If you overhear an Arlington resident asking a young person about his or her ‘spark’, don’t be alarmed. Chances are that adult was one of 149 people at a recent set of workshops offered to staff and community members who work with youth.
“Sparks” is just one of the concepts that participants learned at “Our Kids, Our Community, and Developmental Assets”.
They also learned about the 40 Developmental Assets, a powerful youth development model adopted by Arlington’s County and School Boards, and in use nationally by youth-serving organizations.
County Board members Mary Hynes and Libby Garvey were present at the session on Friday, April 12. They were excited to see staff from five County agencies, as well as representatives from 18 community organizations engaged in learning. But they were most impressed with the excitement and energy.
Both Developmental Assets and Sparks are concepts developed by the Search Institute. The 40 Developmental Assets represent commonsense aspects of a young person’s life that help him or her thrive. This includes support, boundaries, relationships, opportunities, and personal qualities that he or she has in his or her life. The more Assets a young person has, the more likely he or she will lead a healthy, positive life.
Sparks takes that idea further. A Spark, as defined by Search Institute, is “that skill, talent, commitment, or personal quality, that makes your life feels rich and full of hope and joy.” Search Institute’s research has shown that when a young person finds his or her spark (and can grow it), engagement in school increases, and violence and other risky behaviors decline.
That’s why workshop participants are so enthused about ‘lighting up’ our young people.
The Asset training approach is highly personal. Participants were asked to reflect on the Assets they had when they were growing up and to share their spark with others. They were asked to brag about a child in their lives, and practice “positive gossip”. The lesson of Assets and Sparks is to focus on the positive in a child’s life.
Participants also heard many inspirational stories throughout the day. “People need to understand these ideas on a personal level before they can really implement them in their lives or their programs.” said Susan Holt, a certified Search Institute trainer. She told staff, “You’re not going to go build assets because I told you to; or because we have compelling data. You’ll build assets because you believe in it.”
She and fellow presenter Julie Hudash brought their message all the way from Irvine, California. Hudash is the founder and CEO of Team Kids Inc. a non-profit that empowers young children to take charge of addressing needs in their own community. “Our model is 100% Asset-based.” said Hudash, “It is powerful when these kids realize that they are making the decisions. They’re building assets for themselves, while helping their community”.
Bob Bigney (aka Coach Bob), the Technical Director of Arlington Soccer Association’s Recreational leagues really appreciated the perspective that the trainers gave. “Sometimes we get so caught up in coaching soccer, we don’t realize we are doing much more than that – we are developing children.” Coach Bob asserts. “That needs to be at the forefront of what we do as coaches – developing healthy children.”
One of the most common words that described the training was ‘inspiring’. Ciatta Savoy, a Juvenile Probation Officer, was one of those inspired. “In my field, we tend to only work with youth who are court-involved and have limited time to do preventive work. Today, it was like I finally figured out the ’why‘ and how Developmental Assets is just what every community, and every young person, needs to be strong.”
The training was sponsored by the Out of School Time Council, a committee under the Partnership for Children, Youth, and Families. The Council is charged by the Arlington County Board and Arlington School Board to improve the delivery of Out-of-School Time services. Professional development is one of those service improvements. A few of the resources from the training are online.
Arlington is an Asset-Building community and the Partnership for Children, Youth, and Families exists to help our community understand the Developmental Assets and how to apply them to everyday life. To learn more about Assets, Sparks or APCYF, visit APCYF.aringtonva.us.