Tonight I attended the OSI Baltimore event How One Program is Keeping Kids in the Community and Out of the Justice System. The event was held at Taharka Brothers Ice Cream Factory. LaMar Davis, Director of The Choice Program was speaking with several of his students. It was a nice event. Food was provided by the Dogwood Restaurant, there was ice cream, of course and a good crowd. 

The beginning of the evening allowed folks to mingle and interact and there were lots of great people to talk to. At some point upon hearing that I work with Baltimore Clayworks, someone said something about Measuring Joy, an evaluation model that our Founding Director, Deborah Bedwell published about. I mention this passing comment because I think that having had evaluation models mentioned to me brought it to the forefront of my mind during the presentation. For myself as a community artist and educator the question has always been how do I express to others what I see in my students when they create something that they are proud of. Measuring Joy is a useful tool in this and as I watched the presentation, I began to realize that this speaking engagement was another.

Diana Morris, Director of OSI Baltimore introduced the program. She spoke about the social justice mission of Taharka Brothers and why we were in their space, she introduced LaMar Davis and then turned the mic over to him. Davis spoke about his experiences as a young man, what brought him to this work, how The Choice Program is structured and then introduced three of his students. These three young men each spoke about what they were doing before they were enrolled in the program, their experience in the program, what they were doing now and then took questions from the audience.

As I sat there and watched these three young men speak confidently about themselves and their experiences, I realized that this was the measure of youth programs. We cannot evaluate our young people based on numbers and statistics, it is in interactions that we can see what our young people really are. It is the people that stand in front of us that we should be basing our evaluation on. This evaluation model then is about them. It must be about how they feel about themselves, how they present themselves and how they interact with others. These three young men reflected honestly on their experiences, each expressing at one point or another how they had to realize that it was up to them, whether or not they wanted to help themselves. The Choice Program provided them with the support necessary to be able to see their options and make decisions accordingly. It then provided them the opportunity to speak about their experiences in another supportive environment.

When asked by an audience member what they would do if they were the mayor of Baltimore without hesitation one young man answered create more jobs for youth, another said do more for youth, create more opportunities for them so that there is a structure for them to be successful. He said, "If we don't have a strong structure who knows what the future will bring." The third young man said that he would open more rec centers. Another question was posed about whether the young men felt responsible for the other youth in their communities and how they addressed this. The sentiment was about representing options. One young man said that he tried to let people know, know that they could be better, that it was possible. Another recited a quote that he couldn't remember the author of, but was eloquent nonetheless "To whom much is given, much is expected."

From what I learned about The Choice Program tonight, it seems to give its students quite a bit. They are given support, additional caring adults in their lives, and visible choices. And from what I saw of the young men who have and are going through the program, something good is happening there. They are not only given the things just mentioned, but also expected to be a part of their own success and then use that success to encourage and support others.

These are the questions that we should be asking in evaluating youth programs. How do the young people feel about themselves? What stories are they telling about their lives and how do they advocate for themselves? What responsibility do they take for themselves and others? How are they growing into active, productive members of our society in whatever path they are choosing to take?

I had heard of The Choice Program before today, but I did not know too much about it. I knew that I liked the name because there is always a choice and this needs to be acknowledged. We can choose to do negative and destructive things and often it is the only choice that people can see, which is why structure is so important. The young men also voiced a list of things that they thought most important in the program. This list seems like the framework to set up a structure for success, not only in youth programs, but in all of our lives. These things are:


I will add: Joy, Love, Care, Vision and Voice

These were all visible tonight.