VCU Community Engagement News

Center for Community Engagement and Impact

Part of the Center for Community Engagement and Impact’s Mary and Frances Youth Center, The Toolbox offers a comprehensive approach to professional development for youth-serving organizations.

By Jenny Pedraza

On Oct. 8, 17 professionals representing youth-serving organizations attended a virtual trauma-informed care training hosted by the Virginia Commonwealth University Mary and Frances Youth Center (MFYC). The training was offered through The Toolbox, a youth development training community launched by MFYC this June. MFYC is housed in the VCU Center for Community Engagement and Impact (CEI).

“With the stress of spending more time away from school, a global pandemic and a virtual learning environment, many students and families are struggling to cope,” said Charles Johnson, training and compliance manager in the MFYC. “We know that out-of-school-time (OST) providers are on the front lines in responding to the needs of students and families. They need the critical skills and knowledge to know how to support youth and families affected by trauma, as well as care for themselves.”

Keith Cartwright from the Virginia Department for Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, led the training, “Understanding the Impact of Adversity: Adverse Childhood Experiences (“ACEs”).” Participants learned about the impact ACEs have on neurodevelopment, which can lead to social, emotional and cognitive adaptations that create risk factors for major causes of disease, disability, social problems and early death. 

Another topic included the role core protective systems can play in overcoming potential threats and adversities in human development and how those working with youth can open pathways for communities to thrive.

OST providers from a variety of organizations attended the training, including ASK Childhood Cancer Foundation; ART 180; Girls for a Change; and MENTOR Virginia.  

Two staff members from Greater Richmond Fit4Kids, which works to improve children’s health and reduce the prevalence of childhood obesity in the Richmond region, attended the training.

Nan Peña, Game On, Girl! program coordinator for the organization, attended the training because she wanted to take a deeper dive into how ACEs can affect people’s behavior, and she wanted to learn more about teaching resiliency. Peña’s program at Fit4Kids aims to empower adolescent girls to be physically active and nutritionally fit. 

“We have to understand that each child’s individual experience in life is different,” Peña said. “For us to be able to properly serve them, we have to meet them where they are and be able to understand that there may be underlying reasons for how they respond to certain individuals and types of programs.”

Jasmine Barber, parent advocate for Greater Richmond Fit4Kids, works to empower parents to have a voice in advocating for health and wellness initiatives related to school nutrition, recess and access to green spaces. She attended the training to learn about how she can better support parents during these “traumatic socio-political times.”

“Change is up to us, and 1:1 connections are key in making a lasting impact for my families,” Barber said. “It is imperative for youth-serving professionals to have access to professional development like this because this training provides an encouraging perspective that valuing our youth’s unique stories and experiences is the foundation for creating meaningful and sustainable outcomes.”

The MFYC is a regional leader in university-community collaboration for positive youth development. The center has been providing training opportunities to area youth development professionals for the past 10 years, and is uniquely positioned to leverage the resources of VCU and the community to support quality improvement in the OST system.

The Toolbox brings together content experts in positive youth development to teach youth development professionals how to work with children and youth, build program management skills, and develop social and emotional learning skills.

The next Toolbox offering, “Family Engagement in Youth Programs,” is Dec. 2 from 9 to 11 a.m. In this Youth Development Network meeting, participants will learn how to incorporate the Developmental Relationships framework into their everyday work. Speakers will identify barriers to family engagement and highlight key shifts that organizations can utilize in their partnerships with families. The presentation will be co-led by Big Brothers Big Sisters Richmond and The Search Institute.    

For more information or to register for trainings, visit MFYC Toolbox.

Categories Mary and Frances Youth Center
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