JUNE Asset of the Month: SAFETY Young people feel safe at home, at school, and in the neighborhood.

The Importance of Safety

Feeling safe at home, at school, and in the community is necessary for young people’s health and wellbeing. There are multiple elements of safety for young people, all of which are important to help children thrive. These elements include safety from accidents and hazards, safety from crime and violence, and safety from bullying and
harassment, just to name a few.

For young people, feeling unsafe often results physical, emotional, and social consequences. Youth who feel unsafe skip school more often, achieve less academically, have fewer friends, and are more likely to bring weapons to school.

In Project Cornerstone’s 2011 survey, only 62% of 4th-6th graders and 47% of 7th-12th graders reported that they feel safe at home, at school, and in their neighborhoods. To help raise awareness of the importance of safety to youth’s psychological as well as physical wellbeing, June is Safety month in Silicon Valley.

The following discussion topics can help young people identify the ways and locations where they do, and do not, feel safe, and promote conversations about how to improve safety for themselves and others.

• Has anything happened at school, in the neighborhood, at the mall, or anywhere else to make you feel unsafe, afraid, or worried?
•Do you know what to in case of an earthquake? Fire? Serious injury or illness?
•If you or a friend were being bullied, what would you do?

While safety is a critical concern, it’s also important that adults help young people understand that small risks are normal. Sometimes overstressing safety can lead children to avoid healthy risks that help them grow. Helping
young people learn to manage their own safety and react in case of emergency will help them develop
confidence and independence that will serve them well throughout their lives.

For families
•Does everyone understand the rules about answering the phone, opening the door to strangers, spending time at home alone? Work together on rules that everyone can agree upon and follow.
•Does everyone understand where to go and what to do in a fire or other emergency? Practice fire and earthquake drills so that children can easily recall the instructions during the stress and confusion of an actual event.
Together, identify at least three neighbors to whom your children can go in case of an emergency at home.
•Hold honest, open, and age-appropriate discussions with your children about personal safety, avoiding dangerous situations, and what to do if they feel threatened.
•Talk to your children about bullying, including what to do if they or their peers are being bullied. Bullying is a form of intimidation, and directly impacts young people’s sense of personal safety and comfort.

For all adults
•Make your home a safe place for all children in the neighborhood to go if they’re threatened, hurt, or lost.
•Create or serve on a neighborhood watch group for your community.
•Be an “askable adult” who youth can go to when they have questions or concerns about their safety.
•Model safe behaviors! Wear a helmet when you ride a bicycle and fasten your seat-belt in the car.
•Pay attention to what’s going on with the youth around you, and intervene if it seems that someone is being threatened, harassed, or bullied, or if youth are engaging in unsafe behaviors. At school or in youth programs
•Take a safety walk! Canvass the area with youth to identify places where people might get hurt or threatened, and discuss where the young people do and don’t feel safe at the site. Brainstorm way s to address the issues, and work with the administration or facility staff to solve the problems.
•Create and communicate clearly defined rules for physical behaviors as well as interpersonal behaviors. It’s important that youth know that bullying is not acceptable. Discuss and role-play ways that youth can stand up for themselves and their peers if they’re being bullied. Make sure that youth understand the importance of reporting bullying incidents and the difference between reporting and “telling.”
•Involve parents and caretakers in safety discussions to ensure message consistency and reinforcement

•Take 25 (http://www.take25.org) is a program of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children encoura
ging parents to take 25 minutes to discuss safety issues with their children. Their list of conversation starters at http://www.take25.org/res/pdf/Take_25_Conversation_Starters.pdf covers online and offline personal safety topics for young children, tweens, and teenagers.
•Electronic bullying online or through mobile phones, known as “cyberbullying,” is a growing phenomenon, especially with the relative anonymity for bullies. A good resource to help youth understand the issues is
http://www.stopcyberbullying.org. For adults, http://www.cyberbullying.us serves as a clearinghouse for the latest research and information about cyberbullying.
•For K-12 schools, Project Cornerstone offers the Expect Respect peer abuse and bullying prevention workshop. With the guidance of a skilled facilitator, teams of diverse students develop leadership skills and act ion plans to promote healthy behaviors and reduce bullying on campus. Contact Project Cornerstone at (408) 351-6482 or
info@projectcornerstone.org for more information.

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2014 Asset Champions Breakfast Honorees

Asset Champions” Honored for Work Supporting Youth at Project Cornerstone Awards Breakfast

1,000 people representing local governments, businesses, schools, community organizations, and the faith community as well as parents and youth attended Project Cornerstone’s annual Asset Champions Breakfast on Friday, March 21 at the Santa Clara Convention Center. The event honored the individuals and organizations whose commitment to building positive relationships with young people makes Silicon Valley a better place for young people to live and grow.

The theme of the 2014 Asset Champions Breakfast was Celebrating UPstanders. Co-masters of ceremony were Kiya and Niya Paul, Willow Glen High School juniors, and Los Gatos/Monte Sereno Police Chief Scott Seaman. Keynote speaker was Respect Insititue CEO Courtney Macavinta.    Santa Clara County Board of Supervisor’s President Mike Wasserman spoke and congratulated Project Cornerstone on 15 years in Silicon Valley. Entertainment was provided by the Lowell Elementary Mariachis and by Heather Appling, who sang “The Greatest Love of All.” Janice Fry, chairman of the YMCA of Silicon Valley board of directors, closed the program.

