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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Building servants

Minnesota community and its congregations organize to put Children First

Residents of St. Louis Park, Minn., were startled in 1993. The community's youth participated in a survey that measures developmental asset levels. These assets, identified by Search Institute, Minneapolis, are building blocks of healthy development that help young people grow up healthy, caring and responsible. The results were disquieting. The survey suggested that, of 30 assets identified by Search (a list later refined and expanded to 40), kids in St. Louis Park averaged 16.7 of the assets. This tracked with national trends, which consistently show adolescents claim between 16 and 18 assets.

The finding was a shock in St. Louis Park, where many perceived that theirs was an "above average" community. Many young people in the community obviously were not getting what they needed from their homes, schools and neighborhoods to develop into caring, responsible adults.

The discussion among community leaders that followed turned Search's pioneering developmental asset research into positive community action. St. Louis Park gave birth to the "Children First" initiative.

Described as "a philosophy more than a program" by its director, Karen Atkinson, the initiative led to an unusual coalition among leaders in education, business, local government, health care and the faith community. It's the kind of model Search Institute has developed into the Heathy Communities*Healthy Youth initiative that is now being implemented in cities and towns across the nation.


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