Rather than thinking of such programs in certain categories—such as those that focus on sports or academics or those that are faith-based or school-based or recreational center-based—we decided that it would be more useful to see programs as arrayed along a continuum and to be generous in our definition of community. At one end are small, informal, and unaffiliated programs, typically only marginally funded by public dollars, that touch the lives of relatively few teenagers. At the other end are the large, often national programs that may have many state and local-level franchises, enroll sometimes millions of young people, have large and relatively stable budgets (often including substantial public dollars), and involve many adults in various capacities ranging from membership on a national board to service as volunteers in a particular program. In the context of this report, communities include neighborhoods, block groups, towns, and cities as well as nongeographically defined communities based on family connections and shared interests or values.
The committee also decided to look at programs and the organizations operating them in terms of the developmental needs the program is attempting to fill, rather than the particular structural form they have taken. This perspective stems from our view that young people have a number of fundamental needs—including, for example, the need for affiliation, friendship, and belonging to a group and the need to feel competent, efficacious, respected, and significant—and that they will seek ways to meet these needs in a variety of places and situations. Some of the possible places and situations can increase the likelihood of developmental pathways that include antisocial behaviors, such as joining a gang; others can increase the likelihood of developmental pathways rich in positive social (prosocial) and health-promoting behaviors, such as joining a community service group or a prosocial peer network. Community programs are therefore best seen and described from the perspective of how they are addressing what teenagers need and how these needs may change over the years of adolescence. In developing this report, we began by discussing what current research, theory, and practice show that young people require from their immediate environments as they grow toward young adulthood (see especially Chapters 2, 3, and 4). We then looked at individual programs and their evaluations through this lens (see especially Chapters 5 and 6).
Equally important is the question of what role these programs play in the lives of young people. Are they extensions of school? Are they merely luxuries for some families, or are they essential for healthy devel-