 SPARK Award Presented to Dr. Barbara Varenhorst


Dr. Varenhorst is a pioneer in the peer helper movement and has made a tremendous impact on youth. Over the span of her career, she has focused on the assets of youth as resources and positive peer influence while training thousands of youth to be resources for each other.

As a psychologist in the Palo Alto Unified School District in the 1970s, Dr. Varenhorst recognized that students were seeking help from their friends and peers before the adults in their lives, when it came to problem solving or decision making. This inspired her to develop a Peer Counseling curriculum and training at Gunn High School, teaching young people communication skills, human dynamics, and when to get assistance from caring adults. Programs such as Peer Helpers, Natural Helpers, Peer Mediation, and Peer Ministry all came from her original work.

Forty years later, after a series of teen suicides in the community, Dr. Varenhorst returned to Gunn High School and inspired student leaders once again to become peer helpers with coping strategies for personal relationships, family issues, and academic challenges. Most recently, she’s continued her work at Saratoga High School, with students and staff who are committed to student empowerment and positive peer influence.

“We honor Dr. Varenhorst today as a true role model for all of us to remember to empower our young people with responsible, meaningful tasks, and for being such a powerful ‘spark’ in the lives of thousands of young people throughout her career.” 

Linda Silvius, Director of School Partnerships, Project Cornerstone

 Johnson Tran Receives Positive Peer Influence Award

JohnsonTranJohnson positively influences his peers every day, serving as the youth voice representing Santa Clara County in policy organizations throughout the county and nationally. 

As chairperson of the Santa Clara County Youth Task Force, he currently is leading efforts to host a Youth Resources Fair that focuses on college and career planning. He’s also been instrumental in developing the task force’s by-laws and work plan. His most recent accomplishments include mobilizing more than 200 young people to participate in Day on the Bay, a multicultural community resource event in Alviso. 

Johnson also serves on the Leadership Council for the Opportunity Youth Partnership, an organization that focuses on strategies to connect resources with people (ages 16 to 24) who are not engaged in school or work.  Since working with both organizations, Johnson has successfully utilized social media to engage his peers with the details of meetings, conferences and events. His desire to include other youth in these efforts is what makes him exceptional, as he focuses on bringing to the meetings other youth who are experiencing challenges and obstacles in their lives. As a result, he’s exposing his peers to the bigger world and the role they play in it.

“I think that you, Johnson, are a very inspiring person. Thank you for everything that you have accomplished thus far, and continue the work you are doing.”  Brenda Mercado, Friend

 Leticia Tapia Receives Positive Cultural Influence Award


Leticia’s efforts working with staff, parents and students at Payne Elementary School in Moreland School District demonstrate a caring adult promoting positive cultural identity. Her contributions to the Spanish-speaking population have increased parent involvement in the school community. Through encouraging and mentoring parents to be volunteers in the Los Dichos program, she supports parents in learning how to present a lesson to the students, how to lead sensitive discussions on conflict resolution or building peace, and how to take pride in the gift of instilling a strong Spanish language foundation in their child’s learning experience.

As the Spanish-speaking lead teacher for Parent Project Junior classes, Leticia facilitates discussions with parents that are focused on academic support strategies to assist their child’s learning at home and at school. Parent feedback shows that the skills learned have had a positive impact on their relationship with their children.

Leticia also serves as a lunch-time yard duty supervisor, supporting a safe, responsible, and respectful school environment throughout the day. Her tremendous warmth of character and the respect she shows students enables her to be a caring and trusted adult that they interact with daily.

“Leticia is highly respected for her grace, her commitment to our educational mission, her deep generosity, and her obvious love and respect for our students, parents and staff. The influence she has had and the contributions she will continue to make to children, parents and staff as a Spanish-speaking leader in the Payne School community are making an impact.”   Theresa Molinelli, Principal, Payne Elementary School

Officer Ron Cooper Receives Adult Role Model Award


As a Mountain View Police Department School Resources Officer, “Coop”— as he is affectionately called by students — has mentored, inspired and acted as a positive adult role model for young people for 10 years.  Prior to becoming a school resources officer, he was an engineer with IBM who was inspired to make a difference in the lives of youth. In the past decade, Officer Cooper has provided support for many at-risk youth, reminding them that their life choices have consequences and guiding them to make positive choices that will lead to success. He also focuses on helping youth build stronger relationships with their families.

Officer Cooper runs the police department’s award-winning Dreams and Futures summer gang prevention program for fourth through seventh graders that emphasizes teamwork, self-esteem, decision making and standing strong against drugs, alcohol and gangs. Many graduates of the program return and share their experiences of making positive choices and finding success in life. 

In 2002, Officer Cooper started the police department’s Cops that Care annual holiday giving program, which raises money to buy toys for more than 1,700 children each year. He also started a boxing league, coaching and mentoring youth in all aspects of their lives.  He was honored by the Mountain View/Los Altos/Los Altos Hills Challenge Team in 2008 as a Champion of Youth and by the San Francisco 49ers in 2011 as a Community Quarterback.

