Learning what it means to be in a kid’s web
”Will you be in my web? Will you be one of my five?”
Most likely, these two questions don’t make a lot of sense to most Hastings residents. But they could end up being the critical piece that helps youth here make good, healthy decisions, and for that reason, there’s a group of people working to make sure everyone in Hastings not only knows what those questions mean but also how to answer them.
Since late 2012, a number of community, school, city, business and civic organizations have been working together to form an initiative focused on Hastings youth called Helping Kids Succeed: The Hastings Way. They’ve been working with Derek Peterson, the founder of the national Helping Kids Succeed effort, to produce a handbook with tools specific to Hastings that youth and adults can use to improve youth support networks here.
Peterson and Jane Neumiller-Bustad, the local director of connections for the initiative, explained what they’re trying to accomplish at a community meeting held last Thursday evening. The concept centers around the idea that every child needs a web of support, and in that a strong web needs a minimum of five adult “anchors.” These anchors provide all sorts of tangible and intangible resources such as food, shelter, clothing, love, respect, courage and care. Anchors can be family members, but they don’t all have to be. They can be neighbors, family, friends, church members, teaches, coaches or any adult in a child’s life.
Three of the students that have been highly involved with the initiative demonstrated how the web works. They had a group of three people pass a string amongst themselves and also a group of five people. The three-person group ended up with a triangle pattern, while the five-person group was able to weave a web over the space between them. A balloon, representing a child, was dropped over both. It fell through the smaller group’s strings, but was caught and held up by the larger group’s web.
People comment about youth who “fall through the cracks,” Peterson said. “These are the cracks,” he said, pointing to the smaller “web.”
Peterson’s efforts in Helping Kids Succeed are the results of years of developmental research involving about 8 million youth around the country. It showed that youth with more adult anchors in their life were more likely to succeed and make good choices, he said, regardless of their economic, racial, geographic or other background.
Helping youth establish strong webs of support isn’t just good for the kids, it’s good for the community as a whole, Peterson said. Well supported youth are less likely to be involved in criminal or delinquent behavior, allowing law enforcement, schools and businesses to spend resources differently.
It’s not a guarantee that every child will stay out of trouble and do well in school, Peterson said, but a strong web makes it more difficult for them to simply fall into bad habits.
Ultimately, the initiative would see every adult in Hastings not only be able to connect themselves with youth, but also help youth connect with other adults as well. It also aims to empower youth to reach out and seek adults to include in their own webs.
“That’s how to protect all the kids in Hastings and give them a chance,” Peterson said.
This August, 5,000 copies of a new handbook will begin to be distributed throughout the schools, city offices and the Hastings Ministerial Association. The handbook describes in detail what a web of support is and will help residents identify their own support network.
The information in the book is tailored to Hastings; input was gathered from about 2,300 people here, Nuemiller-Bustad said.
The first batch of 5,000 books is only the beginning, or at least that’s what local organizers are hoping.
“We would love to publish more,” she said.
Helping Kids Succeed: The Hastings Way will accept donations to have more books printed in batches of 50.
Following the release of the handbook, a number of community training sessions will be held. A handful have already been scheduled at the Pleasant Hill Library and Tilden Community Center. Nuemiller-Bustad said she welcomes suggestions for additional locations, or requests for more localized sessions, such as at a business.