There are several blueprints for creating an effective alumni association at CTY. First, they can create an Official Alumni Association, headed by a paid staff member who would coordinate most of the activities of the Association, with only a little help from alumni. Second, CTY could provide minor support to an unofficial alumni group, where most of the activities are organized by alumni volunteers. Finally, there could be some combination of an official alumni association that provides some services and an unofficial group that fills in the gaps.
Each plan has a set of problems that face it, and make implementation of an effective CTY alumni association more difficult. By understanding what some of these problems are, interested alumni and staff can work to overcome them and make an effective alumni association more than just a vague wish.
While an official alumni spoliation, headed by a staff member of CTY has many more resources than an unofficial group, there are practical limitations to what it can do. The most threatening problem is one of liability. CTY has a contractual obligation to ensure the safety and well-being of the minors in their care at the summer programs; they have very clear policies in place to ensure the safety of the students. The relationship with alumni is more nebulous. Especially when dealing with alumni who are still minors, CTY must be very careful not to expose the alumni to potentially dangerous situations through alumni programming.
For example, some students have suggested a mentoring program, where CTY puts older alumni in contact with younger alumni in a kind of Big Brother/Big Sister situation. However, while CTY, I'm sure, screens their residential and instructional staff for things such as criminal histories, providing such screening for volunteer alumni is a task that could probably not be undertaken. In addition, it is much easier for CTY to fire a staff me member if they are behaving in an inappropriate manner towards the students. While we would like to think that everyone who goes to CTY is a good person, unfortunately that isn't always the case. If, theoretically, CTY puts a minor in contact with an alumni Big Sibling who turns out to be crazy and evil and exposes the younger CTYer to some sort of dangerous situation, there is a possibly that CTY could be held legally accountable for that. In addition, there are issues with supervision of minors at large, official CTY reunions, and with posting contact information for minors on the internet. CTY has to screen all of the activities of an official alumni association to ensure that they do not open the institute up to legal risks, and put underage alumni in dangerous situation.
In a related note, there are some practical limitations to what an official association can say in newsletters and webpages. An official alumni webpage would, by definition, be part of the official CTY webpage, a page that is visited by prospective students and parents. The ultimate goal of the webpage is to sell CTY to students and their parents. If an official webpage had things such as essays that are seriously critical of CTY, passionfruit toasts with sexual references, purity tests, or pictures of Guys In Drag, it could inhibit CTY's ability to encourage new students to attend (or their parents to approve of and pay for their attendance). Therefore, any official CTY alumni webpage would have to engage in a degree of self-censorship that would inhibit its ability to completely capture the alumni experience.
In addition, the corporate structure of an official alumni association would make it a slow moving beast. Anything done by an official organization would have to be approved by higher ups; any money spent would have to be subjected to cost/benifit analyses. This would make it very difficult both to get an official alumni association off the ground and to keep an official alumni association moving.
Finally, there is a staffing issue. While the current staff is very dedicated, over the years it has become very clear to me that they just simply do not have the time to focus on the alumni association the way it would need to be focused on. CTY would have to hire a new staff person to coordinate alumni relations, a considerable expensive I'm not sure they are willing to take.
A completely alumni driven alumni association, on the other hand, faces a very different set of problems. There are many resources, such as money (for webspace, reunions, newsletter publishing, and so forth) and access to current CTYers that an unofficial alumni association doesn't have. A task that CTY could do quite easily, such as put a flier in the packets of incoming students to encourage membership in the CTY Alumni Association, would be a major logistical nightmare for an unofficial group.
In addition, there is the problem of time and commitment. During the past seven years, I have encountered many CTYers who wanted to help with my webpage or start an unofficial CTY Alumni Association. However, over time we all (myself included) got busy with our real lives, and CTY Alumni Activity slid to the back burner. Most Alums are busy people, with school, work, family and friends, and other activities taking up a lot of their time. An Alum would have to be truly dedicated, or you would have to have several alumni, all working together, to get any sort of unofficial Alumni Association working. In addition, many alums volunteer to do alumni activity, but when push comes to shove don't have the time or commitment to follow through. There would have to be a way of screening volunteers to ensure that important tasks weren't given to people who couldn't complete them.
Perhaps the best solution, then, is to have both an official alumni association, headed by a member of the CTY staff, that would coordinate certain activities that would be extremely difficult for alumni to do themselves, combined with a group of alumni who do several other tasks that the official alumni association can't do.
While this solves the unofficial Alumni Association's problems of money and resources, and official CTY's problems of liability and self-censorship, making it the most robust of the options, it too has some problems associated with it. First and foremost, there have to be CTY staff members and CTY alumni who are willing and able to work together to make the alumni association work. This means that both alumni and administration need to be on the same page about the purpose and goals of the alumni association, something that hasn't always happened in the past. Also, the division of tasks would have to be worked out in such a manner that neither the official alumni association nor the unofficial one is stepping on each others toes. The relationship between the two groups would have to be clearly defined, so that you don't end up with CTY administrators trying to censor an unofficial page, or overzealous volunteers getting CTY in trouble.
In addition, this solution does not solve all of the problems outlined above. There would still be some liability issues with the official half of the alumni association, and the corporate structure would still have to be worked around. In addition, there would still need to be a staff member who focuses at least a good part of their time on alumni relations. There would also still be the problem finding volunteers with sufficient time, commitment, and organizational skills to spearhead the unofficial part of the alumni association.
However, all of these problems can be overcome. Alumni associations are common for many institutions, and CTY managed to hold alumni activities in the past. Given time and dedication, it is certain that there will be an alumni association in the future.