 “All of Coop’s kids are grateful for all that he has done. He has really inspired many with all that he’s done and all that he’s given. Ron Cooper is definitely an admirable person.”   Alicia Herrera, student

 TeenForce Receives Community Values Youth Award


TeenForce is rooted in building developmental assets in Silicon Valley youth. With the motto of “Our Teens, Our Jobs, Our Community,” Founded by John Hogan, TeenForce is a social enterprise helping solve the teen and foster youth employment crisis by meeting the hiring needs of business while concurrently creating a business community that values youth.   

Through TeenForce, young people are discovering their potential by working jobs and receiving support on their path to self-sufficiency. They gain critical life skills, recognize their role in the community and meet adult role models and mentors. Work can include helping a company with web design or providing care for an elderly person at an assisted living facility. As the youth succeed in their roles, they gain self-esteem, enabling them to feel they have control in their lives and hope for their future.

While taking on the challenge of employment for youth in foster care, TeenForce addresses critical issues such as low high school graduation rate and lack of interest in youth pursuing college or vocational training. Through their connection with the Foster Youth Employment Coalition and the Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund, TeenForce helps young people gain confidence and skills while improving adult/teen relationships. Teens can then become healthy, caring and responsible young adults who value their roles in the community.

Since TeenForce began in 2010, it has placed 318 employees with 73 businesses. These teens have worked 101,597 hours and earned more than $900,000. The organization is creating a community of businesses who recognize and value youth while making a positive impact in a teenager’s life.

“TeenForce has helped me develop job skills for the future by helping me learn the skills I need to be effective in a corporate environment.”

Ja’nai Spain, TeenForce participant

 P.A. Walsh Elementary School Receives Caring School Climate Award


The students, staff and parents at P.A. Walsh Elementary School in Morgan Hill Unified School District begin each weekday morning with a pledge to show respect for others, make good choices and problem solve at home, at school and in their community. This creates a school climate of respect and caring that continues throughout the day through visual reminders and a variety of activities.

Across the campus students, staff and parents are greeted with street signs on the buildings that include Caring Street, Respect Road and Trustworthiness Way. Students and staff are proud of what the signs represent, and they are reminders that the P.A. Walsh community values each other.  

Through the Project Cornerstone ABC and Los Dichos programs, parent volunteers teach lessons about bullying, positive self-concept, and positive cultural identity. The Expect Respect Club has engaged the school community in an anti-bullying campaign. During recess, the Funvisor volunteer parents work hard to ensure that all students are engaged and not isolated.

In the Taking It Personally workshops offered in English and Spanish, parents are learning about the impact caring adults have on youth. Together, they’re incorporating changes in their lives to create a community where all youth can find success.

On-site counseling is available for students and parents in an effort to prevent behavior issues from arising and for students to feel safe. Students who make poor choices are asked to spend time helping others on campus, oftentimes by reading a caring book to another student. P.A. Walsh School is creating a campus with the caring environment that children need in order to thrive.

 “Isn’t it amazing how people don’t make fun of other people here anymore?”

Student, P.A. Walsh

 Don Callejon School Receives Caring School Climate Award


The creation of a safe, caring school where students feel respected and valued has been an essential component of Don Callejon’s school success for the past seven years. This has involved balancing a focus on students’ academic achievement and their personal growth.

Don Callejon School’s K-8 students represent the cultural and economic diversity of Silicon Valley. Staff, families, community members, and students have worked diligently to overcome cultural and socioeconomic differences among students. Programs have been introduced to boost academic skills, improve school climate, and create consistencies at all levels.   

Middle school students engage in cross-age interactions through buddy classrooms, community building based on demonstrating respect and responsibility, the sports program, activities between elementary and middle school, the drama club, and the outdoor adventure program. These programs increase self-esteem and pride and have resulted in students taking more responsibility for their own behavior and academic success. The buddy program is especially powerful, as it empowers middle school students to act as role models for their elementary buddies, allowing them to realize the significance of their behavior choices.

“We are fortunate to have a school that offers so many programs, thus allowing each student many opportunities to explore their interests and their community in a safe and nurturing environment. Each morning, the school day begins with announcements and warm words of welcome by the members of the middle school and the school principal. The Don Callejon School staff and community promote, in both word and action, students who are self-assured, considerate individuals who are always looking for ways to better themselves and their community.”

Jennifer Whitten, parent volunteer

 Yerba Buena High School Receives Caring School Climate Award


Yerba Buena High School in the Eastside Union High School District has made a significant impact in creating a caring school climate by reducing the use of school suspensions by 85 percent. This is due to a philosophical shift that created a more caring and student-focused environment that keeps students in school where they belong.

In the 2009 – 2010 school year, Yerba Buena, a high school of slightly more than 1,600 students, had an alarming rate of 682 suspensions. School leadership recognized that many students came to school burdened by the stress of poverty, neighborhood violence and prior unsuccessful school experiences.

