Two Wheels are Better Than One: Increasing the Impact of Afterschool Programs

Two Wheel View in Calgary is not your ordinary bike shop. Its purpose is to provide youth development programs that use the bicycle as a tool to build resiliency in young people. In operation since 2000, Two Wheel View had reached many young people through its ten-week after school programs. But it wanted to go deeper and longer. Many organizations working with vulnerable youth know that after school programming is critical to their development. In Calgary in 2014, after school programs were at capacity and with few if any open spaces, the existing programs were struggling to reach the most vulnerable.

Stronger Together

Several funding organizations in Calgary wanted to address the issue of how to support more of these youth. The Burns Memorial Fund took the lead in bringing them together. Convening community leaders is a key strategy of the Burns Fund, a private foundation that invests in education, health and well-being to build a strong community for children and youth in Calgary.

Burns began to work with United Way Calgary, the City of Calgary, Calgary Foundation and RBC Foundation and others in a Collaborative Funders’ Table to pool their resources, working and learning together rather than each creating their own approach to solving the issue. “We truly started this as an experiment, trying to answer two key questions at the same time,” says Michelle Clarke, Executive Director of Burns Memorial Fund. “Could we increase the engagement of vulnerable youth in meaningful out-of-school programs?  And could we come up with a better way of working together to invest our funds in the community?  Could we, as funders, model the kind of strong, effective collaboration we are always asking our grantees to implement?”

Their investment framework included four anticipated outcomes:

  1. Increase the participation of Calgary’s vulnerable youth;
  2. Improve participants’ social and emotional development;
  3. Build capacity of smaller organizations to deliver programs; and
  4. Develop a model for collaboratively funding these programs.

Through a collaborative selection process, the Table chose five organizations to support through funding, and training so that together they could experiment and learn new ways to engage young people during out-of-school hours. The Table provided learning opportunities for organizations, including training on effective strategies to incorporate social and emotional learning into their programming. The organizations not only received support but also played an active role in advising the Table. They provided feedback and suggestions to the Table and to their peers, contributing for example to the Table’s evaluation process so that it measured the impact of the programs in useful ways for everyone involved.  Together, this collaboration influenced out-of-school programming across Calgary. These organizations were able to share unique approaches and activities, such as the bicycle repair program at Two Wheel View, that positively engage young people.

Enhanced Impact

Two Wheel View was one of the five organizations supported initially by the Table. Participating with the Table, it was able to identify three social and emotional learning domains it wanted to focus on in its programming: empathy and identity, teamwork and problem solving.

Each of the sessions at Two Wheel View starts and ends with a circle. It’s a chance for each participant to be seen and heard. They check in with each other and share what is on their mind. Using a strengths-based approach, instructors ask, “what is your super power?” or “what makes you, you?”. This creates an opportunity for everyone to share what is on their mind, reflect on their own identity, and develop compassion for other people, building empathy and a sense of belonging. From there, participants learn about the mechanics of bikes and take components of a bike apart and reassemble and repair them together, building their teamwork and problem-solving skills. These activities were not new for Two Wheel View, but the Collaborative Funders’ Table training helped refine the connection between the activities and the three social and emotional domains.

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The Table’s support allowed Two Wheel View to offer a longer programming opportunity for youth. In addition to their 10-week afterschool program, Two Wheel View wanted to “increase the dosage” and offer a program for the entire school year. Every Thursday, fifteen youth come together to build a bike from scratch. Executive Director Laura Istead says the program allows more time to build trust and invest in the relationship, important factors for engaging harder-to-reach youth. They are seeing great results. “Many of the youth would come every day if they could”, says Istead. Some participants take a 45-minute train just to be there every week.

The Collaborative Funders’ Table has distributed $720,000 to five unique programs supporting social and emotional learning, reaching more than 300 vulnerable youth. Even more exciting, is that sixty percent (60%) of these youth had never previously participated in any kind of out-of-school programming. According to a 2018 evaluation, results show “youth answering positively to questions related to self-esteem, confidence and identity. Some have developed a new technical skill or knowledge; modified negative behaviours and made friends. Although it is difficult to make a direct link between these changes and their involvement in the programming, qualitative answers suggest that the programing is contributing to positive change among youth participants.”

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Shared Learning: A By-Product of Collaboration

The collaborative approach reaped many benefits for the funders. Through collaboration they could share risk, try new things and learn together. “The learning and benefit for our Collaborative Funders’ Table was immense.” says Michelle Clarke. “Working together, we made better granting decisions, leveraged our funds more effectively, reduced risk and developed strong, new relationships.  At the end of the three years, no one wanted to leave the Table!  Now, we have the confidence that we can work together to tackle even tougher social issues.”

By bringing others together, working and learning across the City’s afterschool ecosystem, the programs are reaching and supporting more youth at a crucial time in their development. The collaborative approach ensured that the whole system learned, not just not one individual after-school program. The Collaborative Funders’ Table is wrapping up its three-year commitment to support out-of-school programming for youth, but this isn’t the end of the collaboration. The approach was so successful that the original partners have agreed to embark on Collaborative Funders’ Table 2.0, and design and pilot programming to increase employment among vulnerable youth.

One of the objectives of the Collaborative Funders’ Table is to share what they have learned with grantmakers across the country.  A learning brief, which documents the successes and challenges of the collaborative funding process, is available for free download.

“Working together, we made better granting decisions, leveraged our funds more effectively, reduced risk and developed strong, new relationships.”

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