Miracles in the Face of Many Challenges

Written by: Steve Tarver, President / CEO, YMCA of Greater Louisville

It's Christmas Eve, after six in the evening. Most of the stores are closed and the streets are starting to get very quiet with little traffic. The daylight hours are few, so it's dark outside. Cars parked in driveways and lights on in most homes indicate that families are gathering for holiday celebrations.

It's during this time that I like to stop by our YMCA youth shelter. Like many others, it's a 24 hours a day, 365 days a year operation. Normally, I will have picked up some gift cards which I like to deliver to be handed out to the staff that are working that night along with one for each child that happens to be spending that evening with us.

This past year (2014), it struck me…Where would these children be without the opportunity to be at our shelter? And further, the same question applies for every day of the year. Not sure why it took so long for this to hit me, but I have thought a lot about it since.

Sometimes I have the opportunity to meet with some of the children that are with us. I am always amazed at their intelligence and resilience. So many of them are miracles that stand up in the face of many challenges. And a caring adult who is simply willing to look at them with respect and see them as an asset can be a life changing opportunity for the child as well as the adult. In my opinion, that's the real magic of the work done by hundreds of the optimistic and welcoming staff that work with the population of homeless youth in our local YMCA shelter, and places across the country that provide the security, safety, and HOPE for these young people.

Of course, this goes far beyond the Christmas holiday. But the question remains, where would these children be without the network of shelters that serve this population? I wonder also, the extent to which the broader community recognizes (and appreciates) this network. Like the children that find themselves on the street, neglected, or abused, many of those that serve them operate “in the shadows.” Shifting the outlook around youth development from a deficit model to an asset model is a huge story that needs to be told. Can we get this work out of the shadows? Can we shift from the generations-deep paradigm that youth are problems that need to be fixed? Can we create a new custom that would start from a point of seeing the potential of youth without being fearful of high expectations? In my experience, only rarely have high expectations not resulted in high responses. These young people have the capability. I’ve seen it.

Hopefully, there will be more dialogue promoting the asset approach to youth development to more audiences. National Safe Place Network offers a platform: www.nspnetwork.org.


The Youth Thrive framework is a strengths-based initiative to examine how all youth can be supported in ways that advance healthy development and well-being and reduce the likelihood or impact of negative life experiences. Click https://nspn.memberclicks.net/assets/docs/RHYTTAC/youth-thrive_advancing-healthy-adolescent-development-and-well-being%20report.pdf to review the Youth Thrive Advancing Healthy Adolescent Development and Well-Being report. If you’re interested in receiving the Youth Thrive training, please contact National Safe Place Network at [email protected].

Literature Review of Youth Development / Asset Tools: https://nspn.memberclicks.net/assets/docs/RHYTTAC/lit%20review%20of%20youth%20development%20asset%20tools%202002.pdf

Youth Resilience: http://www.cssp.org/reform/child-welfare/youth-thrive/2013/YT_Youth-Resilience.pdf

Protective & Promotive Factors for Healthy Development and Well-Being: http://www.cssp.org/reform/child-welfare/youththrive/body/youth-thrive-protective-promotive-factors.pdf

Developmental Assets: Preparing Young People for Success: http://www.search-institute.org/what-we-study/developmental-assets

Increase Kids’ Strengths by Building Development Assets: http://www.search-institute.org/publications/developmental-assets

To learn how to get involved, please visit www.nspnetwork.org or email National Safe Place Network at [email protected].

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