Kool-aid and Kids at Hope
I drank the Kool-aid.
While not a religion or anything at all like Jonestown, it is as good as it gets if one defines a cult as great devotion to an idea or movement. It also has a passionate guru in Rick Miller, the founder of a belief system known as “Kids at Hope”.
It began in 1993 as Miller’s reaction to concerns that too many kids were being labeled as “youth at risk”. Fighting back, Miller, the founder and now CEO of the non-profit movement known as “Kids at Hope”, made the decision to flip to the other side of the coin and instead work with others to learn what contributes to the success of children and youth. In essence, to answer the question, “Why do some children succeed and others fail?”
The research found three universal truths.
Kids succeed when they are surrounded by caring adults who believe they can succeed. While it’s true it “takes a village”, those within that village must believe that all children are capable of success, with no exceptions.
Secondly, if children are to succeed they need meaningful, sustainable relationships with caring adults. Kids at Hope now references these as the four “Elements of Success” or the Four ACES. The ACE of Hearts is the anchor parent; the ACE of Clubs are all other caring adults who can positively influence a child; the ACE of Spades is known as the Treasure Hunting ACE or those unique individuals who can uncover the treasures and talents often buried in our most vulnerable children; and the ACE of Diamonds are those important adults who facilitate children’s pathways to success by exploiting, uncovering, and nurturing their intelligence and talents.
Thirdly, it is key that every child and youth be able to envision and articulate their future – not only in terms of their (1) education and career but also how they see their (2) home and family, (3) community and service, and (4) hobbies and recreation. Facilitating the future in this way ensures kids see the future as “somewhere” rather than “something”. As such it enhances hope and hopefulness.
For Miller and his colleagues, the research was critical because it conveyed an understanding that with a community culture of support, all children are capable of success - no exceptions. There truly aren’t any kids at risk if every child is viewed as a glass of water half full. Ultimately it means every child is a Kid at Hope. As the Kids at Hope organization now stresses, when every adult sees their role as being a treasure seeker who searches for treasure, they will find it.
While the concept resonates and is brilliant in its simplicity, the real genius lay within figuring out how to actually make it happen.
Subsequently, Kids at Hope has now developed and tested five strategies for ensuring Kids at Hope is operationalized.
Adults within an environment that serves children and youth e.g. schools, recreation and sport settings, faith-based organizations etc. must surround children and youth with this belief system that reflects all children as being capable of success, no exceptions. For instance, within a school setting teachers as well as custodians, administrative staff, bus drivers, cafeteria workers etc. need to embrace and reflect that message.
Secondly, as a way of helping kids rehearse for success, children are encouraged to recite the Kids at Hope Pledge which recognizes them as being at hope with talents and a plan for the future.
All kids are also issued a Kids at Hope Report Card at least once a year that reflects only their potential and positive attributes.
At least once a year kids are offered a Passport to the Future which is designed to ensure they can visualize a future within the four destinations of education and career, home and family, community and service, and recreation and hobbies.
Lastly, a method known as ACE Tracking validates and documents the importance of connecting all children with a caring adult in a meaningful and sustainable manner.
While it may sound deceptively simple, the research shows it is working. Kids at Hope environments are kinder, gentler places where grades are improving, kids are gaining confidence, pride and joy are strong, and there are fewer incidents of violence or bullying.
Perhaps the story that best illustrates the impact of Kids at Hope is one Rick Miller told about a twelve year old girl whose mother was suddenly struck down by a brain aneurism. As the young girl stood at the hospital bedside of her dying mother, she struggled to find the words to let her know it was alright to let go. With tears rolling down her cheeks, she straightened, raised her right hand, and began to recite the pledge she had been reciting at school each day – “I am a Kid at Hope. I am talented, smart, and capable of success. I have dreams for the future and I will climb to reach those goals and dreams every day. All Children are Capable of Success, No Exceptions!
It was her way of telling her Mom she was going to be okay. And, having met her five years later, I can tell you that despite the odds, she’s doing well and personifies the power of being a Kid at Hope.
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