Sharing Resources for Positive Youth Developmentadmin | February 10, 2010
This is a very exciting time to be investing in positive youth development. Education leaders, like Geoffrey Canada, President and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, have unequivocally shown that intensive, long-term commitment to youth, especially those who are disadvantaged, pays off in adulthood. As parents, educators, and caring community members, we all dream of a brighter future for our children. Now, how do we fully live into this vision to ensure that all youth have the opportunity to reach their full potential?
To start, it is important to raise awareness of common goals for positive youth development. These are:
— Promoting positive relationships with peers;
— Emphasizing strengths;
— Providing opportunities to learn healthy behaviors;
— Connecting youth with caring adults;
— Empowering youth to assume leadership roles in programs; and
— Challenging youth in ways that build their competence.
Research shows that if youth are connected to even one caring adult, they are more likely to complete high school. Creating a shared vision for positive youth development in our communities is vital to realizing these goals.
Appreciative Inquiry (AI), a process developed by David Cooperrider, can help in realizing a broadbased community vision for youth. Beginning an AI process in your town begins with discovery.
Discovery: Invite community members (including youth) to talk to each other and to discover when and where the community engages youth at its best. Uncover what youth, adults and programs that serve youth are already doing well. Hearing positive youth experiences can be energizing.
Dream: Sometimes run as a large community visioning session that includes youth and adults, a leading question in this phase is, “Describe three hopes for youth in our community.” Individuals’ visions will help set the direction for more positive youth development.
Design: Typically, small groups will identify key relationships, examine how their dream overlaps with those of others for positive youth development, and determine activities that need to be realized to achieve the dream.
Deliver/Destiny: With plans in place for positive youth development, individuals can take ownership and begin implementation. In the implementation process, maintaining the group’s energy level depends on continuing to maintain a shared sense of destiny for youth. Continue discoveries of new strengths to help your community and youth realize their dreams.
Using Appreciative Inquiry can move communities and existing programs toward more positive youth development, with a focus on supporting long-term social, emotional, behavioral, and cognitive development.
At Hopa Mountain, a Bozeman based nonprofit, we are using AI to strengthen positive youth development in rural and tribal communities throughout the Northern Rockies. Positive youth programs are core to our mission. With broad-based support, we collaboratively organize year-round youth programs and help rural and tribal citizen leaders launch or improve existing programs.
Hopa Mountain’s youth leadership programs in Gallatin and Park Counties offer teens between the ages of twelve and eighteen year-round opportunities to strengthen their leadership skills through positive educational experiences, time outdoors, service learning and personal asset development. Ongoing activities support teens in becoming agents for positive change in their peer groups, families and communities while gaining valuable life skills in service to others.
Our youth leadership programs start with week-long summer camps focusing on outdoor experiential challenges, time in nature, individual skill development and service projects. During the school year, youth programs meet weekly. Meetings include time for planning and implementing service projects, team-building activities, leadership development, positive youth mentoring and free time to socialize and build friendships. Teens often lead portions of meetings to practice hands-on leadership and vote on possible activities and projects for the group.
Quarterly service projects are organized and implemented by the teens. In addition, youth participate in educational activities that expose them to new interests and opportunities. Team building sessions strengthen skills such as problem solving, communication, conflict resolution, and decision-making.
If you are interested in starting a youth program in your community, Hopa Mountain staff can help facilitate planning sessions, trainings and provide technical assistance. Hopa’s Youth Program Manual and Youth Leaders in Service Community Innovative Guide are available free of charge at www.hopamountain.org.
—Bonnie Sachatello-Sawyer, Ed.D., is the Executive Director of Hopa Mountain. She can be reached at (406) 586-2455.
Hopa Mountain’s youth programs and technical assistance services are made possible with generous support from the O.P. and W.E. Edwards Foundation, the Walter L. Braun and Lucille Braun Family Charitable Gift Fund, the Beim Foundation, the Treacy Company, Learn and Serve America, a program of the National Corporation for Community Service, and the National Science Foundation.
The Park County youth leadership program is offered in cooperation with LINKS for Learning and Yellowstone Country Guardians.