and require guidance from adults (Association for the Study and Development of Community, 2000). This may be one of the most important characteristics of highly valued programs (McLaughlin, 2000).
Programs vary in terms of the characteristics of the staff they employ—by age, race, previous experience, and educational attainment. Some programs are staffed by full-time or part-time staff; others rely heavily on community or family volunteers. Adult leaders—both paid and volunteer—came from various personal and professional backgrounds in the programs reviewed in Community Counts. Some had been in military services; others had been teachers; many had worked in church groups or athletic teams all of their lives (McLaughlin, 2000). Save the Children programs involve paid and volunteer adults and teens, youth interns, teachers, and community elders (Terao et al., 2000). Participants in the Community Impact! survey place value on adults leaders who were getting or had gotten an education (Association for the Study and Development of Community, 2000).
From the perspective of young people, supportive relationships are based less on the professional qualifications of the staff and more on the staff’s attitudes toward them (McLaughlin, 2000). Some community programs are led by adults deeply committed to young people and their futures. The staff that run these programs have an opportunity to influence a young person’s sense of belonging, their sense of empowerment, and their connectedness to the program.
For some youth, the strength of relationships may be heightened by interaction with adults of their own ethnicity or experience as role models, coaches, and program administrators. Staff who are members of the same community from which the young people come may provide particularly strong support. A participant explained, “The [program] really taught me how to survive on the street. Most of the staff members here grew up just like I did on the street and stuff like that so they really taught me how to stay out of trouble and protect myself.”2
Most important to developing connectedness and providing support and guidance is staff who are committed to a program and its young participants, who are consistent in the messages they teach, and who communicate warmth and caring while setting clear boundaries and consistent rules and expectations (McLaughlin, 2000). These staff attitudes matter more than do questions of race, age, or ethnicity. Youth see staff who they perceive are their allies and who are committed and trustworthy.