What Do They Need?

At Risk Youth.jpg

Often, when churches seek inspiration for mission ideas, the question – spoken or unspoken – that is asked is, “What needs exist in our community?” Frequently, the answer to that question runs along familiar tracks: people need food, clothing, access to medical care, school uniforms, school supplies, Christmas gifts, etc.

But what else do people need? One of my favorite go-to lists of needs – one created specifically for youth, ages 6th-12th grades – is compiled by the Search Institute, “an innovator in listening to young people and promoting positive change with and for young people.” You can read this list of needs, called “developmental assets,” here.

This list isn’t magical, but it is extremely powerful. A young person needs nourishing meals, they need adequate shelter and clothing, they need basic hygiene items and access to health care. But a young person also needs a positive view of their personal future (hope), they need to learn peaceful conflict resolution, they need opportunities where they can participate in caring for others, they need to know that they and their contributions are valued in the community.

The young woman pictured above is part of a larger story of developmental assets in play among at-risk youth in Portland. Under the name dfrntpigeon (“different pigeon”), these youth use their gifts to design and market t-shirts. Their manifesto reads:

The strange, crazy, ugly ones. The freedom-fighters. Those who know what it means to eat, sleep and breathe survival. Who aren’t defined by the hand they’ve been dealt. We are here to show that struggle made us better, not broken. We are here to prove that true beauty is imperfect. And when it comes to adversity? We don’t just rise above it, we take flight.

You can read this story of empowerment for youth experiencing or at risk of homelessness here.


What if our church began a new mission effort – one that intentionally does not involve meeting a material need, but instead intentionally seeks to provide one or more of these developmental assets to youth in our community?

Prayer Focus: Pray for at-risk youth in our community who have their material needs met, but are lacking in developmental assets.

2 thoughts on “What Do They Need?

Add yours

  1. Dr. Billy Graham told of a sub-teen boy who lived at an orphanage. He was offered up for adoption to “good” homes three times, but each time he refused the offer. The third was a very lucrative offer from a wealthy family with other children. They promised the child would have “every advantage” amid the best possible surroundings, yet he still refused. The befuddled adoption agent was so puzzled she finally asked in desperation, “What is it you are looking for?” The boy answered quietly, “I am waiting for somebody to say they love me….?”


  2. We have to create opportunities to meet students where they are and show them they are loved. Showing up to their activities. Talk face to face about current events in their lives lie movies, sporting events. Funny how in the world of technology that a TV, smart phones and computers have not come up with a proper way to hug or show compassion.


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