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Youth fitness programming is a key component of any community rec organization, which places the hiring of youth mentors and leaders among the most important decisions you will make.

Different than regular staff members — such as front desk or personal training positions, for example — youth mentors should be the champions of youth development in your organization, with a passion for helping children understand what it means to be healthy and fit.

Ashley Davis, the executive director of youth development at the YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids, considers a candidate’s passion for and understanding of children a key qualification. “We always ask for their philosophies and understanding about how children learn,” she said. “We have them articulate some of their experience, and how they see children learning and absorbing things in their worlds. We’re really trying to gauge their general patience level and their investment in children.”

A strong understanding of specific learning methods is something else Davis and her staff initially look for in candidates. “We look at those who have some experience in project-based learning,” she said. “They should be able to articulate and truly understand how important social and emotional learning is. And for some of our programs, we put a huge emphasis on 21st Century learning skills.”

If a candidate passes that eye test, they move through a series of interview stages to determine how they’ll handle the daily duties of a youth mentor. According to Davis, this includes walking through hypothetical scenarios to see how capable the candidate would be on the job.

“We’ll actually set up some experiences and they’ll talk us through how it looks to handle that situation,” said Davis. “We’re really trying to get some details on their hands-on learning skills, how they craft experiences for kids, and their attitude about crafting those experiences and addressing certain challenges.”

The walkthrough is followed by a series of interviews, in which a candidate will talk to multiple leaders at the Greater Grand Rapids Y at a time. “We always try to set up panel interviews,” said Davis. “We want multiple perspectives from leadership members, a frontline implementer and usually a direct supervisor or peer.”

Also included in the interview process is the reference check. According to Davis, other staff positions in the association require three references, but due to the heightened importance of properly vetting youth mentors, they require candidates to submit at least four references.

“This gives us insight into their previous experiences, and we ask [the references] really pointed questions around their beliefs and interactions with the youth,” said Davis.

It’s no secret the hiring process should be different for staff members who will be in charge of someone else’s children for the better part of the day. Davis believes the “pointed questions” she asks candidates and their references are what make this process successful and set it apart from other hiring processes.

“We know, day-to-day, working with youth and different personalities can be a different experience,” said Davis. “So having a practical opportunity and lens of different perspectives is really helpful for us in interviews.”

But at the end of day, no matter how many stages your interview process has, the most important quality to look for in any youth mentor or leader is their belief in the importance of youth development in community recreation.

According to Davis, this is the first quality you should look for. “We’re definitely looking for awareness and interest in youth development, and how they answer the philosophy question,” she said.

Bobby Dyer

Bobby is the former editor of Community Rec Magazine.

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