Backstreet Beacons: Austin's Roving Leaders
AbstractAustin's Get R.E.A.L. (Recreation, Education, Activities, Leader) program has already made significant, positive impacts on youth in this rapidly growing south central Texas city of 3 50,000. Since February 1998, eight Roving Leaders (RLs) and their assistants have gone into the city's neighborhoods to work with kids who are particularly vulnerable to gangs, drugs, violence, and alcohol. Their overall goal is to be a beacon to guide kids into healthy lifestyles and help them make good choices for the future. The program's actual and potential value to the community is rooted in its success in turning youth away from crime, alcohol, drugs, gangs, and premarital sex and toward healthy, productive lives.Specific program goals and strategies for achieving those goals were profiled in the March 1999 issue of Parks and Recreation (Witt & Baker, 1999). The current paper presents evidence on whether stated goals are being achieved. The evaluation included tracking selected program participants and interviews with the Roving Leaders (RLs) and their supervisors.The program continues to achieve its ambitious goals with new and veteran participants. The RLs appear to be committed to their jobs and are proud of the results they are achieving. However, there have been instances in which goals have not been fully met with specific individuals. RLs recognize that participants are being pulled by numerous positive and negative forces, and what happens to them when they are not with the RLs cannot be fully controlled. RLs recognize that there will be occasional slips when participants revert back to behavior that they know is not acceptable for continued inclusion in the program. The RLs are also concerned about how their close relationship will influence the participants if the RL takes another job or reduces the time he or she spends with some participants in order to begin working with other participants. Other problems that the RLs have faced are issues having to do with there being too many potential program participants. RLs have also reported some difficulties with recreation center staff when they try to integrate their participants into center programs. In some cases, the recreation center staff are not prepared to give the level of individual attention to the "RL kids" in order to facilitate a smooth transition.While more RLs are necessary to reach other youth in the city, this type of work requires very special people. Roving Leaders must have the right motivation and personality to interact with and gain the respect of youth. They must be able to relate to youth of all ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities. They must also be comfortable working in potentially dangerous areas and be flexible in the hours they work.
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