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Model Communities Program: Marketing Success

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 20, 1996 – DoD got the ball rolling; now it's up to local military communities to keep their youth programs going by proving they make a difference.

"The deal was, we would provide three years of funding, technical assistance and all the support we could give," said Carolyn Becraft, deputy assistant secretary of defense for personnel support, families and education. "In return, [program managers] would provide data so we could determine what works and what doesn't work."

Two years ago, DoD ran a Model Communities for Families and Children contest. The prize was a share of $6.4 million. To win, military community officials proposed programs to help combat gang violence, teen pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse and other problems affecting young people.

DoD officials selected 20 of the 134 proposals submitted. Winners ranged from a teen crisis center in Stuttgart, Germany, to a youth employment preparation program at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. Part of the goal was to design programs to deal with teen issues in collaboration with civilian community organizations and such established youth groups as the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

About 50 officials from the winning programs gave project updates and talked about lessons learned at a technical assistance seminar recently in Arlington, Va. Becraft and other DoD policy officials taught program managers how to keep their programs going after the DoD money runs out.

Local youth program officials need to gain financial support from commanders and community leaders by demonstrating the value of their programs. "We guaranteed you three years of funding," Becraft told the group. "To sustain these programs, you need to be able to market them. You need to find additional funding.

"The question then becomes, 'How do you organize community support?'" Becraft said. "How do you document what you want to do? The procedures you all used to get this pot of money are the same procedures you can use to fight for installation money." With ever-declining resources, she said, local officials must get smart as they all fight for programs.

The technical assistance seminar focused on learning to evaluate and measure outcome to be able to market their programs. "Outcome is more than saying 'We served 400 people this month,'" Becraft said. "Outcome is saying 'We had 121 [police] blotter reports for indiscipline among our teen-age population; that has dropped to two.' That's outcome. That's sellable."

Some commanders have already put more money into the Model Communities programs because they're so good, Becraft said. Some commanders have helped youth program officials make presentations to local councils to continue the funding. The fact that local installations, Rotary clubs and school boards contribute to these programs shows there are alternative funding sources available, she said.

Many original proposals DoD did not select were later funded by the installations themselves, Becraft said. Many Air Force bases, for example, got funding from the Air Force Aid Society.

Collaborating with as many outside agencies as possible is important, according to Becraft, because everyone then has a vested interest in seeing programs succeed. "Successful programs don't get killed," she said. "People try their darnedest to keep them going."

So far, there have been some outstanding successes, Becraft said. The governor of Arizona, for example, recognized The Law Enforcement Cadet Program at U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground. Program officials report the program for juvenile offenders has decreased incidents of juvenile misconduct from 92 in fiscal 1993 to seven cases to date for fiscal 1996.

The queen of Belgium visited the International Model Youth Program at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, where youth and adults from 20 NATO and Partnership for Peace nations participate. The program offers youth sponsorship and cultural awareness activities, and encourages interaction among the diverse, multinational communities.

The programs are test models to see what works and what doesn't work, said Anne Tarzier, a family support specialist in DoD's Office of Family Policy. The movie maxim "Build it and they will come" is not necessarily true for teen-agers, she said. Officials need to reach out to them.

"There is no shame and no reason not to share all of the lessons learned," Tarzier said. Looking at the programs objectively and finding something doesn't work is also valuable. "It's very hard to step back and say 'Maybe this program doesn't need to continue in it's present form. Maybe we need to turn left or turn right, or maybe we need to turn around.'"

Local programs will give DoD proven, exportable solutions, Tarzier said. "We can see things that operate and how they operate." Grassroots solutions to local issues rather than "top-down" directives are at the heart of the Model Communities program, she said.

In the past, military youth programs were primarily sports or child-care oriented, Becraft said. Model Communities programs have expanded to include programs designed to help young people with homework and to build academic skills. Other programs set up meaningful work-study projects. Many involve helping teens prepare for and find employment. Some have actually developed businesses to employ teens. Many involve computer training.

Becraft said some communities have identified a need to deal with teens' emotional problems. Sponsorship programs, crisis centers and telephone hotlines help teens cope with the difficult aspects of military life such as frequent moves and military parents' deployments. Other programs aim at building confidence through rock-climbing and desert survivor training.

Becraft strongly encouraged sharing ideas and information among the model programs. DoD is helping the cross-service contact by distributing a booklet with vignettes of the 134 proposals submitted to installation family and youth program directors throughout DoD.

After visiting many stateside and overseas programs, Becraft attests to their effectiveness. "I know there are parents out there who say 'Thank you. You've really helped.' I know there are communities out there who are really wrestling with the problems of youth indiscipline, and the amount of blotter reports have gone down dramatically. I know there are kids out there who have better study skills."

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