Focusing on the Positive

Youth-serving organizations and clubs in Greater New Haven deliver programs that follow a model of positive youth development.
New Haven-based Solar Youth engages young people in the environment and community

One child from a poor household graduates from school and finds professional and personal success in life. Another, from similarly disadvantaged circumstances, drops out and struggles to find stability. The child with the successful outcomes, according to a growing body of research1, is more likely to grow up feeling valued and having the support of a network of caring adults in their lives.

Youth-serving organizations and clubs based on a model of positive youth development (PYD) have been an integral part of this support network for generations of young people. In contrast to intervention-based programs that isolate problems such as teen pregnancy or drug abuse, PYD programs are holistic. They engage young people with positive experiences that develop their talents and interests. They are grounded in the community. And they help young people develop the character traits they need to resist unhealthy behaviors.

The Numbers

  • 16.2 percent of Connecticut youth aged 12-17 reported binge alcohol use within the prior month. This is down from 20.2 percent in 2010–2011.2
  • 10 percent had used illicit drugs in the past month.3
  • 10 percent had at least one major depressive episode (MDE) within the past year.4
  • 13 percent of Greater New Haven Youth aged 16-19 are not attending high school and not employed. This ratio ranges from 3 percent in outer ring suburbs to 14 percent in New Haven low-income neighborhoods.5

New Haven Youth Map: A place to search for youth programs in New Haven

A Focus on Strengths

The Search Institute, a research organization focused on youth, identifies forty developmental assets that positively impact the lives of young people and act as protection against risky behavior. The more assets a young person possesses - such as leadership, good health and school success – the less likely he or she will have problems with alcohol, tobacco, drugs, violence and early sexual activity.6

Positive youth development programs support the development of behavioral assets by engaging young people within the larger context of their families, schools and communities.

New Haven's Citywide Youth Coalition is a local youth-serving organization that uses civic engagement and activism to ground its young members in the larger community. Its teenage members set an advocacy agenda and organize collective actions such as rallies in support of immigrant rights. The coalition also convenes a monthly town hall in the public library about a topic of interest. Adult experts are invited to a panel facilitated by young people.

"We don't look at our youth as the leaders of tomorrow. We look at them as the leaders of right now," says Executive Director Addys Castillo.

In another local example, the Boys and Girls Club of New Haven provides holistic after-school programming for young children and teenagers. Staff and volunteers get to know each young person individually and provide a safe and trusting environment.

"It all starts with the people here," says Executive Director Stephanie Barnes. "That's why kids keep coming back. They are aware that someone is going to greet them with a smile and ask them, 'How was your day?' They get here and they know it's their second home"

At Big Brothers/Big Sisters, a study of its community-based positive youth program found that among participants, drug use decreased by 45%, the frequency of skipping a class or a full day of school decreased by 37% and 52%, respectively, and the number of times a child lied to his or her parents declined by 37%.7

Building Local Capacity

New Haven's Youth Development Training & Resource Center (YDTRC) promotes the PYD framework to area youth-serving programs. Training sessions focus on how staff members in youth serving organizations interact with young people. The sessions emphasize the need to be respectful of youth voices, perspectives and abilities. Young people are encouraged to take responsibility and try out new leadership roles. Youth workers also learn how to provide emotional, strategic and motivational support to young people.

"All the communities in our area should be creating a language and a message [for PYD] across borders," said Laurie Ruderfer the former Coalition Coordinator for Madison Alcohol and Drug Education.

"Parents ask, 'Will my kid be able to stand up against stress, stand up for the right thing, or let me know when he or she is struggling?'" Ruderfer says. "The science says when kids feel supported, when they have more developmental assets, they're significantly less likely to do risky things."

What The Community Foundation is Doing

The Community Foundation has long been committed to supporting positive youth development programs including:

The Community Foundation has been there in the beginning to help launch nonprofits including:

Works Cited

1. Ferber, Thaddeus, Elizabeth, Gaines and Goodman, Christi.
Positive Youth Development: State Strategies. Washington, DC: National Conference of State Legislators, Oct. 2005.

2-4 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Behavioral Health Barometer: Connecticut, 2015. HHS Publication No. SMA–16–Baro–2015–CT. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2015.

5. Abraham, Mark and Mary Buchanan. Greater New Haven Community Wellbeing Index. New Haven, CT: DataHaven, 2016; 60.

6. Search Institute Insights & Evidence. March 2004 • Vol. 2, No. 1

7. Tierney, J.P., J. Grossman, and N. Resch. Making a Difference: An Impact Study of Big Brothers Big Sisters. Philadelphia: Public/Private Ventures, 1995.

© The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven
December 2017