Building an Asset-Rich Community for our Children

By: Elisha Freeman, Executive Director

Think back to when you were a child. Can you think of an adult outside of your immediate family (not your parents or grandparents) who had a positive influence on your life? What are three things about that person that stood out to you?
I sat in a training session with my coworkers recently and we were asked to go through this exercise. Here are the things we said out these special people in our lives: authentic, real, consistent, vulnerable, relatable, willing to fight for me (literally), advocate, honest, they showed up, they were nonjudgmental, they affirmed me, they had high expectations of me, they valued me, they validated me, they invested time in me, they ‘recognized’ me, they modeled their values and beliefs (they walked their talk), and the most often repeated sentiment is that the person was there for them, present in their young life.

In a group of professional, on-the-top-of-their-game women, tears flowed as stories about these special people were shared. It’s my guess, that many of the adults who had so significantly shaped our lives, had absolutely no idea what impact they had (I know I never told mine) and that led me to think, outside of my own children, what other children am I influencing? Who are you influencing?

Our training was on something called the “40 Developmental Assets” for children. Years and years of research have identified some forty “assets” that, ideally, a child should have a good number of (an ambitious goal would be 31) present in his life to develop to full potential. While you may not have heard the term before, you would recognize the work because many of the assets are the cultural and community values we hold dear.

Assets are both external (rooted in the community or provided by others) and internal (values from within the child that are developed and influenced by those external inputs), and they are divided into eight asset categories:

• Support: young people need to be surrounded by people who love, care for, appreciate and accept them.
• Empowerment: Young people need to feel valued and valuable. This happens when youth feel safe and respected.
• Boundaries and Expectations: Young people need clear rules, consistent consequences for breaking rules, and encouragement to do their best.
• Constructive Use of Time: Young people need opportunities, outside of school, to learn and develop new skills and interests with other youth and adults.
• Commitment to Learning: Young people need a sense of lasting importance of learning and a belief in their own abilities.
• Positive Values: Young people need to develop strong guiding values to help them make healthy life choices.
• Social Competencies: Young people need the skills to interact effectively with others, to make difficult decisions and to cope with new situations.
• Positive Identity: Young people need to believe in their own self-worth and to feel they have control over the things that happen to them.

Each of these categories has a list of assets that contribute to children growing up healthy. The assets reflect common wisdom about the kinds of things we already know young people need and deserve.

Research shows that the more assets a child has present in his/her life, the less likely they are to make harmful or unhealthy choices. Of over 89,000 teenagers (in grades 6-12, ages approximately 11-18) surveyed those with more assets were far less likely to develop problem alcohol use, engage in violent behavior, illicit drug use or engage in sexual activity. Furthermore, the research showed that the assets work without regard to gender, ethnicity, socio-economic condition, or geography.
Nationwide, 59% of the young people surveyed have fewer than 20 of the assets identified.

Ideally, a community would work together to be an ‘asset-rich community’ full of systems in place that build those assets and full of individuals (like the adults I mentioned above) who are called ‘asset builders.” YOU are an asset builder, by the way.
A caring adult (the asset builder) provides the gateway to the ‘promises’ or the ‘assets’ children need to succeed. The CEO of America’s Promise says, “Too many young people don’t have enough access to relationships with stable, caring adults who can help them get what they need to stay on track toward graduation and career. Relationship poverty is not a lack of love or family, but a lack of access to additional sources of support that can lead to a more promising future.”

While we may not be calling it “asset building” I see that we are a community working hard to make sure our kids have these assets in place. Our schools, churches (especially youth groups), civic organizations, agencies like Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys & Girls Club, Children & Family Resource Center, The Healing Place and armies of individual volunteers are investing in local youth to make a difference. I encourage you to read more and get involved.

To learn more about what each of these means and some ideas about how you can influence each asset, visit the Search Institute’s website at: http://www.gotassets.net/developmental-assets.html

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