COLLEGE STATION — The Sequor Youth Development Initiative, a Texas AgriLife Extension Service program, was recently awarded more than $455,000 by the Texas Department of State Health Services to assess six Texas Healthy Adolescent Initiative sites throughout the state.
The Sequor initiative is administered by the Texas A&M University System’s department of recreation, park and tourism sciences in coordination with AgriLife Extension’s statewide 4-H and youth development program. Funding is provided by the Sequor Foundation of San Antonio.
Dr. Gary Ellis, recreation, park and tourism sciences department head, said the six communities the Sequor inititive will evaluate have been chosen by the state’s health services department through a competitive process. The sites are located in the Harlandale community of San Antonio, Austin, Longview, Lubbock, Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth. Three of the sites are governmental or university entities and three are community-based nonprofit organizations.
The Texas Healthy Adolescent Initiative, known as THAI, is a Title V Maternal and Child Health-funded initiative for promoting youth development through youth-focused community partnerships, Ellis explained.
“These partnerships involve businesses, faith-based institutions and organizations, schools, human services agencies and others working together to develop a holistic community-level strategic health plan in a positive youth-oriented framework,” he said.
Rachel Samsel, state adolescent health coordinator for the Texas Department of State Health Services, said the primary objective of the Texas Healthy Adolescent Initiative is to provide support to local communities to improve the health and well-being of young people.
“Contract sites are required to incorporate a collective, local, action-oriented network of youth and adults that works in partnership to achieve positive outcomes for all youth in the six Texas communities,” Samsel said.
She said the initiative addresses adolescent health and wellness by “leveraging local partnerships and resources to reduce negative adolescent risk-taking behaviors.”
“Comprehensive needs assessment data were used to identify community-directed activities and strategies to improve youth outcomes,” Samsel said. “A comprehensive evaluation of this initiative will provide the agency critical information that can be used in future planning for adolescent health programs, policies and practices.”
Leading the evaluation team is Dr. Mike Edwards, an assistant professor in the recreation, park and tourism sciences department. Edwards said securing the evaluation contract was the result of collaboration between the university system’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Texas A&M Health Science Center.
“We know Texas has lagged behind in adolescent health and well-being, so we’re glad to be part of a leading-edge state initiative that utilizes best practices in allowing communities to locally identify and resolve issues facing youth,” said Edwards, who has provided much of the project leadership said. “This also fits well with the educational outreach mission of Texas A&M as a land-grant university to go into communities and share our practical knowledge and expertise.”
Edwards said the evaluation will provide an independent assessment of the implementation and impact of each of these six sites.
“Our overall objectives will be to assess the impact of the initiative on youth participants and the community and to identify best practices at the sites being assessed,” he said. “Our three main target populations for evaluation will be youth participants, site leaders and community partners.”
He said the team will initially focus on best practices for determining adolescent health needs and strategies in selected communities, then address how these are being implemented.
“There’s no common set of outcomes for all communities, so we will be flexible and creative in our methodology for evaluation,” he said. “We’re employing a mixed-methods approach that involves organizational documentation, interviews and focus groups with target audiences and survey data to evaluate program performance and impact.”
He said evaluations would include six individual case studies and an overview. A complete evaluation is expected to be concluded by August 2013.
“Another important aspect of these assessments will be that it will allow us to compare and contrast these efforts and bring that knowledge back into the classroom,” Edwards said. “That way, we can share those best practices we have identified and evaluated with those students who will be our future leaders and policy makers.”