Supported by the John Templeton Foundation, the project will help the global nonprofit further define and implement its culture of love and belonging during student introduction
to local programs. Pictured above, left to right: Dr. Antoinette Delmonico, Vice President of Impact and Learning at YouthBuild USA, and Dr. Renee Spencer, professor and
chair of human behavior, research, and policy at BUSSW.
YouthBuild USA and the Boston University School of Social Work (BUSSW) are partnering on a three-year research project to identify and promote the best practices of local YouthBuild program staff during “Mental Toughness” orientation (MTO) — students’ initial introduction to a YouthBuild program.
Supported by the John Templeton Foundation, the project will gather strategies across a wide community of practice, working to identify the specific attitudes and behaviors of program leaders that contribute to a supportive, loving environment. Its results will assist in the development of an organization-wide orientation training curriculum to be used in YouthBuild’s global network of more than 275 programs in 18 countries, helping local staff implement the nonprofit’s culture of love, respect, belonging, and high expectations.
In YouthBuild programs, opportunity youth — young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither in school nor employed — reclaim their education, gain job skills, and become leaders in their communities. With love and respect, YouthBuild partners with opportunity youth to build the skillsets and mindsets that lead to lifelong learning, livelihood, and leadership. Welcoming students with love has been the central and differentiating factor in the YouthBuild model. Program participants often say that this crucial element was missing from previous experiences in other educational and vocational settings. While local YouthBuild programs may vary in structure according to local circumstances, an emphasis on love — and the positivity and engagement that result from it — is constant.
YouthBuild USA, the global nonprofit support center for YouthBuild programs, is the primary researcher, with BUSSW named as a partner research organization. The project is co-led by Dr. Antoinette Delmonico, vice president of impact and learning at YouthBuild USA, and Dr. Renee Spencer, professor and chair of human behavior, research, and policy at BUSSW.
“With the incredible support of the Templeton Foundation, YouthBuild USA is embarking on a special initiative that will help us identify the key tactics used by talented program staff and promote them to the entire YouthBuild network in an effective, standardized way,” said John Valverde, president and CEO of YouthBuild USA. “Student orientation — the ‘mental toughness’ portion of a YouthBuild program — is where students have the chance to display their desire to be in the program and a willingness to work hard. As local staff usher the next generation of leaders forward with a focus on love and belonging, we are so excited to provide them with training that will strengthen their partnership with opportunity youth. I am grateful to have Dr. Delmonico deftly leading this work for YouthBuild USA, and I am thrilled to have Dr. Spencer and BU School of Social Work joining us as our partner research organization.”
Delmonico leads efforts to evaluate and measure the impact of the YouthBuild program model at YouthBuild USA. Through research, evaluation, and the sharing of outcomes and best practices, she supports efforts to increase the overall quality, impact, and sustainability of YouthBuild programs. Beyond her focus on integrating strong evaluative measures into community-based programming, Delmonico is an experienced independent researcher and consultant in the field of youth-focused programs, including youth mentoring. Since 2010, she has been a lecturer at BUSSW, where she teaches master’s level courses with a concentration in macro social work and human behavior.
Spencer’s research at BUSSW focuses on how supportive relationships with adults promote positive development in youth. With extensive experience in leading major multi-year projects, she has successfully collaborated with programs to conduct multi-site research while developing, implementing, and pilot testing youth-serving programs. Her specialties include youth mentoring, mentoring for special populations, adolescent development, and gender. A BUSSW faculty member since 2002, she is currently chair of the School’s Human Behavior, Research and Policy Department.
As the primary researcher, YouthBuild USA — led by Delmonico and its centralized impact team — has considerable experience in program evaluation with a robust data management system, training and technical assistance, analysis of performance data, leadership development, and innovative program enhancements for the entire YouthBuild global network. As the partner research organization, BUSSW’s status as a multidisciplinary, research-intensive school provides a strong infrastructure that supports research and grant activities including IT support, post-award management, and institutional review board assistance.
The community of practice will consist of local program staff and stakeholders, tasked with ensuring that the knowledge and training developed through this study reflects the diversity of the YouthBuild network and ensures the sustainability of the effort beyond this study. Dedicated funds will compensate local programs on the ground for their knowledge, time, and involvement in this endeavor. The project is directly aligned with the YouthBuild USA strategic plan, 2023 Vision, to prioritize quality and impact rather than growth, and to remain fiercely committed to partnering with opportunity youth. These findings could also have far-reaching effects on other youth development organizations that serve this population.
The study is slated to begin later this year.