Summer 1990 // Volume 28 // Number 2 // Feature Articles // 2FEA3

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An Inner-City Harvest


Julie Camp Adamcin
Extension Agent, 4-H
Pima County Extension
University of Arizona-Tucson

In agricultural terms, youth development in the city of South Tucson has been like a field gone fallow. Each year, youth agencies had tried to organize clubs, youth groups, and troops, and had met with little success. The rocks and weeds were there, in the form of apathy, but few resources and even fewer volunteers existed. A couple of years ago, it was easier to simply document effort and then go on to other areas where the ground was more fertile and services would be more easily accepted.

South Tucson is a one-square-mile incorporated city within the larger city of Tucson. About 6,500 people, three-fourths of whom are either Hispanic or Native American, live in this area. The mean household income for this area is $7,265-about half of the mean household income for Tucson.1 Because statistics for dropout rates aren't kept for pre-high school age groups, and because many of these students never make it to high school to be counted in these figures, it's impossible to make meaningful estimates of dropout rates. Drug abuse and crime are issues of concern in the community. This is an area with large numbers of youth at risk.

A Youth Coalition

In January 1986, Pima County 4-H and a local public service agency convened a group of 65 people representing government youth agencies, social services, and education to discuss the problems of the area and ways to improve the conditions of youth in that community. The South Tucson Youth Development Coalition was formed that day with representatives from 4-H, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Camp Fire, libraries, church service agencies, mental health agencies, and other concerned citizens. A task force was formed to outline the positive and negative forces that existed and influenced the conditions of the youth there. Several lively discussions focused on the residents' perceptions of youth services and the corresponding perceptions of the service providers of their clientele.

During the following summer, these discussions formed the basis for a survey that interviewed over 250 people who lived in the community about needs and conditions as they perceived them. Six young people were hired and trained by agency representatives to conduct the door-to-door survey. Funding came from private sources. The young people went out in teams to make the contacts. They interviewed 120 young people, 110 parents, and 35 city or agency leaders.

Survey Results

The survey revealed community concerns about crime, drug abuse, and problems within families. All groups indicated needs for more recreational programs for youth, increased counseling, and help for parents. The most shocking results came as a result of a question where youth and parents were asked to name one recreational facility or program. Nearly 70% of the parents and 80% of the youth couldn't name one, despite the existence of a civic center and subsidies for young people to participate at a neighboring YMCA.

Survey results were reported and shared with member agencies and city and county government. Short-range and long-range plans were made by the task force and monthly meetings were held by the member agencies.

Taking Initiative

Through some short-term funding from the city, a youth development professional was hired to coordinate some of the activities. The professional spoke to schools on behalf of the coalition. Agencies began working together sponsoring sports teams and organizing tournaments and coordinating resources for a leadership skills training for area teens and a Youth Expo to acquaint school-age youth with the opportunities of each youth agency. Two volunteer recognition programs gave the agencies a special chance to recognize volunteers who worked in that area. The city council also funded and participated in these ceremonies.

As a result of coalition efforts, member agencies are pursuing joint funding proposals to improve the resources for youth. 4-H has channeled some contacts from the University of Arizona to other member agencies who needed particular help. The monthly meetings allow the agencies to have a forum for sharing concerns and learning from each other.

In Spring 1989, the coalition was contacted about programs for Native Americans in the area. The coalition helped develop a list of summer youth programs available to young people; the city printed the list and distributed it through the schools. Using the list, the Native American groups were able to plan their programs so they didn't conflict with other programs, allowing them to "piggyback" on the use of facilities, and decreasing the funding needed to conduct their program.


When the coalition first walked into the field in South Tucson, the barriers of apathy and indifference were overwhelming. The problems of crime, drugs, and family disintegration were almost overpowering. Initially, each agency representative was given permission to be "unproductive" for a while as we built trust among the agencies and clientele. No one was asked to demonstrate immediate increases in enrollment. Permission was given to use new tools and approaches.

In January 1986, we could only identify five young people involved in the Boy Scout Police Explorer Post and 45 who "hung out" at the civic center. By the end of 1988, there were four Girl Scout troops with volunteers, two 4-H Clubs, and another 100 special interest members. Camp Fire works with members at two local schools (see Table 1). The city changed its management agreement on the civic center, and now the center has programs involving nearly 90 young people daily. Board action at a local social service center now not only permits youth groups to meet at its site, but conducts its own tutoring and recreation program that serves 40 young people. Another agency not only conducts parenting classes, but also tutoring programs that have demonstrated success.

The police department notes a decrease in all crimes, but especially in crimes committed by young people. Juvenile arrests have dropped from 168 in 1985 to 97 in 1988, a 46% decrease.2

The coalition has improved the conditions of youth in this area. It has plowed the ground and improved its fertility for good things to happen to and for the young people in South Tucson.

Table 1. Progress measured through enrollments.

Organizations 1985 1986 1987 1988
Camp Fire Troops 0 Troops 1 Troops 2 Troops 3
Members 0 Members 15 Members 30 Members 65
Leaders 0 Leaders 2 Leaders 4 Leaders 6
Spec. inter. 10
4-H Clubs 0 Clubs 0 Club 1 Clubs 2
Members 0 Members 0 Members 24 Members 50
Leaders 0 Leaders 0 Leaders 1 Leaders 3
Spec. inter. 25 Spec. intr. 50 Spec. inter. 100
Girl Scouts Troops 0 Troops 2 Troops 2 Troops 4
Members 30 Members 30 Members 56
Leaders 4 Leaders 8
Spec. inter. 50

What Happened to Us?

As notable as the changes were in the clientele, the coalition was probably more surprised at the changes that occurred within the agencies and the city. When the coalition started its activities, concerns were raised by the more grassroots agencies that the traditional youth agencies weren't responsive to the needs of low-income clientele; that these more secure, nationally recognized agencies wouldn't make changes to meet these needs. The youth agencies countered that they could and would. Together, the agencies identified needed changes to be made, specifically in improving numbers of volunteers to work with youth, and identifying and acquiring convenient and safe locations for the volunteers to meet. After two years, there are three new club meeting locations and many more volunteers through joint recruiting efforts that included door-to-door canvassing by member agencies.

Youth agencies, including 4-H, have added special interest programs to meet specific needs and have employed staff to conduct them. Girl Scouts conducted one of its three-week-long day camps in South Tucson especially to help the American Indian program. 4-H also conducted summer workshops at three recreation sites in the area. The city itself has become more aware of youth needs and has reallocated funds to serve more youth.

4-H continues to take a leadership role in the coalition. We also find ourselves in new roles as advocates for other agencies, and as mentors for the agencies who are just beginning their experiences in youth development. We've learned to listen more to the concerns of the clientele and to see community needs larger than our own needs. We've learned to ask for help from unlikely helpers and to offer help to others who have been our competition.

The Role of 4-H

Within the context of the National Initiative of Youth at Risk, 4-H can take the role of convener in such a process and document progress and achievements. Our networks within our own organization and within land-grant universities can be a resource to other groups as well as 4-H. We must, however, be able to sublimate our organizational goals in support of larger goals to really make a difference for more young people.

Prevention programs and those that target youth at risk must rely on acceptance by the community they wish to serve. Trust must exist between agencies and clientele as well. The coalition tilled the land in South Tucson with trust and patience. We can now see the results of that work in memberships and continuity.


1. Arizona Statistical Review, 44th annual ed. (Phoenix, Arizona: Valley National Bank, 1988), pp. 5 and 85.

2. Sgt. Richard Vidaurri, Uniform Crime Classification Codes, South Tucson Police Dept., South Tucson, Arizona, January 1989.