In the course of my work affiliations I often have an opportunity to attend educational seminars and trainings.  The focus of these sessions is to help those of us who deal with clients in a human service capacity to be more helpful, compassionate, and effective as we try to make life better for our fellow man.

One such seminar that I attended last year was hosted by Charles D. Appelstein, who has a Masters Degree in Social Work.  It was one of the best presentations I have ever participated in, and I want to share some of his common-sense ideas.  Mr. Appelstein’s focus is “understanding and responding to kids with emotional and behavioral challenges using a positive, strength-based approach.”  Believe me, his wisdom and creative methodology can help anyone who works with kids, and adults, and in today’s world, many people who are faced with emotional and behavioral challenges.

I think I was initially drawn to listening to what Mr. Appelstein had to say because he was dealing with problem situations with a positive approach, instead of the usual negativity and frustration that often creeps into our lives when we are coping with “problem kids” or even “problem people.”  And I will admit, his enthusiasm was extremely contagious.  I believe everyone in attendance that day left with renewed hope of better serving others.

Mr. Appelstein’s philosophy begins with the belief that all young people have or can develop strengths and utilize past successes to mitigate problem behavior and enhance social and academic functioning.  To a great extent, strength-based practice is about the power of positive relationships.  It is about the fact that we all have some measure of resilience, which is defined as the ability to thrive in spite of risk or adversity.  However, human beings cannot survive and thrive alone.  We each require support and encouragement from others.  Mr. Appelstein offers the following ways to help others, especially troubled kids, find that support and encouragement.

Mentors: The positive ramification of matching at-risk youth with mentors is well documented. Mentors can be found in many forms.  There are formal programs such as Big Brothers Big Sisters and Boys and Girls Clubs.  Mentoring can also be accomplished by employers, teachers, caring relatives, and many others in an individual’s life.

Volunteering: Self-esteem is legitimately boosted by helping others in need.  Opportunities can be found at animal shelters, old-age facilities, soup kitchens, with younger students at school, and in a myriad of settings.  There is no greater way to feel better about oneself than to help another.

Full- and Part-Time Jobs: Getting and maintaining a job can significantly alter a person’s negative self-perception.  Developing positive relationships with supervisors and coworkers is an important side effect.  Even such jobs as baby sitting, lawn care, and dog walking can have a positive impact.

Sports: Being part of a sports team or actively following an amateur or professional team provides opportunities for enjoyable interaction with those who share common interests.  Participating in sports has the additional benefit of promoting physical activity and fitness.

Hobbies: Pursuing a hobby can promote feelings of competence in people, especially when shared with a group of others who share a common enthusiasm for the activity.

Animals: Animals can serve as friends who offer unconditional love and absolutely no judgment.  Recent studies have proven that connections with animals are very therapeutic and confidence building.  If kids are unable to own pets, places like animal shelters or 4-H Clubs are good alternatives.

Family: Positive family connections often help kids to become all that they are capable of accomplishing, but many immediate family situations are full of conflict and problems.  Fortunately, out-of-home placements can help, and there are groups who are actively looking for and engaging other family members to form supportive relationships.

Self-Help Groups: It is good to be aware of all groups that exist to help with specific areas of life.  These include all forms of therapy, counseling, and other restorative strategies.

Religion: For many people faith is an incredible source of support.  Many churches of all faiths offer active youth programs.  If a person is open to faith connections, they can be a great resource.

Educational Goals: Help is often overlooked in this area, especially if a kid has dropped out of school.  There are many programs in place, some with scholarship or tuition assistance, for the pursuing of goals such as a GED, vocational school, armed services, and community or four year college degrees.

Friends: Many who struggle with challenges lack meaningful friendships.  We should do all that is possible to help kids establish and maintain meaningful friendships, which are important to people at all stages of life.

School: Most modern schools have groups established to help individual students in specific areas of accomplishment.  Opportunities for mentoring, tutoring, teacher support, academic modification, clubs, sports, activities, counseling, and others can help kids develop self-esteem and successes.

Neighbors and Community Members: People who care and who are willing to devote a gift of mentoring and/or time can have a tremendous impact on the life of a child.  It does take an entire village to raise a child.

These are just a few suggestions to help as you work with other humans and attempt to make a positive impact on their lives.  The key is to focus on the positive, and on the strengths of the other person.  When all is said and done, isn’t that truly the Christian way to live?