Parents and students engage in a lesson about engineering during Toyota Family Learning at Sunrise Acres Elementary School | Courtesy NCFL

A locally based national nonprofit, which recently received the American Prize of the Library of Congress Literacy Awards 2017, has been selected for a long-term research project to help at-risk youth.

The Louisville-based National Center for Families Learning, the family literacy advocate whose goal is to help eradicate poverty via education, has been selected by the 50-year-old Search Institute to create and test innovative ways to strengthen relationships between vulnerable youth and adults.

The partnership involving NCFL and its longtime partner, Toyota Family Learning, focuses on youth at the San Pedro, Calif.-based Toberman Neighborhood Center, a TFL partner, according to a recent announcement. The goal is “to take a closer look at how these relationships help young people learn, grow, and thrive in their schools, programs and families.” (The Louisville Free Public Library is one of Toyota Family Learning’s grant recipients.)

The partners over three years will focus on understanding how relationships shape young people’s lives and families’ experiences and where there may be opportunities to strengthen them, NCFL says.

Then, NCFL and Toberman will work with Search Institute to design, prototype and test tools and strategies to strengthen relationships with the goal of sharing the tools more broadly.

“NCFL and its partners serve families who are coping with toxic stressors on a daily basis such as poverty and violence, making it difficult for developmental relationships to thrive,” said Josh Cramer, NCFL vice president of education, via email. “However, we know it is still possible for parents and children to develop positive developmental relationships despite challenging economic and social circumstances.”

The project focuses on strengthening the developmental relationships that help young people succeed, including those with parents, teachers, mentors, peers and out-of-school-time program leaders, NCFL said in its announcement.

Search Institute says it has developed a framework that identifies five key elements that contribute to 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

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 an undisclosed major U.S. city. This deficit, it said, is at the heart of the research Search Institute will conduct with NCFL and four other partners.

“We look forward to the partnership with Search Institute because it will provide additional support and research to promote resilience among the families we’re serving by building a healthy attachment to caring adults, effective parenting, problem solving skills, self-regulation, self-efficacy, social capital, and more,” Cramer said.