Does it take a community to build a child?

The simple answer is “heck yeah, it does!”

I hope you hear the enthusiasm in my words, because I firmly believe we need to concentrate a lot of our energy on helping our youth become strong, confident adults who give back to their communities.

Last week, I saw on Facebook a picture that made my heart soar. It showed a barber giving a haircut to a young child. The caption read:

Iowa barber gives haircuts to children in exchange for them reading stories to him.

It is such an incredible act of giving by this barber, offering his time and talent to build literacy and help create strong, confident young adults in his community.

When we talk about personal growth and development, especially in children and teens, we refer to these moments as “asset-building.”

Building our youth

In 1990, Minnesota’s Search Institute released a framework of 40 Development Assets. The Search Institute is a leader and partner for organizations around the world in determining what kids need to succeed.

The 40 Developmental Assets are a set of skills, experiences, relationships and behaviours that enable young people to develop into successful, contributing adults.

They are moments of learning and interacting within the community and with adults who have experiences to share.

Take a look at a few of the assets to develop in youth ages 12 to 18:

  • Positive family communication
  • Caring neighbourhood
  • Caring school environment
  • Safety at home, at school and in the neighbourhood
  • Adult role models to teach positive, responsible behaviour
  • Youth programs
  • Reading for pleasure
  • Learning such positive values as caring, equality and social justice, integrity, responsibility
  • Learning how to plan and make decisions, how to have empathy, how to resist peer pressure

These are core things we need in our lives from birth to build self-esteem and let us know we have value in our communities.

Our gardens — and children — bloomed

In the mid-2000s, I was the Developmental Asset Building Coordinator, Facilitator and Trainer for the City of Kamloops in the beautiful B.C. Interior.

My role fell under the guidance of the City’s Social Planning and Development Department. We focused on community engagement, education, projects, peer-mentoring programs, and practicums for social work and nursing students.

One of the local schools drew our attention to a problem they were facing with an empty lot across the street. It was used as a camp for homeless people and it was a popular spot for drug deals and other crime.

My committee partnered with the school, Communities in Bloom, the people living in the neighbourhood and local businesses along with the horticultural departments at the city and Thompson Rivers University. We built flower beds and installed garden boxes where the school’s children could learn about gardening and interact with members of the community who wanted to guide them.

We saw immediate changes in the community and the way the children (and the adults!) cared for it.

Even today — a decade later — I meet former students of that elementary school and they tell me fond memories of the garden.

We built important assets for those kids who learned they were capable of doing some pretty cool things.

The power of Developmental Assets

Asset-building is based on the belief that communities can improve their own quality of life by engaging the skills, networks, resources and energy that already exist within them.

Asset-building focuses on strengths and shows young people they are resources to their communities, not little annoyances or problems that need to be solved. They learn to become leaders in their communities … leaders who will grow up to mentor kids in the way they learned.

It helps them cultivate meaningful relationships across generations, within their families, among their peers and throughout their communities.

The more assets a kid has, the less chance he has of becoming a youth at risk. Children who report more Developmental Assets are less likely to engage in:

  • Underage drinking
  • Tobacco use
  • Illicit drug use
  • Violent or anti-social behaviours
  • Attempts to commit suicide

They are more likely to:

  • Succeed in school
  • Be persistent
  • Take care of their own health
  • Save money
  • Value diversity among peers
  • Attain leadership roles

[tweetthis hidden_hashtags=”#selfesteem #leadership”]When we strengthen our youth, we strengthen our communities.[/tweetthis]

How to get involved

Think about holding a child — a really tiny one — in the palm of your hand. That child is surrounded by your five fingers. Each one of your fingers represents one of the adults necessary to that child’s growth and development.

A kid I know loves race cars. His mom doesn’t have the resources to help him explore that hobby. I connected him to a friend in drag racing, and now he’s being mentored, learning to build cars and spending time as part of the pit crew.

When we look at asset-building, we ask how to set kids and youth up for success.

How do we create a positive environment for them?

Who are the five adults who can champion them?

How do we encourage adults to give back to the community and participate in our programs?

We engage adults to share their own strengths and talents, and mobilize youth to do the same thing as they grow, creating a never-ending cycle of people who want to build the children of our communities.

It can be as simple as saying “hello” to a kid in your neighbourhood and learning her name.

Or, it can be as involved as school programs, like our community garden, or teen clubs and encouraging social interaction.

We can:

  • Support neighbourhood-building initiatives and expand community-based organizations that serve children and families
  • Initiate community-wide efforts to name shared values and boundaries
  • Live in a manner consistent with the values and priorities we are trying to teach our children
  • Give our children support and approval while also challenging them to take responsibility and gain independence
  • Treat teenagers like adults in training and empower them with practical skills, like how to prepare a meal, create a monthly budget or change a tire
  • Hold neighbourhood get-togethers, such as a pancake breakfast or pickup basketball

These are just a few of the examples we came up with while I was a facilitator with the City of Kamloops.

[tweetthis remove_twitter_handles=”true”]Adults have a responsibility to create gateways for youth to become successful, well-rounded adults.[/tweetthis]

We all have gifts to contribute. It’s a matter of discovering those unique talents and finding a way to give back.

Next week, I’ll write about what happens when we grow up without some of these assets and the stresses the deficits create.

Stay tuned!

Feature image courtesy of stockimages and

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