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Lisa Trei, News Service (650) 725-0224; e-mail:

School of Education receives major grants to endow center to study youth

Major grants from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation will be used to fund a new university initiative that will seek more effective solutions to the problems facing youth.

A $5 million endowment from the Kauffman Foundation and a $500,000 grant from the Hewlett Foundation will establish in perpetuity the John Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities. Its goal is to help people who make up communities from educators, law enforcement officials, social workers, business people, clergy to parents work together more effectively to develop better policies and practices for youth.

"All over the country people are trying to figure out how to solve the problems of the cities in ways that bring all the relevant players to the table," says consulting Professor John Gardner, the founder of Common Cause and the center's namesake. "It is not easy. Communities are fragmented. We're very good at pluralism, letting everyone do their own thing. But lately we've realized that you can't have social workers out of touch with the schools. They've got to work together."

Headed by Milbrey McLaughlin, the David Jacks Professor of Education, the center initially will work with community members in Redwood City and West Oakland to help them develop new ways to respond to the needs of youth. Eventually, the center wants to use lessons learned there to devise new practices and policies that can be applied to and adapted regionally and nationwide.

Eugene Wilson, a senior vice president at the Kauffman Foundation, which is based in Kansas City, Mo., said the endowment was made to honor Gardner's contributions to youth issues. Furthermore, the center's vision closely matches the foundation's own approach concerning youth. "This is not only a Bay Area initiative. We think it has national implications," Wilson says. "It will give us a clearer understanding of the importance that this [issue of youth] requires a comprehensive approach not a shotgun approach, or we'll be stuck with the same problems."

McLaughlin says that people age 12 to 20 are usually not viewed as a distinct, cohesive entity when it comes to funding city budgets. Consequently, services and programs provided by schools, law enforcement or health and human services agencies, for example, often end up being fragmented. "We need to rethink our priorities," McLaughlin says. "What are the strategies to involve youth and to empower them? We need to move beyond tokenism. We need to give their voice legitimacy and authority."

In addition to communities failing to work together on youth issues, Gardner says that universities, particularly elite ones, have not been involved in the past. The center will try to change this. "To have a university of Stanford's caliber relate itself to its nearby community in a serious and thoughtful way is an achievement," he says.

McLaughlin says that universities haven't been involved in youth issues because they don't view it as part of their core mission. The Gardner Center, she says, will do more than drop into a community, use it as a laboratory for a class and then leave. "This is a long-term commitment," she says.

She anticipates that individual initiatives will last three to five years and be tied directly to academic study. This fall, she will teach a course called "Urban Youth and Their Institutions" that will require Stanford students to do community-based apprenticeships. Redwood City's city manager and the Boys and Girls Club already have asked for students to assist them this fall, she says.

Starting next month, part of the funding from the Hewlett Foundation will be used to pay 15 Redwood City teenagers to go into neighborhoods after school and on weekends to ask their peers what kinds of youth programs and resources work best. Beth Ross, executive director of Redwood City 2000, a community-based group, will work closely with McLaughlin and the students on the project. Ross says it is the first time that middle and high schoolers have been asked to get involved in evaluating programs designed for them. "I anticipate it will be highly successful," she says.

According to Ross, one of the best ways to help teens feel connected to their communities is to foster positive interactions between youth and adults. "We want to find the neighborhood people that kids trust," she says. For example, she says, such people might be interested in running home-based homework centers through local high schools. "This is a city of 80,000 people. We don't know everybody who might like to get involved." The teens, who will be trained to ask questions and evaluate responses, will help identify them, she says.

Gardner says the center will act as a convenor, helping to connect various community groups with one another. He adds that policies must be localized but he hopes that the center will provide "a lot of accumulated wisdom down the road" that will result in more effective solutions. The Kauffman endowment will ensure that the center's work can have a long-term perspective. "I don't know what generalizations will emerge, but I can mention one generalization," he says. "It takes time."


By Lisa Trei

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