Some of my greatest childhood memories came between 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Growing up with a busy single mother, and eventually a blended family of six, I had my fair share of afterschool experiences in different settings.
One of my earliest memories was at Woolfolk Boys & Girls Club in Atlanta, Georgia. I vividly remember the "Coat Room," where every member piled their coats on the floor when they arrived. Leaving with your original jacket at age 6 was an adventure.
Yet that's not what I remember most about the club.
I remember our Learning Center Instructor. A retired school teacher, Mrs. Thornton started the "Honors Club" for members on Honor Roll. I still cherish the trip we took to a local senior citizen home, where I first learned the value of service in my community.
When my mother remarried, we moved to a new neighborhood where I was a latchkey kid and experienced the joy of watching TV after homework (mostly Jerry Springer and Ricki Lake) and playing outside with friends. Eventually, I joined the afterschool program at my middle school. It was then that I connected with staff who helped foster my interest in football, leading to varsity football afterschool in high school and eventually a partial college scholarship.
Looking back, I realize how lucky I was to be in programs with adults who seemed to have the "magic sauce" when it came to youth work. I imagine that back then, you either had it or you didn't. There wasn't much in between and weren't many formal opportunities to develop your skillset.
I'm happy to say that as a youth development professional, I've seen this field grow immensely. No longer do we shout, "MAGIC SAUCE!" when we see quality youth programming. Now, we shout, "SCIENCE SAUCE!" Core knowledge and competencies for afterschool and youth development professionals—and afterschool program quality—are defined and assessed, and can be significantly improved upon.
We are in a time where history is happening before our eyes. Now, more than ever, the youth development field is being lifted to new heights.
It's no longer the norm that college graduates accidently stumble into this profession. You can get a degree in youth development! Skills for youth workers at all levels are sharpened everyday with unique learning events, such as the NAA Annual Convention. We are seeing innovative tools of practice emerge, such as Boys & Girls Clubs of America's YDToolbox App for frontline staff, connecting innovative technology and youth development.
As we look to the future of youth development, considering the impact of government support is vital. With drastic decreases in government funding for afterschool programs, grassroots fundraising and community partnerships will be more significant than ever. It will be up to us—youth development professionals in practice—to continue to elevate our field and show the world the importance of investing in our youth.
That starts with investing in us.
Issa Prescott, Director of Youth Development & Outcomes, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, National Headquarters. This article originally appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of AfterSchool Today, the official publication of the National AfterSchool Association.