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Five Programs that Build Relationships

Erin White

Whether it's a parent, mentor, guidance counselor, coach, or neighbor, a caring adult can serve as the primary line of defense against adversity in the lives of young people. This is why creating relationships and webs of support for youth is one of the three main focus areas in Our Work: A Framework for Accelerating Progress for Children and Youth in America.

In our interviews and research, we identified five organizations that can serve as examples for how to build high-quality, sustained relationships with young people, especially with those growing up in low-income communities and other challenging circumstances:

1. AARP Foundation Experience Corps is an intergenerational, volunteer-based tutoring program that engages adults over 50 as literacy tutors for struggling students in public schools. A 2014 profile in Forbes pointed out that AARP benefits youth and adults alike: reading scores improve for kids who receive help from AARP tutors, and adults see their physical and mental health improve after a year of volunteering with the organization.

See the program in action in the video below.

“Constancy is vital,” then-CEO Lester Strong said in the Forbes profile. “It’s so important that these kids connect with an adult who says, ‘I am here for you and I am committed to your success.’ When the children feel appreciated and safe, they are willing to risk trying — that’s the secret sauce.”

2. City Year empowers AmeriCorps members to support students and schools in high-need communities. City Year AmeriCorps members partner with high-need schools in 28 communities across the country, providing extra support to help students stay in school and on track to graduate from high school, ready for college and career success.

"Until we work together to...ensure that all students — regardless of race, socio-economic status or zip code — have access to developmental relationships with caring adults who inspire them to come to school regularly, and receive appropriate academic and social-emotional supports that help them to flourish, unacceptable achievement gaps will persist and school improvement efforts will be hobbled,” City Year President Jim Balfanz wrote in a Medium post.

3. The First Tee trains paid andvolunteer coaches to help youth build character, instill life-enhancing values, and promote healthy choices through the game of golf. Their afterschool and in-school programs use golf to reinforce integrity, respect, and perseverance.

The First Tee CEO Joe Louis Barrow, Jr

“Young people need to develop a relationship with a caring adult who serves as an anchor in their lives,” said The First Tee CEO Joe Louis Barrow, Jr.

To learn more about the importance of an anchor relationship, check out the Center for Promise report Don’t Quit On Me: What Young People Who Left School Say about the Power of Relationships

4. MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership supports adults nationwide in using evidence-based models to connect with and support young people. Learn more about the organization’s impact and advice in the video below:

"We often make relationships secondary when we talk about what our youth need, but we must make access to mentoring relationships a primary objective if our young people are to reach their full potential,” said MENTOR CEO David Shapiro.

5. Thread employs a team of committed adults and community resources to help at-risk students overcome their barriers to success. Each freshman who is both at risk of dropping out and faces difficult challenges outside the classroom gets matched with a team of volunteers that provide these students with everything they need—from packed lunches to tutoring—to get back on track.

Learn more about the power of relationships in Thread co-founder Sarah Hemminger’s TED Talk:

"Relationships are really hard. They're not a quick fix—they're messy and they take time. You have to pay attention to them and they don't always feel great. And when you show up, it's not just about showing up, but rather how you show up,” said Hemminger.

“Are you vulnerable?  Are you willing to share your challenges and burdens?  Are you ready to help and be helped?"

This story is part of the #Recommit2Kids campaign, marking the 20th anniversary of America’s Promise Alliance and calling the nation to recommit to action on behalf of children and youth.