Working with a community consortium, school administrators, counselors and teachers began receiving daily reports about what was happening in the neighborhoods that might affect one of their students emotionally, such as a fight or robbery, domestic violence or deportation of a family member. Utilizing this information, adults at the school began to reach out to troubled students and provide support, often diffusing the emotion that may lead a youth to act out. As a result, in just one year, school suspensions plummeted to 77.

Teachers also provided an alternative to sending students home and instead enabled disruptive students to remain on school grounds, receive counseling, complete class work and participate in school beautification activities. Now students feel they are valued at school.

“The teachers and administrators at Yerba Buena care about their students. One teacher always has food available to ensure that no student is hungry at the start of his class. Another teacher makes home visits. Another goes to the local recreation center and plays handball with the students. This caring makes an impression on the students who attend the school.”

Student, Yerba Buena High School

 About Project Cornerstone

Project Cornerstone is committed to helping every child feel valued, respected, and known. We are building a community where all adults support children and youth so they find their spark and thrive. Project Cornerstone works within the YMCA of Silicon Valley and with over 200 community partners and schools to intentionally build in youth the positive relationships, opportunities, values, and skills—known collectively as “developmental assets”—that provide the foundation for a healthy, successful future.  For more information visit www.projectcornerstone.org.

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Creative Activities: March Asset of the Month

MARCH Asset of the Month:
Young people spend three or more hours per week in lessons or practice in  music, theater, or other arts.
The Importance of Creative Activities
For many young people, creative activities can fulfill what Peter Benson describes as a
“spark”—the hidden flames that tap their true passions, motivate and inspire them to
achieve and create, and keep them on a positive path. Youth who have sparks, and
are surrounded by people who recognize and support their sparks, have higher grades
in school, are more socially competent, are more likely to volunteer to help other
people, have a greater sense of purpose, and are less likely to experience depression.
Creative activities are one of the most common categories where youth find their
sparks. Even if creative activities not a young person’s life passion, they still provide
benefits like fostering creative problem solving, critical thinking, and discipline, and
provide opportunities to connect with instructors who are role models and caring
adults. Unfortunately, most youth in Santa Clara County don’t participate in creative
activities. In Project Cornerstone’s 2011survey, 66% of 4th-6thgraders and only
24% of 7th-12th graders reported that they spend three or more hours each week in
lessons or practice for music, theater, dance, or other arts. To help raise awareness of
their importance, March is Creative Activities month in Silicon Valley.
The following discussion topics can help young people recognize the value of creative
activities and identify new kinds of creative activities that they might be interested in:
•Think back on the art you’ve created. Is there a particular piece that you’re
most proud of? Why?
•Who is your favorite musician? What do you like about their music?
•If you could be a professional artist, what would you be—painter, dancer,
singer, actor, sculptor, crafts person, or writer? Why?
•If you could take lessons in anything, what would you learn?
•How do the creative activities that you do teach you more about yourself?
By the way, creative activities can be directly linked with Asset #9—Service to Others.
Senior citizens, hospital patients, and military troops (just to name a few) truly enjoy
it when young people send them cards or useful handmade gifts, or perform their
skits and music.
The activities below offer a starting point to help integrate creative arts
into everydayactivities, and to use creative activities as an opportunity for asset building.
For families
•Help your children identify their creative sparks! Expose them to a variety of
creative activities, and find follow-up lessons when they find something they’re
interested in.
•Help your child understand that their mentors in creative activities are caring
adults in their lives.
•Advocate for your school to provide balance for students by serving as a voice
for arts programs.
For all adults
•Demonstrate the importance of creative activities to young people. Make an
effort to find out about the creative activities of the youth in your circle, and
share the creative activities in which you participate. Don’t just share what
you’ve created—explain why you enjoy your activity and how you feel while
you’re engaging in it.
•If the young people in your life participate in creative activities, support them!
Attend their art shows, performances, recitals, and concerts.
At school or in youth programs
•Make an effort to ensure that the creative activities you provide take into
account young people’s different interests and skills. For example, some young
people who do not enjoy drawing or coloring may prefer opportunities in
photography or digital arts.
•Help kids get exposed to a variety of creative processes through a “Give It a
Try!” For an art “Give It a Try,” obtain a variety of art supplies and sample
projects. Encourage kids to try a process that they haven’t tried before. Have
sample projects and instructions available for kids who don’t feel confident or
inspired enough to come with a new idea, but be sure to allow kids who have
another idea about what they want to make.
About the Asset-a-Month Program
The goals of the Silicon Valley Asset-a-Month program are to help align adults
throughout our diverse community in their efforts to promote positive youth
development by fostering developmental assets. For more information about the
Asset-a-Month program, contact Project Cornerstone at (408) 351-
6482 or info@projectcornerstone.org
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 Young people are given useful roles in the community.

The Importance of Youth as Resources

People of all ages want to feel that that they make a contribution and play a meaningful role in their community, whether at home, at school, or in the neighborhood. Research shows that youth who feel valued and useful have higher self-esteem, a greater sense of personal control, reduced delinquency, greater social and personal responsibility, reduced substance abuse, and better social skills.

