If the government gridlock in Washington is giving you battle fatigue, here’s a positive counterpoint from Westchester that might revive you a bit. Recently, the Westchester County Youth Bureau released Request for Proposals, the result of an unusual partnership between the county administration, Board of Legislators, youth service providers and child advocates. The RFP reflects a new style of public grant-making that involves broad-based input, collaboration and respect among community members, government and nonprofit groups, each with its own needs, constraints, agendas, and political views. The one, overriding factor was that we shared a common goal — to do what’s best for Westchester’s kids — and we focused on that, rather than on our differences.
The need for a new, more efficient process became evident in 2014, when annual funding for local youth programs was delayed due to procedural snags at the County. By the time funding decisions were announced, some programs had been forced to lay off staff and limit, or even cancel, much-needed youth services-leaving some families in a lurch. There had to be a better way.
In response to recommendations developed by the Campaign for Kids, a coalition of youth service providers and advocates chaired by Westchester Children’s Association, the County Executive asked WCA to lead a task force to overhaul the funding process.
Over the next two years, representatives of the Youth Bureau, the Board of Legislators, community youth programs, child advocates, and interested community members worked diligently to identify clear priorities for youth program funding, based on best practices in youth development. They then designed a selection process that is more transparent and accountable. In addition to a revamped application document, the new process also includes the opportunity for selected community members to participate in reviewing and evaluating applications.
While not everyone got everything they wanted, collectively we were able to push the needle forward. This improved the funding process and benefited everyone, from the kids and their families, to the service providers, to the taxpayers. With transparency and good will (and, OK, with a lot of patience, too) it really is possible to get a win-win. We hope the folks in Washington will try it sometime.