Gratitude, Generosity and Hope

Funded by the John Templeton Foundation through Baylor University, this project is a collaboration with Lutheran Social Services and Dr. Peter Samuelson who serves as PI.

Lutheran Social Service (LSS) of Minnesota is heavily engaged in programming in both urban and rural settings with youth experiencing homelessness, youth in the foster care system, and other youth served through social service programs. We refer to these youth as opportunity youth because of their great potential (following Belfield, Levin & Rosen, 2012). Opportunity youth come to us with a narrative identity, or story of their own history and sense of self, based on what they lack (e.g., homeless, in foster care, poor) that is often characterized by the wrongs done to them (e.g., traumatized, abused, at-risk) or by wrongs they might have done (e.g., truancy, law violations, drug and alcohol abuse). For youth involved in institutional systems (e.g., law enforcement, foster care) there is a literal record of this narrative that is written down and recounted when youth are moved to new placements or programs. LSS youth programming uses trauma-informed care (Schneir, et al. 2007), harm reduction (Ho, J. n.d.), and positive youth development (Eccles & Gootman, 2002) principles to change that narrative as well as to help opportunity youth who are in our care see and understand their gifts and strengths and to set and begin to achieve goals based on those gifts and strengths.

This same mission is reflected in the current proposal. We propose to co-develop an intervention that cultivates gratitude, generosity, and hope through youths’ recognition of their own gifts (tangible and intangible, internal and external) and a sharing of those gifts with others. These character virtues are additional tools to change the narrative of scarcity that the youth we serve might have been told, or even hold themselves, to one of giftedness that allows them to apprehend the assets and strengths they possess, both within themselves and in their surroundings. In turn, youth may use this new narrative for their own benefit and for the benefit of their communities and the world. It is our belief that by assessing their own gifts and sharing those gifts for the benefit of others, youth will experience a mutually reinforcing sense of social support that will, in turn, promote social connectedness. Moreover, enhanced perceived social supports (achieved through gratitude and pro-social acts of generosity) will contribute to a sense of hope in the youth.

This project involves the co-creation of a curriculum for opportunity youth to promote gratitude, generosity and hope and to evaluate the efficacy of the program.