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Strategic Planning and the Holyoke Youth Task Force

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This January, the Holyoke Youth Task Force began a process of strategic planning to map out our next five years of work. Our strategic planning committee includes representatives from many different organizations in Holyoke, several youth representatives of current programs, city and police department representatives and others. Each month we meet to examine the HYTF’s position in the community, our goals and direction for the future, and the best methodology for getting there. This process will culminate in two city-wide summits, one for youth and another for adults, to frame the direction and purpose of the HYTF’s next stage of growth.

One of the youth members of the committee is Anysha Diaz, who is representing the Holyoke Youth Commission. Anysha and I sat down to interview each other about how the process of Strategic Planning has been so far and what our hopes are for the future.

Anysha: What do you think can be accomplished with the strategic planning meetings?

Leah: So much! I think that we will accomplish a solid vision and plan for the next five years. We are at a huge turning point with our funding and our fiscal agency relationship with Girls Incorporated, and it is time to use this moment of change to propel ourselves to the next level. Because of the many different people on the team, I see that we will really be able to get some direction from our coalition partners of how we can best serve them. I want to see milestones and clear direction on the issues and focus of our work. And I want to hear from the youth members on the team about what you want to change and where you want to go. We will leave this process with a solid plan for the next five years, and be able to know whether or not we are being successful along the way.

Leah:  Why do you think it’s good to have a strategic planning process that involves so many different community members and youth?

Anysha:  It’s important to have different community members and youth at the strategic planning meetings because then you get more input from a larger variety of people. This is because you can get feedback from what youth think in Holyoke, not just the adults. Therefore the youth can have an insight and input towards the topic discussed at the meetings. It is also good to have different community members because you get different ideas.

Anysha: Why do you think the Holyoke Youth Task Force is important?

Leah: A few weeks ago,  we were able to have Enlace De Familias Executive Director Betty Medina-Lichtenstein come and give a talk to our strategic planning group, and she gave this remarkable overview of the founding of the HYTF that none of us knew. In the late 1990’s, a group came together to really take action to support youth inHolyoke. In the beginning, everyone volunteered, and this dedicated group was able to find funding and other support to really make the HYTF a solid, working entity. I think that story in itself is a testament to how important it is to have a platform for youth voice and youth relationship with the City, as well as to have a support mechanism for adult youth workers to come together and increase opportunities and safe spaces for young people. The origins of the HYTF were truly grassroots, and represented a need that this community saw to amplify youth voices. That need hasn’t gone away!

Leah:   What are some of your biggest hopes for how the Holyoke Youth Task Force can grow and get better from this strategic planning process?

Anysha: My biggest hopes for the HYTF to grow I think is to first advertise themselves so that way more people know who they are and the work they do that helps Holyoke youth in great ways, so that they can be around for a while and not die off. So the hope is to get more recognition there for to some day be a bigger part and do more things in Holyoke.

Anysha:  Do you think there is anything that the Holyoke Youth Task Force should change in order to grow and become better?

Leah: I think there are always things an organization can do to grow, and that we are no different. That is the thing that is so great to me about strategic planning, since it is that time to really look at things and identify what is or isn’t working. One thing that has emerged really clearly to me (and you too, apparently!) is that we need to become better at talking to other people—youth and adults—about what we do and what we can provide for them. At the same time, we need to increase our offerings to our coalition partners. I want to see us as a go-to resource for professional development opportunities and support for all the youth-serving agencies in Holyoke, and that’s one part program and another part marketing. Finally, and most importantly, we need to do the same thing with the youth in our programs; we need to provide clear opportunities for leadership as well as the training and oversight to support that leadership. I think we are on our way!

Leah:  What have you learned about the Holyoke Youth Task Force that you didn’t know before being part of this committee?

Anysha: What I learned about Holyoke Youth Task Force that I didn’t know before being a part of this committee is that they are a not their own fiscal agent but that Girls Inc. is theirs. And that Girls Inc. oversees everything and gets percentages from whatever grants the Task Force gets to do this. Which isn’t always the best thing, but it is very hard to become your own agent [i.e. becoming a 501c.3 organization] and there is a long process to do so. Also, there are reasons that the Task Force needs to represent a lot of other groups and not be their own fiscal agent.

Anysha:  What do you think can be the biggest accomplishment by the Holyoke Youth Task Force or is the biggest accomplishment they have done?

Leah: I think the Youth Commission’s role is an incredible thing. It’s an enormous responsibility to represent the youth of Holyoke, and to have the ear and support of the City of Holyoke for your projects. I think the potential there is unlimited, and I am looking forward to the strategic planning process to define these roles and firm up our ability to do this work. I also think that, on the youth worker side of things, the HYTF as a coalition is really fantastic. The fact that every third Thursday of each month we are able to bring together so many amazing people to find opportunities to collaborate in support of Holyoke youth, that is just incredible.

Thanks for chatting, Anysha!

The Holyoke Youth Task Force strategic planning process is open to anyone in our community. We utilize online project management software so that all of our notes, discussions and decision-making can be visible to anyone who would like to participate or offer a comment. If you would like to join in, send an email to Leah@youthtaskforce.org to receive the log-in information to our strategic planning site. Stay tuned to our social networking pages and this blog for announcements of our upcoming youth and adult summits. We look forward to engaging event further with our community!