In the spring of 2017, SPARK, in partnership with the University of Minnesota Extension hired an Itasca County Community Engagement Coordinator. The goal of this position was to utilize the University of Minnesota Extension resources to directly address youth needs in Itasca County. The position was a major action step for SPARK. According to Courtney Johnson, Itasca County Community Engagement Coordinator “I have the best of both worlds. I program directly with youth and support professionals who do youth work. I get to see change and action every day in the community.”
Johnson currently leads programming with youth grades 7-12 at Northern Lights Community School in Warba and the Grand Rapids Area Learning Center. The focus of programming stems from the 2014 Youth Voice Survey data. Together with Johnson, youth build their skills in communication, teamwork and leadership while creating positive relationships with community adults.
Johnson also provides support to Itasca Networks for Youth (INY). This network of afterschool and out-of-school time providers gather monthly to share resources, receive professional development and collaborate to offer high quality youth programming across Itasca County. Johnson aids the group in ensuring high quality programs by conducting Youth Program Quality Assessments (YPQA) for each partner. This process supports each provider along with the collective group. Data collected network wide helps guide future trainings.
Rebecca Rasmussen, 4-H Program Coordinator- Itasca County, says, “As a result from our participation in INY, we revised our Deer River afterschool program with the goal of building stronger youth/adult connections. We did this by altering the time frame spent with each group, changing two groups that each met for one hour three times per month into one group that meets for two hours, three times per month for seven weeks. This allows us to build stronger youth/adult connections and provide more in-depth learning opportunities.”