New Partnership Focuses on Strengthening Relationships in the Lives of Youth in Marginalized Communities

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Search Institute has selected five national partners to co-create and test innovative ways to strengthen the relationships that young people in marginalized communities experience in their schools, programs, and families.

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Titled the Relationships for Outcomes Initiative (ROI), this three-year effort grows out of extensive research on the power of relationships by Search Institute and others. This research shows that young people who experience “developmental relationships” in their lives experience better outcomes, including being more motivated in school, avoiding high-risk behaviors, developing social-emotional competencies, and other signs of thriving.

This three-year effort seeks to:

1. Show how a focus on building developmental relationships is a critical lever for improving a wide range of youth outcomes;

2. Create strategies and tools that equip organizations to be more intentional and inclusive in their relationship-building efforts; and

3. Show how these relationships can be transformative in the lives of young people and their families.


The five partners were selected through a rigorous national application process. Each partner has a broad network of programs and has chosen a single local program that will serve as a “design site” for this initiative. The five partners are:

Camp Fire (Kansas City, Missouri) and its affiliate in Portland, Oregon.

City Year (Boston, Massachusetts) and its site in Columbus, Ohio.

Communities in Schools of San Antonio, Texas, and its program in South San Antonio High School.

Generation Citizen (Boston, Massachusetts) and its school-based program in Boston.

National Center for Families Learning (Louisville, Kentucky) and its partner organization, Toberman Neighborhood Center, San Pedro, California.

“These partners bring a wealth of experience in engaging and building relationships with marginalized young people,” said Kent Pekel, Search Institute’s president and CEO. “We are honored that they are joining us in this major effort, and we expect that what we learn and create together will have a major impact on young people across the country.”

The partnership will focus first on understanding how relationships shape young people’s and families’ experiences in their programs and where there may be opportunities to strengthen those relationships. Then Search Institute will work with each partner to design, prototype, and test tools and strategies aimed at strengthening relationships. Tools and strategies that are found to be most valuable will be made available more broadly.


The initiative builds on extensive Search Institute research on the elements of relationships that are critical for young people’s learning, development, and thriving. Search Institute has created a Framework of Developmental Relationships,* which is relevant for parent-youth relationships, student-teacher relationships, mentoring relationships, peer relationships, and relationships between youth and out-of-school-time program leaders. The framework identifies five key elements of relationships that contribute to young people’s development:

1. Express care—Show me that I matter to you.
2. Challenge growth—Push me to keep getting better.
3. Provide support—Help me complete tasks and achieve goals.
4. Share power—Treat me with respect and give me a say.
5. Expand possibilities—Connect me with people and places that broaden my world.

Relationships with these qualities are vital for young people’s growth. Young people who report more strength in these elements of relationships are more likely to report a variety of social emotional strengths (such as being motivated in school), be more likely to be resilient in the midst of challenges, and be less likely to engage in high-risk behaviors.

However, as many as 40 percent of young people say they have just one or no relationships that reflect these actions, according to a recent Search Institute study in a major US city. Furthermore, gaps in relationships are particular challenges for young people who have historically been marginalized in society, including those living in poverty and young people of color.

ROI will focus on creating strategies and tools to support organizations in being more intentional and inclusive in their efforts to strengthen relationships with and among all the young people and families they serve, particularly those who are marginalized in society.

In addition to designing and testing practical tools and strategies, ROI will also advance the research on developmental relationships. It will deepen our understanding of different kinds of relationships as well as the factors in organizations that either enhance or inhibit developmental relationships. Findings from ROI will regularly be shared through research briefs, webinars, and other channels. Visit to sign up for updates.


Core support for ROI is provided by the Einhorn Family Charitable Trust. The Trust supports the ROI action-learning partnerships focused on K-12 education, out-of-school-time programs, mentoring programs, and peer programs. The ROI action-learning partnership focused on family engagement is supported by the Altria Group.


Minneapolis-based Search Institute conducts research across the United States and around the world to discover what young people need to succeed. The nonprofit also partners with youth-serving organizations to create spaces where young people thrive. For more information, visit

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Fatima Z. Muhammad
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