Relationship-Based Programming: The Key to Successful Youth Development in Recreation Settings


  • Jason Bocarro
  • Peter A. Witt


Youth development, mentoring, relationship-based programming, ethnographic research, outreach programs


Research and policy (e.g., Carnegie Council, 1992) have shown the importance and benefit of programs that supplement the education system, particularly among children living in high-risk environments. These programs have traditionally used an activity-based approach where the activity is central to the program’s design. This article presents the concept of relationship-based programming, a perspective that places a greater emphasis on the ability to build and solidify a healthy relationship between a youth worker and participants using the program or activity as a medium. The authors present this issue based upon three years of case studies and a year-long ethnographic study, which examined the impact of a Roving Leader youth outreach program run by a Park and Recreation Department. The program was designed to serve youth identified as “hard to reach” and whom other community resources were not serving. A critical component of the program was the importance of the relationships established between leaders and participants as opposed to the activities in which they participated. Several elements were critical to this process: being multi-faceted and flexible, involved and able to make connections, consistent, compassionate, empathetic, and patient. Taking a relationshipbased approach has considerable implications for youth program designers as they attempt to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse youth population.





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