Afterschool Focus: Community Partnerships

With the word “community” in the name 21st Century Community Learning Centers, it is hard not to think of community partnerships as a key part of our expanded learning system. If we manage to overlook the term in our program’s name, we always have the friendly reminder of the expectation of community partnerships when we consider compliance. 

Community partnerships are much more than a name or a program requirement. They are associated with high-quality afterschool programming.1 They provide opportunities for students to learn outside the classroom and connect their learning with the real world. In addition to investment in 21st CCLC outcomes, community partners benefit from collaborations that also support their mission.

How to Form Community Partnerships

Despite the clear benefits of community partnerships, developing and nurturing these ties takes time. The steps below can help you and your team engage in the thoughtful and deliberate process of fostering these crucial relationships that can help support and sustain your afterschool program. The process of building community partnerships is a collaborative one. As you explore ways to build connections, we encourage you to seek the input and support of your existing partners.2

Know your vision.

It is easier to identify potential partners if you know where your program is headed. If your program doesn’t already have a vision statement, it is time to develop one. Be sure to include perspectives from a range of stakeholders so that your program’s vision is broadly owned. Once you have created a vision statement, make sure that staff, students, families, and other key stakeholders know what it is and are prepared to share it with other community members.

Assess your program’s needs and determine who might be able to help.

If your team has a clear understanding of your program’s vision and goals, you can then identify goals and prioritize your program’s needs. Determine what your immediate priorities are and develop partnerships accordingly. For example, if your program has the goal of implementing a mentoring program in the upcoming school year, you might want to build relationships with local businesses and civic organizations to recruit mentors. If your 21st CCLC includes a focus on nutrition with the goal of building a community garden, you might form partnerships with local gardening supply stores.

Take inventory of existing and potential partnerships.

As you determine your program’s priorities, you can align them with those of your partners. Brainstorm partnerships-those that already exist and those you’d like to develop. Ask yourself: Are there ways your program could further develop existing partnerships? What new partnerships would you like to form?

Potential partners can include

  • businesses
  • colleges and universities
  • K-12 schools
  • youth service providers
  • philanthropic organizations
  • civic organizations
  • police and law-enforcement agencies
  • individual volunteers and community members
  • parents and other family members

Develop a strategy for engaging the support of community members.

As you refine your list of existing and potential partners, you will want to determine how you will nurture these relationships. Consider whether you have any existing contacts who can help you build a relationship with these individuals or organizations. Reflect on your program’s expectations of each partnership. What resources will the partner bring? How will you ensure the quality of these resources? Partnerships also mean reciprocity. Remember to identify and share what your program will bring to the partnership. Communication-ranging from informal meetings and phone calls to memorandums of understanding-can help ensure that all parties have a shared understanding of goals and expectations as your work progresses.

Monitor your progress.

As with all aspects of afterschool programming, remember to monitor your progress and revise goals accordingly. Have you and your partners achieved your existing goals? Do your respective visions and work still align? As you analyze your progress, you can once again complete the steps listed above, assessing existing and potential partnerships, determining how to foster those relationships, and deciding what you want to achieve together.

While important to high-quality afterschool programming, community partnerships are also key to sustainability. Partnerships allow different stakeholders to contribute the resources that they are best equipped to provide. In addition, community members who have relationships with your program and have seen its benefits first hand will have greater motivation to continue supporting it.


1 Bouffard, Little, & Weiss (2006).

2 The strategies that follow are from Burkhauser, Bronte-Tinkew, & Kennedy (2008, March) and Berg, Melaville, & Blank (2008).


Berg, A., Melaville, A., & Blank, M. J. (2008). Community & Family Engagement: Principals Share What Works. Washington, D.C.: Coalition for Community Schools, Institute for Educational Leadership. Retrieved from

Bouffard, S., Little, P., & Weiss, H. (2006). Building and evaluating out-of-school time connections. The Evaluation Exchange, 12(1-2), 2-6:

Burkhauser, M., Bronte-Tinkew, J., & Kennedy, E. (2008, March). Building community partnerships: Tips for out-of-school time programs. Child Trends Practitioner Insights: Research-to-Results. Retrieved from