January 13, 2006 | By: Terri McLean

Much like the hard-working locomotive of storybook fame, a yearly $220,000 grant awarded the University of Kentucky’s 4-H Youth Development program might well be considered the little grant that could.

In just two short years, the funding – modest by most accounts – has become a driving force behind a statewide push to coordinate and improve youth development services for Kentuckians ages 8 to 24. 

“For a small grant, this is making an impact,” said T.J. Delahanty, Extension 4-H associate and principal investigator of the five-year grant from the U.S. Department for Health and Human Services, Family Youth Services Bureau.

First awarded in 2003, the grant provides a financial boost to an already well-established effort to make fundamental changes in the area of youth development in Kentucky, Delahanty said. That effort is known as the Kentucky Youth Development Partnership, a project of UK Cooperative Extension Service and 25 partners from across the state.

The partnership’s goal was – and is – to encourage youth service organizations to work together to promote positive youth development. “Together, we can do so much better,” Delahanty said. 

But its underlying mission is to change the perception that young people are not “problems that need to be fixed” and focus efforts instead on providing resources and opportunities to help them be healthy and successful, he added. 

“Too many times we try to fix problems without trying to address the needs of the young person. The more opportunities and the more connections they have, the less trouble they get into and the more likely they are to succeed,” Delahanty said.

With the grant funding, although just $120,000 the first year, that push to move youth service in a more positive direction has been a little easier, Delahanty said. What’s more, it gives the partnership “leverage” to get additional funding. “We’ve practically doubled our money in terms of the grant,” he said.

One of the most practical uses for the grant was funding of the Kentucky Youth Policy Assessment, which for the first time provided a comprehensive look at the resources and services available for Kentucky’s young people. 

“The most striking thing is they identified 101 statewide programs – programs outside of the classroom … both public agencies and private nonprofit agencies. And their budget for the fiscal year was $1.4 billion,” Delahanty said.

That commitment of both tax and personal dollars makes it imperative that all youth development programs “perform at the highest possible level,” he said. “Now, using that information, we can develop a coordinated, comprehensive approach to using the resources we already have in the most effective way possible.”

The assessment also gave the Kentucky Youth Development Partnership the opportunity to take their work to the next level – the Kentucky legislature. The partnership has drafted the “Kentucky Positive Youth Development Coordination Act.” It is loosely based on the federal Youth Coordination Act that has been introduced in the U.S. Senate. 

“Our legislation is a direct result of this grant,” Delahanty said. 

The partnership would like to see the legislation introduced during the current legislative session. If it becomes law, it would create the Kentucky Youth Development Coordinating Council to plan, coordinate and assess youth development services throughout the state.

“Kentucky’s policymakers and program providers face an important opportunity of their own: to take the lead in developing a comprehensive approach to youth development that lets us use the resources we already have in the most effective way,” he said.

With or without the legislation, however, Delahanty plans to continue taking a leadership role through both 4-H and the Kentucky Youth Development Partnership in promoting positive youth development. 

“The purpose is to promote this idea that youth development, collaboration and coordination is going to help us achieve better results for young people. That’s the bottom line,” he said.