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Making a Difference in Your Community

Healthy Communities

By Janet Benavente, Colorado State University Extension Agent

The concept of healthy communities has received a great deal of attention in the past two decades. Adults often mention the characteristics of healthy communities when they describe what they wish they could see around them. They may not know that they are describing the healthy community concept, yet they are very clear about what they yearn for. The Search Institute has created a widely held definition of a healthy community as one in which young people engage in a small number of at-risk behaviors.

At-risk behaviors are actions that are likely to cause negative outcomes for youth and the community, like illicit drug use, early sexual activity, and violence. According to research by the Search Institute and others there are forty positive experiences and qualities that make communities healthy and help the youth in these communities make wise decisions and choose positive paths. These forty positive experiences and qualities are called developmental assets. Many experts believe that economic vitality and opportunity, accessible services for children and families, protection of people, property, and the environment, and physical infrastructure must be coupled with shared commitment, everyday acts of asset building by individuals, and intentional asset building in organizations, institutions, and systems.

The forty developmental assets are grouped into eight categories.

  • Support

  • Empowerment

  • Boundaries and expectations

  • Constructive use of time

  • Commitment to learning

  • Positive values

  • Social competencies

  • Positive identity

Research shows that young people do best when they have at least 30 of the 40 assets. Many will ask, “ What can I do about this kind of thing?” There are some simple ways individuals and groups can help build assets and build healthier communities.

  • Get to know the names of youth who live nearby. Find out what interests them.

  • Volunteer as a tutor, mentor, or youth leader in a youth-serving program.

  • Contribute time, talent or other resources to support community asset building efforts.

  • Develop or strengthen programs or activities that build assets, such as mentoring, service-learning activities, peer helping, and recreation.

  • Talk about asset building with formal and informal leaders and other influential people you know.

  • Develop opportunities for youth to contribute to the community through sharing their perspectives and taking action and leadership.

  • Celebrate and honor the commitments of people who dedicate their lives and time to children and youth.

  • Encourage your place of worship to actively involve youth in worship services.

  • Find opportunities to have serious conversations with young people on important issues.

  • Challenge people who use negative stereotypes about youth.

  • Offer praise and admiration when you see a young person make a good decision, especially if it is a tough one.

  • Think of adolescents as “practicing” adults, teach them something practical like how to change tire or fix a leaky faucet.

  • Partner with a young person to do community volunteering.

  • Become court appointed special advocate (CASA) for foster children.

  • Model non-violent ways to resolve conflict.

  • Invite your state legislator and your neighbors to your home to have coffee and discuss youth asset building.

  • Thank the media when they focus on youth issues in your community.

  • Create a youth issue’s tasks force with youth members at your place of worship or civic organization.

For those interested in more information about the research done by the Search Institute visit their website http://www.search-institute.org or call 1-800-888-7828.

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