Connecting with the community is the heart of being an enrichment leader in the after school space. After all, the community feeds the quality and success of your enrichment programs.
We talked with a handful of enrichment leaders to uncover best practices for meeting their community’s needs and why it’s essential work. Through customer research or forming organizational partnerships, there are multiple ways enrichment programs can connect with those who matter most.
Identify Current Customers and Discover Who’s Underrepresented
Every season, it's crucial for enrichment leaders to examine who is participating in their programs. This exercise helps you identify who you are serving on a routine basis. More importantly, this work might reveal groups or individuals underserved by your enrichment program.
If you determine there are such groups, carve out a plan to connect with them. Luckily, most communities are fortunate to have wonderful organizations dedicated to representing minority and underserved communities. Seek them out! Research local organizations, like United Way or your area’s Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Partnering with organizations like these gets you directly in touch with the groups of people you may be hoping to serve better.
Minimize Barriers to Entry to Your Program
The next step in meeting your community’s needs is identifying why your programs aren’t serving certain groups. Here are some common barriers to entry for enrichment programs:
Even for local families, some may still not have access to enroll in courses simply because they don’t have a ride. Consider asking your families if and how transportation is a barrier for them so you can find the best ways to address it.
Internet Access and Other Technologies
Technology is everywhere, but not everyone has access to it. Consider how you use technology when looking for ways to improve your program. Then ask yourself, ‘how can I make this more inclusive to people without access to those technologies?’ Your answer will look different depending on the nature of your program and who you’re looking to serve.
Course Selections for Your Program
There may be an opportunity for you to expand the actual courses you offer so they are accessible to a broader range of students. For example, do you offer any courses in multiple languages? If not, consider how language affects the accessibility of your program and how you can accommodate a variety of people in your community. A solution could be anything from offering courses that teach a new language or offering current courses in more than one language.
Explore Partnering with Community Colleges When Possible
There is tons of talent at your local community colleges — all you have to do is tap into it! By forging partnerships with local institutions, you can unlock access to resources in potential instructors, facilities, technology, resources, and community college spaces. Once you build a relationship with a community college, you can explore additional ways to make the partnership mutually beneficial depending on your program’s needs.
Leverage Digital Opportunities — An Accessible Program is a Better Program
Whether you’ve been leveraging digital opportunities for your program for a long time or are interested in exploring new ones, it’s essential to know the value of digital tools in the after school and enrichment sector.
Utilizing an online, mobile-friendly platform for your program's registration and payment processing needs increases accessibility to your community. It can unlock tools and capabilities to enhance your program in many ways!
With digital capabilities, you can have real-time data at your fingertips to determine your program’s family and student demographics, course attendance, revenue projections, and much more. You can use this data to understand the success of your programs and, in turn, make necessary changes to create a more accessible program for your community.
If you’re already using a digital platform, that’s great! Make sure you explore all aspects of the technology and don’t miss essential tools or capabilities.
Increasing Program Inclusivity and Accessibility Goes Beyond Good Business
There are many ways to improve the accessibility and reach of your program. All of which will take time and investment. However, it’s worth it in the long run.
An inclusive enrichment program gets at the heart of what community education is. What would a great enrichment program be without listening to and meeting the needs of the community? As an enrichment leader, feel empowered to approach the upcoming school year with fresh ideas for community enrichment!