Developmental Relationships: The Key to Crucial Systems of Support for Youth

Diane Terrell, Executive Director, Memphis Grizzlies Foundation
September 7th, 2016
Posted In: In Real Life, Mentoring Partnership

Every day, teachers, coaches and colleagues, build natural mentoring relationships with youth through simple interactions. This story shows the power of relationships and literature to help all people develop skills, confidence and social capital.

I love to read and am well-known among those close to me for reading absolutely anything. My house is filled with stacks of books and magazines: spy novels, cookbooks, political classics, socio-economic treatises, art & design periodicals, tech magazines, best sellers, beach books, real literature … I read as much of anything as time permits.

LeanIt’s hard to identify a dominant theme across my readings in view of the diversity, but here I go: every story in the world, every story about the world, is in some way a story of relationships. And, these relationships always, always figure in the success and/or failure of the characters, both real and imagined.

Not profound, yet, an obvious truth too often overlooked when talk turns to building pathways out of poverty. In Real Life, relationships matter.

Youth mentoring relationships for example have been part of the formal and informal fabric of our society forever. The role of adults in the success of children is accepted, assumed. But not all children enjoy the same social benefits from those adult relationships.

Tennis talkFamilies of privilege are sometimes distinguished from those without by the degree of access they have to people who can propel their children’s advancement: give guidance, advise on critical decisions, write a letter of recommendation to school or college, make a phone call, refer to an elite program, provide assistance procuring an internship, a job … the list goes on.

Though we don’t tend to think of them as such, these are all mentors – adults working in concert on behalf of a student to enable her/his success in college, career … in real life.

I had the benefit of a group like this growing up. There were dozens of adults willing to activate their personal and professional connections to help me build bridges to a limitless future. They didn’t all know me but they knew and trusted someone who did. This informal system of support was critical to my growth and development. They are part of my narrative, my story.

Unfortunately, the mentoring relationships of children in poverty are too frequently structured as prevention not support, designed to forestall worst-case scenarios like teenage pregnancy, drug abuse, and juvenile delinquency when what children need – all children – is motivation, inspiration, and encouragement from adults to become their best selves.

RunningToday, the most innovative programs mentor children to those best-case outcomes by understanding that successful mentoring relationships open doors in the lives of both mentors and mentees. These relationships can bring the empathy and support that all youth require to develop self-confidence and resilience. These relationships can also bring those informal connections that help connect students to a vibrant future.

All we need are adult volunteers committed to rewriting the story of our community, one child at a time.


9 million young people in America are in need of a trusted adult in their lives to guide them in moments big and small. Join the In Real Life movement and become an advocate, make a donation or become a volunteer.

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