Most youth in Silicon Valley don’t feel that they have opportunities to contribute to their community. In Project Cornerstone’s 2011 survey, only 53% of 4th-6th graders and 35% of 7th-12th graders reported that they are given useful roles. To help address this problem, February is Youth as Resources month in Silicon Valley. This asset focuses on including youth in decisions that affect them and creating participation and leadership opportunities where their contribution makes a difference.

The following discussions can help youth recognize opportunities to serve as resources

  •  What would you like to share with adults about your experiences in your home, school, neighborhood or faith community?
  • Who are some adults that you could talk to about making positive changes?
  • How will you know when these changes happen?
  • How would you like to be recognized for your contribution?

Keep in mind that serving as a resource doesn’t have to be a large effort. Adults can help youth serve as resources simply by asking them to share their opinions, skills, or knowledge, such as how to play a game or use technology such as text messaging.

Remember, it’s important that young people’s efforts be recognized and celebrated! Be sure to create opportunities to show that you value each individual’s unique contributions.


For families

  •  Hold family meetings. For example, one meeting can focus on discussing which kinds of tasks each household member is best at and enjoys the most. Then, review everyone’s current chores and make changes based on each other’s skills and interests.
  • Involve children in planning events such as holiday celebrations or trips. For family events, young people can help plan menus and cook, or plan games and activities for younger children; for vacations, they can research destinations and activities.
  • Ask children what they do or don’t like about their daily routines, and find ways to improve them.

For all adults

  • Ask a young person to teach you something new—a game, a hobby, a computer skill, etc.—or to share their favorite music or YouTube videos with you. It’s empowering to be able to introduce adults something that they don’t already know.
  • Ask a young person for advice on solving a challenge or completing a task. You’d be surprised at the quality of suggestions you receive.
  • Be sure to notice young people’s contributions and talents in every aspect of their lives.
  • Help a young person find age-appropriate opportunities to serve as resources in their community. For example, many cities and towns have a youth advisory committee or other group of young people who provide input regarding issues affecting youth.

 For adults who work directly with youth

  •  Does your organization allow young people to sit on boards and committees that affect its mission and programs? Including youth input at the highest levels not only creates valuable opportunities for young people but also helps your organization ensure that it’s in touch with the needs and desires of the youth you serve.
  • Be sure to create opportunities for all youth to feel like valuable resources. For example, a county sheriff’s office found that youth with low grades wanted to volunteer in the community as much as better students, but the community rarely asked those underachieving students to contribute. All young people deserve the opportunity to feel that their opinions and contributions are valued.

 At school or in youth programs

  •  Create leadership and contribution opportunities in your classroom or programs. Groups such as student council, playground peace monitors, traffic safety patrol, and others are great ways for young people to feel like their contributions are valued, especially if they have some responsibility in making decisions for the group. In younger grades, classroom responsibilities like line leader help students feel like their contributions make a difference to the class. Middle and high school students can even help interview new staff and participate in school improvement teams.
  • Invite students to share their opinions and suggestions about activities, and incorporate their suggestions in the future. Give young people choices about which activities they take part in.
  • Encourage young people to write letters to the editor, to companies, or elected officials to share ideas or express opinions. Help them develop and share constructive suggestions to address their concerns.

This article was provided courtesy of Project Cornerstone’s Asset-a-Month program. For more information, visit www.projectcornerstone.org.


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DECEMBER Asset of the Month:
Family provides high levels of love and support.

The Importance of Family Support

Family support refers to the ways that parents, siblings, and extended family show love, encouragement, and comfort to each other—families are the cornerstone of the social support system for youth. A 2011 survey of Santa Clara County youth reveals that while younger youth generally experience and are aware of family support, teenagers do so much less often: 88% of 4th-6th graders reported family support, while only 69% of middle- and high school students reported the asset.

Because adolescents require greater autonomy and independence than younger children, effective family support for older youth takes a different form than in earlier years; however, their need for their families is still strong. Adults are challenged to find a balance between giving youth the support they need to navigate their adolescence and the independence they need to develop as individuals.

In their book Parenting Teens with Love and Logic, Foster Cline, M.D. and Jim Fay discuss the transition from parenting younger children—who typically require guidance and firm limits—to parenting adolescents, who benefit most from the freedom to make their own decisions within the boundaries of safe, reasonable limits. According to Cline and Fay, effective parenting in the teenage years requires clearly communicating expectations and consequences while allowing youth to make their own decisions and “own” the results…even if their choices are not the ones that we would have preferred.

The following discussion topics can be used to open a dialogue with young people about the ways that they experience family support:

• Does your family provide support in a way that’s meaningful and easy for you to recognize? Why or why not?
• Do you and your parents treat each other with the same kindness and dignity that you’d expect from your friends?
• Does your family do things together on a regular basis? Are there any activities that you’d like to share (or be willing to share) with your family?

One of the most important things to realize about providing family support to older children is that they need the love and support every bit as much as younger children do, even if they claim that they don’t. Although it can be challenging to remain connected to preteens and teenagers, the benefits of doing so are immense.

The activities below offer a starting point to help build and strengthen the asset of family support.

