Theory of Change 


YOUTH WITHOUT A SENSE OF PURPOSE


What is the problem The Tenacious Group wants to address?

Youth without a sense of purpose, will not have the proper attitude to assess future opportunities, will lack the resiliency skills needed to overcome personal setbacks, and will lack the motivation needed to develop a roadmap for personal success. 

According to Stanford University researcher William Damon, “only about one in five young people in the 12-22-year age range express a clear vision of where they want to go, what they want to accomplish in life, and why.” One young person in Dannon’s research sums up the attitude for many young people today, "Apathy seems to have worked out well for me.... If you don't care, things don't bother you. So far, just being lazy and letting the chips fall where they may has been all right."  Dannon concludes that without a sense of purpose, young people report “an inner life of anxiety and a sense of feeling trapped in a life that is not under their own control. They feel disappointed in themselves and discouraged by what life has offered them thus far. They despair at the emptiness and meaninglessness of their daily activities.”

Another underlying issue is the disconnect between inability to filter negative stimuli such as family problems, scholastic difficulties, economic challenges, etc. and pursuit of any type of long-term goals. Without the tools to process negative stimuli, or in other words a “lens” to filter out the negative, young people, by and large, will lack the resiliency skills needed to persevere despite the negative stimuli.  Their ability to learn, internalize, and develop pro-social skills is hampered, despite the best efforts of well-meaning, valuable, and earnest social programs. While there have been a multitude of programs and initiatives, over the last 30 years, aimed at eradicating juvenile delinquency and poor scholastic performance, these programs have quite often addressed only the external circumstances evident in the lives of at-risk youth. Students identified as at-risk are often those who do not fit the mainstream mold; their learning styles, learning disabilities, or life experiences may be factors in low achievement or behavior considered unacceptable.

For example, there have been many programs over the years aimed at providing meaningful employment opportunities for young people, programs aimed at providing additional educational resources, programs aimed at helping alleviate poverty.  These types of programs and initiatives are highly important, and have done much to provide better educational, vocational, and economic opportunities for young people.  Nonetheless, low scholastic performance and juvenile delinquency seem to be social problems that just will not go away.  Recent studies in California schools suggest that minority students continue to have low graduation rates and test scores.  One recent study states that the majority of Hispanic and African American students consistently score below proficiency levels in Math and English STAR Testing.  Nationwide, as well, standardized testing data shows that students from low-income backgrounds perform lower in reading and writing achievement than students from higher income families.  This same data also shows that African American and Latino student’s score lower in reading and writing skills than Caucasian students.  In the meanwhile, gang activity in our inner cities continues to grow at an alarming pace.  The numbers of young people involved in gangs, their levels of violence, and their sophistication in recruitment all have reached all-time highs.  The U.S. Department of Justice estimated in 2006 that there were approximately 788,000 gang members and 27,000 gangs were active in the United States.

The Tenacious Group's Solution?

Develop and nurture youth sense of purpose, uniqueness and self-worth. How? Empower students tools to examine themselves inwardly, to see whether or not they have moved or grown in a direction that will lead to a purposeful, meaningful life. With this newfound awareness, they are taught to examine the inputs, influences and effects that have brought them to the life situations they are in today.  Next, they are taught a new way to interpret the factors that influence their lives. The analogy of a “lens” is used to demonstrate how to “make their eyes work.”

According to Project Cornerstone, only 68% of Jr. High and High School students report being optimistic about their future. Furthermore, only 52% of these students feel that their lives have a purpose.  Even when schools, or social programs promote goals for personal and educational opportunities, youth may still think, “What’s the point?” if they do not see learning as serving a purpose that has meaning to them. Students’ higher-order or long-term goals—or purposes—contribute to their engagement and tenacity.

When youth begin to see themselves with purpose, they see all the opportunities that are in front of them and are motivated to take steps toward taking advantage of the resources (schools, counselors, tutoring programs, after-school programs) being offered to them. Longer-term purposes, even when they are still developing, can provide a reason for students to adopt and commit to learning goals in schools & social programs.