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Community-Based Organization Responds to Covid Crisis

If you try to park in the lot at the offices of Strengths-Based Community Change (SBCC), don’t expect to find a parking space. SBCC staff and volunteers have commandeered the space to make room for an outdoor classroom. This resourceful team has scrimped, saved, and trimmed to purchase tents, tables, desks, and extension cords to ensure that every child in the community has an opportunity to learn.

In its 45th year of operation, one thing about SBCC remains fixed: an unrelenting drive to adapt to the changing needs of the community. Founded by a trailblazing team of licensed marriage and family counselors, SBCC is now a model for collaborative, community-driven change. Executive Director Colleen Mooney had aspired to be a social worker, and then she discovered SBCC at the Hometown Fair in Manhattan Beach. After a few years of volunteer service, SBCC’s Board of Directors placed Mooney at the helm. She’s been claiming that, while there’s an important place for therapy, healing also happens in families and communities. The evidence? SBCC serves 10,000 families a year in Los Angeles County.

“Community organizing is the cornerstone of our work. As a result, we’ve moved away from offering programs to building community capacity through what we call ‘ventures.’ The three ventures center on community activation, economic vitality, and the capacity to thrive,” explained Mooney. “We are catalyzing a deeper investment in communities through the ventures that we co-create with the residents in the communities we serve,” she added.

“SBCC’s mission is to help residents gain access to power. Access is driven by our belief that every person has gifts and talents and when those are lifted up, families can determine opportunities that make the best use of their talents; they can decide for themselves how to make the best use of their time.” This emphasis on strengths-informed choice is what attracted Mooney to Thrively. The alignment between SBCC and Thrively was clear to Mooney from the start: “Thrively helps young people discover and share their strengths, interests, and aspirations,” said Mooney. “Thrively is a natural fit.”

Thrively Strength Assessment measures students against 23 different strength factors. It also takes an inventory of your students’ career aspirations and their extracurricular interests.

Imagine an entire community where the members value themselves and one another for the internal assets that they bring to the table and where what’s on the table is shared. “When people are on a path to meaningful and values-aligned discovery, they become excited about making a positive impact and the entire community benefits,” emphasized Mooney.

Whether it’s distributing 2,000 grab-and-go meals a day, providing essential self-care products, registering people to vote, or educating children in a safe and welcoming outdoor setting, SBCC and their resident partners are making an impact where it’s needed most. This responsive and flexible approach is supported by the United Way and other values-aligned foundations that believe in the community’s power to drive positive change. Mooney sums up the veracity of this approach: “What we are seeing from residents is that no matter the level of their specific need, they want to help, they want to be of service and give back in whatever way they can. We all feel empowered by these remarkable acts of courage.”

Dropout Prevention Begins with Self-Awareness

With a passion for helping the underdog, Dr. Cynthia Knight has fervently persevered in creating a nonprofit organization to provide quality educational experiences for the most-needy of Iowa’s residents–the high school dropout.

From classroom experiences ranging from large school districts: Des Moines, Johnston and Ankeny, Christian education at Dowling Catholic High School to smaller schools in Iowa: East Marshall, West Marshall to a seven-year stint at the Iowa Department of Education, Dr. Knight listened, learned, and developed a program, Jordahl Academy. “This program has successfully helped students earn a high school diploma who have been told there is no money, they don’t have time to finish, or there are no more options available for them through traditional school environments,” explained Knight. Jordahl Academy, named in honor of Dr. Knight’s friend and mentor, Don Jordahl, who was instrumental in launching this work, has spent the last 9 years changing lives. “We connect students with highly qualified Iowa licensed teachers who are passionate about providing hope to these young people,” she added.

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“One of the best tools we have for our work is Thrively. We use Thrively twofold: to get to know our students’ interests/career plans so we can create a learning pathway that is personalized and project-based and to let students explore their interests through the online tools Thrively provides.” When students are engaged and can see the personal relevance in what they are learning, they are more likely to invest their time and see the direct impact their new skills have on their daily and future lives. “100% of our graduates are employed or seeking further education through the trades/college. We are proud of these young people,” Knight added.

Thrively PBL Project-Based Learning

With a servant’s heart, Dr. Knight funds this work through a tea room named after her grandmothers, Ivadel Ruth’s Tea Room, and a consignment shop, Backroom Bargains, and she runs with her husband. She also takes donations from Don Jordahl’s supporters.

More than 4,000 Iowa students have dropped out each year for the past three years. Dr. Knight created another option for these young people. She calls it HOPE.

Highly gifted students need social-emotional support and the confidence to share their real aspirations

Portola Middle School’s Highly Gifted Magnet is unique because it is the only highly gifted middle school in LAUSD. What’s not unique in the uneasiness that many students feel at this critical juncture in their development. Middle school can cause anxiety for some students who feel that they don’t “fit in” or who are not as emotionally mature as their peers.

Teacher Mia Kang explains, “We often forget that just because a young learner is advanced beyond their years intellectually, they may not be so socially and emotionally. Research and experience prove the veracity of this. My students need explicit instruction on SEL skill development. I began using Thrively to help students expand their range of skills, and what I discovered was that they were very forthcoming about their fears and angst. I also got to see that many of them are profoundly beyond their years in their SEL development. There were extraordinary responses to Thrively prompts that showed how important it is for family, learners, school, and teachers to work together to support SEL.”

