ACT for Youth Center of Excellence

Engaging Community Partners for Positive Youth Development

Engaging Community PartnersSuccessful positive youth development initiatives go beyond programs: they involve many different community sectors in creating the services, opportunities, and supports young people need. While such an initiative may naturally start with a youth program, young people lead their lives mostly outside of programs. Young people grow up in families, schools, neighborhoods, faith communities; they may be involved with law enforcement and social services, with sports, arts, and volunteering. Policy makers, business owners, health care and human services providers, and law enforcement also have a stake in how young people interact with their communities.

What's more, youth programs clearly can't do it all. Programs that are focused on preventing risk behaviors, for example, often find that at best they can influence a particular behavior (such as decreased alcohol use or increased condom use) for a number of months beyond the program. This kind of targeted behavior change is critical. However, a broader community collaboration can create both new opportunities for youth and supportive engagement from adults, setting the stage for resiliency and positive outcomes.

Include Youth

Successful community efforts involve young people themselves in the wider collaboration. Meaningful youth engagement and effective youth-adult partnerships are vital aspects of positive youth development. These resources will help you plan for successful youth involvement and partnership:

Engage Non-Traditional Partners

Community coalitions tend to limit their outreach and partners to agencies they are comfortable or familiar with. For youth development collaborations to be successful, it is crucial to reach out to a wide range of community partners and groups. Engaging non-traditional partners is challenging due to differences of culture, language, and priorities. Youth service providers may be uncertain about how to approach businesses or faith communities, for example.

To reach non-traditional partners for a youth development effort, leaders will need to articulate what's in it for these partners, and will also benefit from thinking through issues related to community collaboration. These suggestions will help you connect with other community sectors:

Asset-Based Community Development

A Strengths-Based Approach

One powerful strategy for engaging a wide range of community partners, in particular non-traditional partners, is Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD). Pioneered by Northwestern University, the ABCD approach identifies and activates local community assets, including the resources of individuals, informal social groups, and private and public institutions. By connecting the skills, passions, relationships, and material assets of individuals, organizations, and institutions to community goals and needs, this approach empowers all community sectors to become social change agents.Community Assets Map ABCD starts from the premise that everyone has assets or gifts. Moreover, for ABCD to work, everyone must give their gifts. ABCD achieves community goals by:

  • Identifying and mobilizing the assets of individuals, especially those who are marginalized
     
  • Building relationships among community members, especially those that are mutually supportive
     
  • Giving community members more roles and power in local institutions
Robert Francis, ABCD Institute faculty member, provides an introduction to the ABCD approach in the narrated presentation Community Resources Assessment (narrated presentation: 20 minutes; PowerPoint presentation: 3.2M).

Identifying Assets

  • Individual Assets Worksheet (PDF: 79K) -- List the assets each individual has to offer, including knowledge, manual skills, passion, and relationships.
     
  • Organizational Assets Worksheet (PDF: 34K) -- List each organization's resources, including personnel, constituents, expertise, networks of connections, space and facilities, materials and equipment, and economic power.