Weekly Feature

2006-07-12 / Business

The assets bank: how full is your child's portfolio?

FFor more than a decade the Amherst Task Force

has been actively working to build assets in youth. You might say, "To build what?" and you Fwould not be alone.

Many people still have not heard of the Asset Building process and many more are unaware of how they can help. Everyone - parents and guardians, grandparents, teachers, and others - can build assets. Assets are positive experiences, opportunities, and personal qualities that all children and adolescents from many cultural backgrounds need to be responsible, successful and caring. These assets are more than just nice ideas. Research on youth in hundreds of communities finds that these assets are powerful influences on behavior.

The Search Institute, of Minneapolis, has been studying developmental assets in youth in communities since 1989 using a survey called Profiles of Student Life: Attitudes and Behaviors. Based on their research, Search has identified 40 assets that they have categorized into eight areas: Support, Empowerment, Boundaries and Expectations, Constructive Use of Time, Commitment to Learning, Positive Values, Social Competencies, and Positive Identity.

Having a bank of these assets help young people make wise decisions, choose positive paths, and grow up competent, caring, and responsible. Less than 4 percent of the youth surveyed nationwide possess all 40 assets. The average number of assets that youth possess is generally 17. The average Amherst youth possesses 19.5 percent. The Amherst Youth Board, in conjunction with the Amherst, Sweet Home and Williamsville school districts, has been measuring the number of assets in our 8th, 10th and 12th graders for 10 years. Based on their findings, programs and policies have been developed that resulted in increased assets in our youth.

While the schools have been busy building assets, most of the general community is still in the dark about asset building. Some people like to think of assets as character building blocks while other will refer to them as protective factors. Regardless of what we call them, the end result is building resiliency in young people. The basic tasks of a community asset-building initiative are similar to planting seeds, tending them as they mature, and cross-pollinating where it makes sense.

Everyone is important in the asset building process. It's easy to make a difference!

Ideas for adults include:

. Say "hi" to children and teens you see in your neighborhood. Learn their names.

. Volunteer to work in a youth program as a coach, mentor, group leader or instructor.

.Model responsibility, compassion and integrity for youth.

. Respect and affirm young people when they make contributions, good decisions and plan well.

. Ask youth what they are learning in school. Ask about their goals and dreams.

. Share your artistic gifts by teaching or mentoring a young person in the arts. Parents Can:

. Eat at least one meal together every day.

. Model and talk about the values and priorities you wish to pass on to your children.

. Regularly do things with your child including projects around the house, recreational activities and service projects. Let your child choose some of the activities to do together.

.Become active in your child's education through school activities, monitoring homework, and having conversations about school and learning. Stay in contact with teachers about progress; don't wait for a report card.

. Thank to the people who are important in the life of your child (teacher, bus drivers, clergy, youth group leaders, etc.)

. Invite friends of your teen to spend time in your home. Get to know them

. Have a family calendar on which all family members note where they will be.

. Turn off the television, and limit hours at after school jobs.

Businesses can:

. Develop family-friendly policies that allow parents to be active in their children's life.

. Provide mentoring, shadowing or internship opportunities for young people.

. Make your neighborhood business a place where children know they can come for help in an emergency.

. Sponsor youth clubs, sports teams and other organizations that provide activities.

Neighborhoods can:

. Make asset-building a part of setting priorities for action in the neighborhood.

. Sponsor activities and events that help people get to know their neighbors.

. Coordinate residents to provide safe school if kids would be home alone or if they feel unsafe.

. Organize informal activities (such as an ice cream social or pick-up basketball) for young people in the neighborhood.

.Work with youth to create a neighborhood garden, playground or park.

. Make sure that you get to know the name of each of the families (and children in them) and greet them by name. It is so important to young people that adults recognize them by name.

Most adults today are deeply concerned about young people. We worry not only about our own kids, but also about their friends, the neighborhood kids and even those unfortunate strangers that we seen on the evening news. It's depressing, frustrating, and frightening, but it doesn't have to be that way. What kids really need is an adult that cares.

For more information on how you can become an asset builder, call the Amherst Youth Board at 631-7215 (Mary or Kathy) or the Erie County Council for the Prevention of Alcohol and Substance Abuse (Sally) at 839-1157.

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