In 2005, the Washington County Community Foundation decided they would like to give a substantial grant to the county but were uncertain what issues the grant should work to address. As a result, the Foundation conducted a community needs assessment. When Washington County citizens were given the opportunity to express their opinions and concerns, two definite needs were identified, economic development and youth development.
The Foundation felt there were already various groups (local & county government, Washington County Economic Growth Partnership and the Washington County Chamber of Commerce) in place working to address economic development. The Foundation chose to focus their efforts on addressing the needs of youth development in Washington County.
As the Foundation began exploring this issue they quickly learned that youth development is a very broad topic; it could be substance abuse, self-esteem, early child obesity or academics and the list goes on an on. The one thing the board was certain of was their desire to help all kids in Washington County rather than focus on just one specific issue or “type of kid.” Armed with this information and with the support of the county, the Foundation began looking for a tool to address this growing need in a significant way. As the search for resources to address the need began, a Foundation board member learned about The SEARCH Institute and The 40 Developmental Assets.
The Search Institute is an institute based in Minnesota that is aimed at completing research on the healthy development of youth. They are subsequently the creators of The 40 Developmental Assets. Following extensive research and a presentation by the Indiana Youth Institute, the Foundation chose to adopt The 40 Assets as the approach to provide a solution for a significant problem: the weakening of a society by the lack of personal developmental character assets in the next generation of the community, our youth.
Once the Community Foundation made the commitment to focus their efforts on The 40 Assets, the next step in the process was to conduct an assessment of the youth through the Attitudes and Behaviors Survey created by The SEARCH Institute. In May of 2006, the survey was conducted among all three county schools, grades 6th through 12th (approximately 1500 students). The survey results identified the average youth in Washington County has 18.3 assets, less than half of the 40 assets. 61% of all the youth in the county, are considered at-risk or vulnerable based on their asset level. The realization of what our youth were telling us through the survey was a defining moment in our development. The Foundation knew at that moment that we, as a community, must begin the work of addressing this need in our youth. Equipped with this information, the Foundation board provided the seed funding to start the Washington County Youth Development Movement.
In February of 2007 a full-time employee was hired to lead the Washington County Youth Development Movement and an advisory council of various community citizens and leaders was organized to take this movement to the next level. Beth Armstrong, the Youth Development Coordinator, quickly learned that the Youth Movement needed to have a name and a face which could be identified in the community. The advisory council worked to identify the mission, goals and strategic plan of the organization. Armstrong worked with local high school students to hold a logo competition, inviting youth to design a logo for the Youth Movement. Out of these efforts Youth First of Washington County was born, with seed money from the Washington County Community Foundation. The program’s goal was to become self-sufficient as its own not-for-profit organization, or to determine an appropriate merger within the community to sustain its long term future.
In 2011, Youth First merged with the YMCA to best serve youth through their common commitments to youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility. This merger allowed for further utilization of Youth First’s mission, and the possibility to grow assets in our community more intentionally.
In Fall of 2013, Beth Armstrong decided to focus more on her family and business, passing the Youth First torch on to Rosie Morehous. Born and raised in Washington County, Rosie graduated from West Washington. She went on to obtain her B.A. in Psychology from IUS, and has over ten years of experience in working with Youth and Families. Rosie has a passion for serving Youth, and is driven to help those touching their lives.
In 2014, the merger was solidified by moving all Youth Development programming under the Youth First Umbrella. By infusing the principles of the 40 Developmental Assets into all Youth Development programming, the YMCA strives to impact all youth within our community.