearts of a law enforcement officer and spouse in Lee's Summit."
What they noticed was a strong need in the community.
"Teens didn't have a safe place to hang out after school and on the weekends," Metcalf said. "Many of the teens had greater needs—they were hungry, depressed, suicidal, pregnant, struggling in school, abused, homeless and addicted. Pro Deo was established as a 501(3)(c) in 2010 to help meet these needs based on mentoring and building great relationships."
Since opening their doors as an afterschool summer program, Pro Deo increased afterschool programming to five days a week and served more than 1,200 teens during out-of-school time.
"We do all of this because the impact of our afterschool program matters; We do this because all teens matter," Metcalf said, explaining how research indicates that the specific benefits of an afterschool program, which is run with integrity and transparency, will impact the community as a whole. "Statistics show a reduction in the incidence of depression, a confirmation that demonstrates a reduction in the likelihood of dropping out of school and lower likelihood of skipping classes than peers who do not attend such programs."
Metcalf knows people may wonder why she chose to work in a nonprofit organization after retiring from public education.
"The answer is simply the teens at Pro Deo," she said. "The teens know it's okay to just be themselves, no matter their backgrounds, economic status or ethnicity. I know I could have used an afterschool program back in my high school days."
In talking with the other staff members and volunteers, Metcalf said you would easily hear similar stories of how each one connects with the teens in some way.
"I love what I do," Metcalf said. "I am inspired by the dedicated staff who work diligently to keep the teens safe, active and learning during non-school hours. I have worked with some great people over the years and I believe the staff a Pro Deo Youth Center is a group of top-notch dedicated professionals."
Though she was a long-time educator, Metcalf was new to the afterschool environment. She quickly learned she needed to connect with others doing similar work. That's where NAA came in.
"I was offered a free membership to get started," Metcalf said, noting she was impressed with a no-cost membership option. "That's how I survived as an educator and administrator. NAA is how I will survive as an afterschool professional. I upgraded my membership once I saw the benefit from the trial year."
Effective afterschool programs bring a wide range of benefits to youth, families and communities.
"Afterschool programs can boost academic performance, reduce risky behaviors, promote physical health, and provide a safe, structured environment for underserved youth," Metcalf said, noting that NAA provides the resources, tools and networking to allow her team to gain knowledge from others doing the same work. "The calendar of activities and programming meets the five pillars of effective out-of-school learning programs."
As Pro Deo's executive director, Metcalf wants to support the overarching goal by staying current in strategies specific to afterschool programs. She says that joining NAA has helped her professional efforts to lead her team effectively.
"Through knowledge from NAA resources, our team established measurable objectives to help us meet the mission of Pro Deo," said Metcalf. "It's prudent that staff members have access to resources and belong to a connected group of professionals."
To connect to more afterschool professionals around the country, upgrade to an Executive membership today. Look for more "Stories That Shape Us" experiences and perspectives in upcoming enewsletters.
Courtesy of NAA.
Photo courtesy of Elaine Metcalf.