After three decades leading youth initiatives in Indianapolis, John Brandon, MCCOY (Marion County Commission On Youth) President and Executive Director, will retire at the end of this year. Brandon’s last year is also MCCOY’s 30th anniversary. Brandon’s leadership has left an undeniable mark on the field of youth work, and his impact will be felt for years to come in the transformative work of MCCOY and partner organizations.
Brandon’s leadership has firmly established MCCOY as a pillar of the community, connecting leaders to create a better world for young people to grow, learn and thrive.
MCCOY has been instrumental in establishing a foundation for the network of youth services we have today in Indianapolis. In 1998, MCCOY led the Youth Outcomes Educational Initiative, bringing together several hundred youth organizations to identify desirable outcomes for all youth in Indianapolis.
“That was a key moment because it really put the focus on positive youth development in Indianapolis, and people embraced that,” said Brandon. “It brought people together and created positive language around youth development in Indianapolis that’s still used today.”
MCCOY expanded its impact by connecting leaders and building better systems of support for young people. Today, MCCOY has representation in 15 coalitions, partnerships, and leadership committees focused on youth interests.
Based on an expressed need for more information about youth programs in the city, MCCOY launched the Youth Activity Directory in 1997. The directory has become an annual publication, with more than 350,000 free copies distributed since its inception, connecting families to hundreds of programs every year. MCCOY also has an established partnership with the Indy Summer Youth Program Fund to promote and support quality programs for young people in Indianapolis, a relationship that continues today.
MCCOY’s work recognizes the importance of quality when it comes to programs that serve youth. Since 2009, MCCOY has facilitated a cohort of youth programs each year for Summer Learning Program Quality Intervention assessments, offering nationally-recognized assessment, training, and technical assistance to participating youth-serving organizations.
MCCOY’s commitment to equitable youth development has led the organization to seek more and more opportunities to collaborate with and cultivate growth among partners working throughout the city. MCCOY’s Learning Network sessions are designed to help build knowledge and best practices for youth workers and leaders, and are offered for free or very low cost as part of MCCOY’s focus on equity in youth work.
“In our capacity building work, we try to be asset focused and relational,” said Brandon. “We recognize the importance of the lived experiences of the people we work with. We want to work alongside our partners, not parachute in and give them the answers and walk away. We recognize the strength of the people we are working with.”
It was a need for equitable leadership and high regard for youth voice that compelled Brandon and MCCOY to collaborate with Leadership Indianapolis and Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett in 2018 to re-establish the Mayor’s Youth Leadership Council (MYLC). MYLC acts as a youth advisory group and has since allowed over 125 young people to inform the mayor on policies and practices concerning youth in the community.
“John Brandon knows that when leaders make decisions that impact young people, they must include young voices in the process,” said Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett. “He has led MCCOY to be the champion of Marion County youth that it is today, and his impact will continue to be felt in the work of the Mayor’s Youth Leadership Council.”
MCCOY also centers youth voices in its advocacy efforts, promoting legislation that benefits young people and families. MCCOY was instrumental in establishing the youth bus pass program with IndyGo and advocating for legislation that transformed bullying prevention efforts in Indiana schools and kept juveniles from being tried as adults in the justice system.
Reflecting on 30 years of impact as MCCOY’s leader, Brandon is optimistic about the future for youth work and the outlook for young people in the city. But he notes that today’s youth need support more now than ever.
“Youth-serving organizations in Indianapolis are willing to come together to make things happen for young people today,” Brandon says. “There’s still work to be done, and the community is ready to address the challenges youth face. MCCOY is positioned well to continue to grow and facilitate that collaboration years into the future.”
MCCOY is launching into the future with new projects that address the needs of today’s youth. The Closing the Gap initiative is bringing families, educators, community leaders, and young people together to build school-community partnerships that surround families with essential resources and programs. MCCOY is expanding its Mental Health Matters initiative, including resources, events, trainings, and mental health services with an emphasis on serving BIPOC community members in Indianapolis. Through continued advocacy efforts, MCCOY is currently advocating to protect teachers and librarians from censorship and is influencing legislative changes in the areas of juvenile justice reform, college readiness, and LGBTQ+ rights for youth.
As MCCOY turns the page to enter a new chapter in its leadership, board and staff members will have more than a few tears to shed while saying goodbye.
“John’s never-ending encouragement to all of us to always strive toward building a community that fully embraces our young people is perhaps his greatest legacy,” said Linda Kirby, board chair for MCCOY. “Because of his tenacious leadership, we have a community that has made great strides in lifting up our youth, and an organization that is ready for our next leader to hit the ground running and take us into the future.”
MCCOY looks forward to a bright future serving youth in Indianapolis. The board has commissioned Talbott Talent to engage a nation-wide search for the next executive director.
Until the next chapter begins, MCCOY offers a heartfelt congratulations to John Brandon and a sincere thanks for his incredible 30 years serving youth and families in our community.