For families
• Make family rules together, and agree on rewards for following the rules and consequences for breaking them.
• Try to eat at least one meal together every day, and set aside at least one evening or weekend day for the family to spend together in a pastime that everyone enjoys or finds valuable. Make the effort to maintain these traditions and rituals even if your children complain about them when they’re older.
• Be sure to recognize your children’s unique talents and encourage their interests, even when they don’t match yours. For example, if they’re interested in animation, check to see if there’s a convention or film festival in your region that you can attend together.
• Look your children in the eyes when you talk to them, and give them all of your attention in conversation.
• Be empathetic about their struggles and concerns—no matter how silly or trivial their problems seem to you, they are significant to your children.
• Praise your children for doing a good job and point out when they’re being helpful.
• At least once a day, try to express that you appreciate and care about your children.
• Be affectionate, but respect their space; older children especially may be uncomfortable about displays of affection in front of non-family members.

For all adults
• Talk with young people about their families and point out the ways that the children are supported and loved. Similarly, when you speak with parents, take time to notice and praise their efforts at providing family support for their children.
• If you’re an employer, help your staff provide emotional support for their families through release time, sick leave, and creating a positive environment where employees don’t feel that having children is a liability at their job.
• Sponsor activities and events in which the entire family can participate—for example, a picnic or carnival instead of a happy hour.

In schools and youth programs
• Deliver a unit on families to help young people appreciate and respect all kinds of families.
• Schedule events that bring families together, like open houses or family game nights.
• If possible, schedule speakers and workshops on family life and associated issues.
• Be sure that your staff recognition and acknowledgement of non-traditional families in which a child’s primary caretakers may not be their biological parents.

• Project Cornerstone’s Take It Personally is a six-week workshop for adults that focuses on ways that parents and all adults can be more effective and intentional in building assets in young people’s lives. For information on scheduling Take It Personally at your site, contact Project Cornerstone at (408) 351-6482.
• “Family camps” are a great way for families to spend time together in a relaxing outdoor environment. Check with your city, YMCA, or faith community to see when family camps are offered.
• Some good books about providing meaningful support to older children include Parenting Preteens with a Purpose: Navigating the Middle Years by Kate Thomsen, M.S., C.A.S.; Why Do They Act That Way? by David Walsh, Ph.D.; How to Talk So Teens Will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish; and Parenting at the Speed of Teens, published by Search Institute.

For more information about Project Cornerstone visit www.projectcornerstone.org

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Reach out to the Marias in your neighborhood

Developmental Assets vital to a child’s educational and emotional growth

By Anne Ehresman

“Want to get some ice cream?”

This simple question was life changing for me and my family. About two years ago, our 14-year-old neighbor girl was sitting on her front step as my family and I walked by on our way to the local ice cream parlor. We stopped to ask Maria if she wanted to come along. She hesitated, went inside to ask her mom, and then joined us. During the half-mile walk, she started sharing details about her summer and her cousin’s death.

Maria revealed that she hadn’t been leaving the house, had been listless and didn’t feel like doing anything. Clearly, she was depressed. Her 16-year-old cousin had died in a car accident earlier in the summer, and Maria was grieving. She was anxious about returning to school in a few weeks because she felt like no one there would understand.

In the moment, all we could do was listen. My children offered Maria their love and support. My husband and I asked clarifying questions and bought her ice cream. After we returned home, we brainstormed what more we could do. Because of my work with Project Cornerstone, I understood the importance of caring neighbors and caring adults. There must be something else besides ice cream that we could offer her. I contacted the head of counseling for the San Jose Unified School District and she was happy to reach out to Maria. I followed up with Maria, and she was happy to receive the help.

Fast forward two years. Maria has now graduated from high school. She is the first in her family to enroll in college level work. She has a sense of purpose and a sense of hope. And she still has ice cream with my family on a regular basis. Maria has learned that it is OK to ask for help and that we are part of her support network. She is a great role model for my children.

The message of “All Kids Are Our Kids” is woven into everything Project Cornerstone promotes. Every child deserves the chance to achieve their full potential. And they only get there with a web of support that hopefully includes their family, neighborhood, school and community providing them with clear boundaries and support. The developmental asset research-based model gives us the recipe for success for all kids. This model has been adopted by the city of Morgan Hill and by the Morgan Hill Unified School District. It has also been adopted by countless parents and neighbors who understand that “All Kids Are Our Kids” in Morgan Hill.

Please find out more about the developmental assets at www.projectcornerstone.org. I encourage you to reach out to the “Marias” in your neighborhood. Invite them for ice cream. Listen to their story. Help them connect. You won’t regret it.

Anne Ehresman is the executive director of YMCA/Project Cornerstone. Project Cornerstone is the premier youth development initiative in Silicon Valley committed to building a community where all adults support children and youth so that they thrive. Project Cornerstone works within the YMCA and with more than 400 schools and community partners. Anne is the mother of two children aged 14 and 9. Learn more about Project Cornerstone at www.projectcornerstone.org.EhresmanAnne

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October Asset of the Month: Positive Family Communication

For a pdf of this information follow this link: October Asset of the Month

Young person and her or his parent(s) communicate positively, and young person is willing to seek advice and counsel from parent(s).