“A lot of highly-gifted students are focused and driven but not necessarily inspired by traditional academics. After gathering data from the Thrively interests survey, I found that many of my students wanted to be chefs, pilots, actors, and graphic designers,” explained Kang.

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Understandably, in the classroom, time is limited and the urgency of preparing every child for a fulfilling future is unrelenting. Mia Kang acknowledges this but insists that addressing the social-emotional needs of highly gifted students is foundational to both their wellbeing and their academic success. That approach is also essential in developing their voice and making their school experience relevant.

 “I have used other SEL resources, those with massive binders, unengaging resources, and unrealistic implementation plans. When I discovered Thrively, I was thrilled because not only are the lessons highly engaging but the invitation to reflect is included in every learner experience. Thrively is an integral aspect of my daily instructional practice,” shared Kang. “I started using it half-way through the school year. After reading some of the responses, I know that I would have changed so much of the way that I approached my learners had I used it from the beginning of the year.”

Sometimes we forget that our GATE students have highly specialized needs, and we can default to emphasizing a course of study that is singular in focus. When we give our students a chance to discover and share their strengths, aspirations, and ideas, we can help them see their studies related to their values and dreams. Our highly gifted students can then see that academic achievement is not an end in itself, but a means of achieving a future of their choosing. 

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Thrively appreciates the opportunity to collaborate with Portola Middle School as they strive to ensure that every child’s social-emotional needs are supported.

Student agency and student empowerment

Most educators would agree that this is the dual aim of our individual and collective efforts. How then do we move from aspiration to action? If students are to become agentive, we need to create the conditions for their authentic voices to emerge. Authenticity is the outcome of being one’s true self, which results from self-awareness. Students feel safe to express their authentic selves when they believe that they are known and valued.

The core resource for transforming our schools into vibrant learning environments brimming with curiosity and creativity is sitting right in front of us: our students. When we value students as partners with us, we unleash limitlessness potential. Recognizing this, the principal at a high school in East Los Angeles posed a question: “What would happen if we empowered our students not just as learners but as learning facilitators?

The principal, Dr. Faatiai, at the Engineering and Technology Academy on the Esteban E. Torres High School campus launched a two-day professional development workshop for twenty-five students who would learn how to facilitate their Advisory classes. The students were a heterogeneous group comprised of both student body leadership and those who struggle with self-management. At the end of the workshop, all students were ready to lead an Advisory grounded by an authentic desire to know every student’s strengths and aspirations in the school.

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Students took Thrively’s Strengths Assessment during the workshop, which was designed for young people to increase self-awareness and surface their top five of twenty-three strengths. After the assessment, students discovered themselves and saw their peers in a new light. The facilitator began to call out each strength and asked students to stand and say, “Like me!” when they heard one of their top five strengths. The facilitator began, “One of my strengths is compassion.” Three students stood up and said, “Like me!” “One of my strengths is creativity!” Five students stood up: “Like me! With each new affirmation, new bonds were formed.

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When the twenty-three strengths were shared, students were asked to reflect. An 11th-grade student said, “It’s pretty hard to tease a kid who has compassion as a strength.” One of the more tentative students in the workshop added: “Individually, our strengths make us awesome, but when we put our strengths together, we’re unstoppable!”

Live Oak Elementary School educators do not leave student empowerment to chance

When students feel known and valued, they feel safe speaking out in front of their peers and speaking up when confronted with a challenge. Live Oak educators help students amplify their voices by showing them how their strengths and particular intelligence make them uniquely powerful. This approach has increased the effectiveness of peer collaboration as well as conflict resolution.

The school year begins with inviting students to share their strengths with their parents. Teacher Kim Yerkes explains the effect: “I have been amazed at the connection it provides for the family and how appreciative the parents are to see and hear about their child’s gifts.”

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Yerkes and her colleagues believe that families want to understand their child’s strengths and how the child is demonstrating growth based upon these strengths. When this strengths-based approach is established at the beginning of the school year, it becomes a means of motivating children and addressing challenges that may arise. When parents understand their child’s strengths that can inspire them to build off of those strengths to experience success. At Live Oak, the teacher, parent, and child are working collaboratively around a common purpose and with a shared understanding of strengths and intelligences.

This penchant for collaboration isn’t reserved for the adults; Yerkes analyzes Thrively strengths data to “better understand the dynamics” of her class. She establishes cooperative groups that build on each child’s assets, enabling all to work together to solve problems and work more effectively as a team. Yerkes uses student journal reflections as formative data to better understand how her students are processing what they’ve learned.

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Down the hall, Yerkes’ colleague, counselor Sarah Latham, is building rapport with 1,000 students at a time. Latham is the counselor for two schools with more than 500 students each. She uses Thrively to get to know each student’s strengths and multiple intelligences. Latham recounts a time when two students, despite conferencing and other supports, could not resolve a conflict. “I had two students that I was struggling with. I looked at their strengths and before I began, I said, ‘I want to show you your profiles on Thrively.’ They both had problem-solving as a strength and as soon as I told them this, their demeanor changed and they were more open to solving their conflict. Each took responsibility for their actions.”

When students are acknowledged and celebrated for what they and their peers bring to the learning environment, they experience a comfort level that allows them to trust that they will be heard. The educators at Live Oak reinforce this each day by seeing and honoring the whole child.