Delaware youth at center of new health initiative

AstraZeneca and United Way of Delaware have launched a 5-year, $3.4 million youth health initiative they say will result in Delaware’s young people making smarter choices, and meeting success in school and eventually in life.

The multi-year partnership, “Young Health Program, IM40” targets 12 to 15-year-olds living in high-risk, high-need neighborhoods throughout the state.

“We think it’s very important that we support our communities. And specifically, in this case, it’s the young people in our communities — making sure that they have the support they need, the tools they need and the framework to be successful,” said Marion McCourt, COO of AstraZeneca.

The program focuses on “assets,” developed by the Minnesota-based, non-profit Search Institute, an approach endorsed by Johns Hopkins University.

“Developmental assets are basic building blocks of healthy development. Good stuff that kids need to succeed,” said Gene Roehlkepartain, Search Institute’s CEO. “And they’re a whole range of things from a family support, to serving others, to high expectations, to an internal sense of honesty and integrity and a sense of purpose.”

Roehlkepartain says the Search Institute surveyed three million children across the country and found the more assets children have, the better they do in life, with 40 being the magic number; hence, IM40. 

“Our biggest goal would be for more and more people, more and more young people, to say, ‘I’ve got 35, I’ve got 40, I’ve got 28,’ whatever the number is to sort of say that reaching that target, reaching that goal, because we know, research that kids with more assets do better in school, in life, contribute more to their communities,” said Roehlkepartain.

The United Way of Delaware is administering the program and will work with schools, community centers and social services agencies to help integrate the IM40 approach into their own work with Delaware’s youth, beginning in communities of greatest need — the east side of Wilmington, the north ring of Dover and the Seaford-Bridgeville communities — and eventually expanding statewide.

“Very often it’s through the youngest people in the community that we can make the biggest difference. We all know that adolescents have a lot of pressures, specifically this program, is aimed at 12-15 year old children who are becoming young adults and to help them develop the tools that they need today to be healthy emotionally, physically, academically and to be all they can be in the future,” said McCourt.

And the numbers, Roehlkepartain, speak volumes. According to the Search Institute’s research, 61 percent of young people surveyed with fewer than 10 assets engaged in acts of violence in the past year, compared to only 4 percent of young people with 30 to 40 assets; 20 percent of kids with up to 10 assets reported taking care of their bodies by eating healthily and exercising regularly, compared to 91 percent of students with 30 to 40 assets; lastly, kids with few assets were 15 times more likely to use alcohol than kids with a lot of assets.

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