The Importance of Positive Family Communication

Young people who experience positive family communication experience higher self-esteem, decreased substance use, less anxiety and depression, and greater school engagement. However, in Santa Clara County, only 63% of 4th-6th grade students and 33% of 7th-12th grade students reported in Project Cornerstone’s 2011 survey that they and their parents communicate positively and that they are willing to seek advice from their parents. To help promote this valuable asset, October is Positive Family Communication month in Silicon Valley.

 For positive family communication to occur, all family members must be comfortable sharing their needs, wishes, and concerns in an honest and trusting environment without fear of rejection.  Establishing positive communication when children are young may help keep the channel open in adolescence.

 No matter how old your children are, it’s never too late to start! The following questions can help your family. Encourage your child to answer these questions honestly:

  •  Who do you enjoy talking with, and why?
  •  What makes it easier to talk to family members, and what makes it more difficult?
  • Which topics are easiest for you to talk about with your parents, and which are more difficult? Why?

The communication skills that young people develop in their families help set the pattern of how they’ll communicate for the rest their lives. Teaching your children to communicate effectively with friends, teachers, co-workers, parents, peers, and others is a lasting legacy that parents can give to their children.


The activities below are a starting point to help adults find ways to show youth that they are valued and appreciated.

 For families

  • Create opportunities for unstructured communications. Sometimes the best conversations occur when you’re side-by-side instead of face-to-face, such as when you’re driving or working together in the kitchen.
  • At dinnertime, instead of asking “How was your day?” play Worst and Best, where everyone—including parents—takes turns sharing the worst thing and the best things that happened to them during the day.
  • Hold regular family meetings to check in with each other and discuss family issues like holidays or chores. Make sure everyone has an opportunity to participate.
  • Try having each parent set an “individual date” with each child where they spend time together away from home somewhere where they can talk, like a restaurant or coffee shop. This kind of one-to-one conversation makes it possible for a young person to discuss issues privately with their parent’s undivided attention.
  • Listen more than you talk.
  • Positive family communication isn’t just between parents and children—siblings should also be encouraged and supported to communicate with each other openly and effectively.

 For all adults

  • Model positive, respectful communications at all times.
  • Talk to young people about the importance of family communication.

 At school or in youth programs

  • Send home a list of “conversation starters” with information about the value of positive family communication. (See Resources at the end of this document for suggested books.)
  • Assign homework that requires students to talk to parents or other family adults.
  • Create and deliver a unit on “family” that helps youth understand different kinds of families and appreciate their own.


  • The following books offer practical tips on creating and improving family communication:
    • How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk
    • The Essential Guide to Talking with Teens
    • Conversations on the Go: Clever Questions to Keep Teens and Grown-Ups Talking
  • The Parent Further web site covers several topics related to positive family communication, including tips on how to talk about emotions, developing listening skills, and the impact (positive and negative) of digital technologies on communication. For more information, visit http://www.parentfurther.com/parenting-matters/family-communication.



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Project Cornerstone September 2013 Newsletter

Here is our September Newsletter, if you would like our newsletter sent to you directly please visit our website at www.projectcornerstone.org and look at the bottom right corner where you can sign up.

Project Cornerstone – September 2013 Newsletter

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Building Developmental Assets through Change

by Elizabeth Franco

Fall often brings change to many families; change in grade levels, change in schools, change in extracurricular activities.  We know that change is a part of life and that we should embrace it, but it can be scary, especially for children!

How do we cope with change in our lives?  How do we help our children cope with changes? According to Dr. Carol Dweck, psychology professor at Stanford University, helping youth develop a growth mindset gives them the ability to cope with challenges in their life.  According to StepitUp2Thrive, we as parents can help our youth develop a growth mindset by recognizing that they are facing a challenge and noticing the specific efforts that they are making to meet this challenge.

For example, my 9 year old was very nervous about the first day of school and being in a multi-age class with older students.  I acknowledged that this was a challenge for him and listened to him tell me about his worries.  Then I tried to follow Dr. Dweck’s advice by recognizing specific efforts he was making to cope with this change.  When he said that some of the older students were nice I told him that I liked how he could find some good things in his new class.   It has been a few weeks now and it is paying off, he no longer is afraid of the big kids in class and realizes all the great things they bring.  I really knew his mindset has shifted when he told me the other day that he was always nervous at the gym when the older boys were at practice with him, but now he realizes it is not so scary after all!

For more information on growth mindset visit:http://www.stepitup2thrive.org/mindset/introduction/

As for the staff at Project Cornerstone, we are keeping a positive growth mindset as well.  We are happy to welcome aboard our new team members:

  • Caitlin Bitcon, Thrive Champion
  • Mary Crum, Youth Partnerships Coordinator
  • Anh Nguyen, Vietnamese Outreach Specialist
  • Claudia Rossi, South County Outreach Coordinator
  • Anne van Tonningen, School Support Specialist
  • Yvonne Gunter, Social Work Intern

And we look forward to showing off our new home:

       80 Saratoga Avenue
       Santa Clara, CA 95051

Have a great September!


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SEPTEMBER Asset of the Month:
Parent(s) are actively involved in helping young people succeed in school.

