Every Hour Counts Conference Sends Youth and Afterschool Professionals a Message:
You Are Not Alone
A young woman dancing alone in her room. That was the first image participants in the 2021 Every Hour Counts National Conference saw on their screens. Then another young woman dancing to the same song. Then the screen split into three tiles, then seven, and suddenly these young people weren’t dancing by themselves anymore. They were dancing together. It was the perfect way to start Reimagining the Future of Afterschool: Building Back Better with Youth and Communities, a virtual event that brought together 600 leaders from around the country to reflect on a year of intense challenges for the afterschool field and envision what comes next. 
Watch After School Matters teens perform "Stand Up."
The pandemic separated us in a physical sense, but it also brought us together in profound ways. Even as the lights went out at afterschool centers across the country, staff went door to door to drop off tablets and provided safe learning experiences for the children of first responders. Intermediary organizations ramped up online professional development. 
Funders made sure nonprofits wouldn’t have to close their doors for good. And young people organized to demand racial and economic justice.

Together, they sent a powerful message: You are not alone.

That message echoed through the three days and more than twenty sessions of this year’s conference.

It was embodied by the attendees, 600 strong from more than 90 cities and 40 states. It was articulated by Every Hour Counts Executive Director Jessica Donner in her opening remarks:

“You’re not alone. You have each other. Afterschool providers, you have intermediaries to support you. And intermediaries, you have Every Hour Counts…we’re committed to reflecting, to learning from and leaning on one another, and to collectively taking action. And we’re committed to doing it in partnership with young people.”
Opening Session Illustration by Alicia Bramlett, dpict
Young People Front and Center 
Young people were featured front and center, leading as emcees, moderators and panel members throughout the conference. On Day 2, youth leaders of grassroots youth organizations in Minnesota and Washington shared recommendations for reinventing afterschool and investing in their communities.

The recommendations, which emerged from a summit meeting of 30 young people from across the country, included trusting youth to take the lead in decision making and giving youth control to create accessible programs. Every Hour Counts committed funding to making the recommendations of the youth summit a reality and called on other organizations to follow suit.
Youth Panel Illustration by Alicia Bramlett, dpict
The youth leaders also emphasized the importance of authentic relationships between young people and adults. Cole Stevens, co-founder of Bridgemakers in Minnesota, said, “We have older generations that have experience and…social capital. The young people have innovative ideas and new ways of thinking. You team up and make both of those things work together and you can do really big things.” Tina Tran of Seeds of Peace in Washington spoke of the role adult mentors played in helping her understand her own identity, develop critical thinking skills, and get involved in activism. “If it wasn’t for adult community leaders, I would never have been in this space. I wouldn’t have known this space was available,” she said.
Cultivating Transformational Relationships 

The event’s keynote speaker reinforced the idea that relationships are one of the keys to overcoming the trauma caused by racial injustice and structural inequality and transforming our society for the better. Dr. Shawn Ginwright of San Francisco State University, a leading expert on African American youth, youth activism, and youth development, said, “Transformational relationships are the kind you have when you tell someone something you never told anyone before and now you have this bond. These are the kind of relationships we need to cultivate in our programs. They're risky, but when we engage in them, they matter.” Dr. Ginwright noted that transformational relationships start with the way staff in afterschool programs and supporting organizations interact with each other.
Illustration from Dr. Shawn Ginwright’s keynote address by Alicia Bramlett, dpict
Dr. Ginwright’s thoughts echoed those of the field leaders who, in a panel discussion during the opening plenary, reflected on what they learned from the challenges of the past year: Suzette Harvey, President and CEO, Prime Time Palm Beach County, noted that trusting and supportive relationships were crucial to problem solving in tough times. Hal Smith, Senior Vice President, National Urban League, spoke of the need for youth-serving organizations to forge closer ties not only with young people and their families but with each other. And Gigi Antoni, Director of Learning and Enrichment, The Wallace Foundation, observed that the crisis gave rise to new partnerships between the childcare, workforce, health, and housing sectors. 

In session after session, conference attendees modeled how professionals in the afterschool field can uplift and inspire each other. They participated in workshops on a range of topics, sharing their experiences with adapting to virtual learning during the pandemic, using data to support program improvement (even when data was hard to come by), and preparing for recovery. The workshops offered practical advice and dozens of resources they could use immediately in their communities. Participants also made invaluable connections with each other, both in facilitated discussions and informal activities, like a cooking class led by Gloria Hafer, an Instructor with After School Matters.

Together, they jumped into design thinking sessions to imagine a bolder, brighter future for afterschool, bringing empathy, evidence, and hard-earned lessons from the past year, and a host of fresh ideas to the process.
Many Champions, One Community

Representatives of our government in Washington, D.C. came bearing the message that the afterschool community is not alone. Jessica Cardichon of the U.S. Department of Education and Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island, long-time champions of afterschool, both spoke of how Congress and the Biden administration are working to direct more resources than ever to afterschool and summer learning.
In the closing session of the conference, we paid tribute to two beloved and influential afterschool leaders as they approach retirement: Hillary Salmons of the Providence After School Alliance and Wokie Weah of Youthprise in Minnesota. Both offered stirring calls to action. Weah urged her colleagues to empower youth to participate in the governance of the institutions and programs that serve them, saying, “I would get in the fire for young people and would not even feel the heat.” Salmons’s parting wisdom was to “stick together, stay close to your youth, get political…It’s a collective community that fights this fight.”

The event closed in a celebratory mood with music by Tasha Guevara, aka DJ Tabu. Hard-working leaders, tired but with their eyes on the future, danced in front of their screens. Not one of them thought for even a second that they were dancing alone.

For more information about Reimagining the Future of Afterschool visit our event webpage, and to watch the opening session, click here.
Thank you to The Wallace Foundation and the Grantmakers for Education Afterschool & Summer Recovery and Opportunity Fund for their support to make this event possible.
Every Hour Counts is a coalition of citywide organizations that increases access to quality learning opportunities, particularly for underserved students. The organization is a leading voice promoting expanded-learning systems, which provide learning and enrichment through after-school, summer, and other initiatives. Expanded-learning systems help students be more connected to school, build self-confidence, and connect with caring adults, so every student can thrive