Cultivate your most important asset — your child

Mary Ganzel

Mary Ganzel

I attended the Darton College Professional Women’s Forum for the first time since I’ve been in Albany after moving from Chicago almost three years ago. It was a great opportunity to connect with other professional women and learn more about the wonderful things happening in Albany.

The speaker was Caroline Fielding, dean of Darton College’s Cordele Center. Her topic was “From Tear Gas to Sweet Tea.” I had no clue what she might discuss. She even indicated at the beginning of the talk she was not quite sure where she would go with the presentation. However, it was inspiring as she discussed her life experiences with family and friends, and shared how the choices she made along the way prepared her for her next steps in life. She finished by saying, “I hope something I’ve said today has inspired each of you in some way.” It inspired me to look back at my life and see how all the positive, and what might be perceived as negative things in my life helped form the adult I am today.

As a child you do not fully appreciate your life and understand exactly how people or circumstances can have a positive or negative impact on you. As an adult, you can look back and see how your experiences molded you, and how the choices you made along the way changed the course of your life. You observe how your actions can impact your own children and the children you work with or have contact with. While the contact you have with children may seem insignificant to you, you never know how your actions may influence a child. How you choose to treat any child has an impact on their future, so why not make a conscious effort to help a child become “healthy” in spirit, mind, and body by building their “assets.”

When you think about the word “assets,” what comes to mind? For many people, their first thought is financial resources, the kind of “assets” the bank examines when you apply for a loan. In our context here, assets mean valuable resources of another kind. The researchers at Search Institute, a nonprofit organization in Minneapolis, Minnesota, have identified what they call “Developmental Assets.” These Developmental Assets are building blocks that research has identified to have a positive correlation to a successful life. The young people who possess these particular qualities, relationships and experiences derive more benefits from life than those who do not. For example, when young people have a high number of these 40 assets, studies show they are more likely to be leaders, to be health conscious, and to succeed in school. In addition, these young people are less likely to use drugs, become involved in violence, or participate in underage drinking.

Developmental Assets are broken into two groups — external and internal. Of the 20 external assets and 20 internal assets identified by researchers, 10 assets stand out when I look back on my childhood. They are: family support; positive family connection; adult role models; creative activities; involvement in children’s programs; homework; caring; honesty; responsibility, and self-esteem.

My father and mother were normal, everyday people who worked hard to make a living and provide for a family. When I was younger, my father worked three jobs to pay the bills and my mother was a stay-at-home mom. My father gave up an opportunity to work for the railroad, where he could have made more money, so he could stay closer to home. My mother chose not to work outside of the home. She took care of four girls and one boy, who was the last of the bunch. That is the choice they made — to provide for the family and stay close to home. Although both of them graduated from high school, neither of them attended college. So, how did two high school graduates from a low income family produce five children who would graduate from college, medical school and obtain master’s degrees? Looking back, I believe my siblings and I achieved success because we possessed many of the Developmental Assets. Of course, we didn’t realize it at the time.

We were raised in a Christian home where we were told God gave each of us unique gifts that we were responsible for using. We always felt the support of our family as both of my parents attended our sporting and school events, and encouraged us to always to do our best. We had work responsibilities around the house, yard, and in the garden. Mom always had a meal ready between 5-5:30 every night, and we all ate breakfast and supper together (unless we had basketball, softball, baseball or band events to attend). There were definitely boundaries set at home and expectations of how we should behave. We had neighbors who attended church with us and were great friends and role models for us. Core values such as honesty, responsibility, respect and caring were instilled at a young age. We were told if our grades ever slipped, we would have to give up one of our extracurricular activities until we brought our grades up. We were blessed to hear about Berea College (now Berea University), in Kentucky, that had a wonderful scholarship program for high achieving students from low income families. I am proud to say that all of the kids in my family graduated from Berea University.

Developing “assets” in children is the responsibility of everyone. It doesn’t take a college degree to understand how to help children succeed, or grow to become healthy, productive adults. My mom and dad proved this. It simply takes people with a desire to be a positive role model, and participate in “asset-building” with one or more youth. I hope this article inspires you to build assets in your children, grandchildren and even with children who are not a part of your family. We’ve all heard it takes a village to raise a child. Well, we are all a part of the village, so let’s get to work! To develop a child’s assets, you might choose to volunteer as a mentor. Or maybe you are able to sponsor a child and allow them to become involved in a program that uses asset-building curriculum. Find out how you can help a child today. Children are the future of our community. Let’s build a healthier Albany by building assets in Albany’s children.