The Importance of Parent Involvement in Schooling

Research shows that youth whose parents are actively involved in their schooling are more
engaged in school. Students are less likely to be delinquent or drop out, and more likely to
achieve higher grades and standardized test scores. Studies show that students from poor
families whose parents are highly involved with their education do about as well as students
from wealthier families. Joyce Epstein of the National Network of Partnership Schools developed a framework forunderstanding six different kinds of parent involvement:
  1. Parenting: families establish home environments that support children’s learning
  2. Communicating: families and schools engage in effective two-way communications about student expectations and progress
  3. Volunteering: parents directly support the classroom or school
  4. Learning at home: families help students with homework and school-related decision-making and planning
  5. Decision making: parents are involved in school decisions
  6. Community collaboration:  community services are resources integrated to strengthen schools and families

Parents whose schedules don’t allow volunteering can still support their children’s academic success through parenting, communication, and learning at home. Unfortunately, Project Cornerstone’s 2011 survey revealed that only 52% of 4th-6th graders and 35% of 7th-12th graders reported that their parents are involved in their education. To help raise awareness of this important asset, September is Parent Involvement in Schooling month in Silicon Valley. The following discussion topics can help you talk with young people about ways that their parents can be involved with their education:

  • What do your parents do that let you know they care about your education? What could they do to be more supportive?
  • What information about school is important to share with your family? What kind of information would you prefer not to share? What advice would you give a family who’s new to your school?
  • Some workplaces have a “Shadow Day,” where youth follow an employee and learn what their day is like. If you could have a Shadow Day at school where your parents followed you throughout your day, what you want them to see?



The activities below are a starting point to help create greater parent involvement in schooling.

For families…

• Make a point of staying in touch with your children’s teachers, even if your kids aren’t having problems. Most teachers are glad to communicate with you after school hours by telephone or email.

• Make sure that your kids have a clean and organized location to do their homework, and help them establish a regular schedule for schoolwork.

• Instead of asking “How was your day?” ask open-ended questions like “What was the best part of your day?” and “Did any of your classmates do anything funny?”

• Help your children maintain a positive attitude about school. Make sure they know that you will be their advocate to resolve any problems or challenges that they encounter.

For school administrators…

• The benefits of parent engagement apply to children from all backgrounds. Parent engagement is typically highest in middle-class families where the parents were successful in school. Schools should create thoughtful outreach and support strategies that show respect and value for the contributions of all children and families.

• Linguistic and cultural barriers can make it difficult for non-English-speaking parents to be engaged in their children’s education. Make sure that families who do not speak English understand that their involvement and participation is welcome and encouraged. Ensure families that a translator is present at all school events. Try to make sure that written  communications are provided in the parents’ language.

• Make sure that faculty are fully aware of the importance of parent involvement for all students. Encourage them to create meaningful chances for parents with diverse backgrounds to participate through programs that value their unique knowledge, background, and skills.

For teachers…

• Make an effort to start two-way communication with all families, and let families know that their concerns are important to you.

• If parents volunteer in your classroom, make sure that they are fully prepared for their projects. If they work directly with students, let them know what to do if a child is difficult or uncooperative. Make sure they understand how to provide positive, helpful assistance for mistakes as well as effective praise. You may wish to coach students in advance if they’ll be working with a volunteer to make the process smoother for everyone.

• Create homework projects that involve the entire family. Be sure to include all supplies as well as clear, easy-to-understand directions in the primary language spoken at home as well as in English.

In youth programs…

• Make sure that programs are not scheduled at the same time as school events.

• Provide childcare on evenings such as Back-to-School Nights when parents are expected to attend without their children.

• If youth complete their homework while in your program, make sure that parents are aware of any issues where students are struggling. Use every opportunity to remind parents of the importance of monitoring their children’s homework.

• Create programs that support parent involvement in their children’s education, such as “Family Reading Nights” or “Math Fun Nights.”


• Project Cornerstone offers parent engagement programs in schools throughout Silicon Valley. These programs are offered in both Spanish and English. Parents are provided with an opportunity to build developmental assets in their own children as well as other students in their classroom. Parents share asset-building stories and lead activities and discussions. The Spanish-language Los Dichos program opens new doors for Spanish-speaking parents. While supporting their children’s education they are building greater positive ethnic identity and cultural experience throughout their schools. For more information on other cultural programs available, contact Project Cornerstone at (408)351-6482 or info@projectcornerstone.org.

• Families in Schools is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to involve parents and communities in their children’s education to achieve lifelong success. Their web site offers a wealth of resources in English and Spanish to help families, communities, and schools effectively increase parent involvement. For more information, visit http://www.familiesinschools.org.

• Joyce Epstein’s framework for parent involvement can help administrators, teachers, and parents understand the different ways that families can be involved and provide a starting point for creating effective parent engage ment at a school. The framework and links to information about practices, challenges, and results can be found at http://www.csos.jhu.edu/P2000/nnps_model/school/sixtypes.htm.

• The San José Unified School District’s Office of Parent Education and Involvement offers training, workshops, classes, conferences, college and career nights, and special events. For more information call (408) 535-6405.


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