Project Cornerstone Hero

Project Cornerstone

Helping Young People Become Catalysts for Change

Nurturing Peer Relationships

Leave it to a middle schooler to come up with an idea called the FunZone.

Brian Sawaya won a Positive Peer Influence Award from Project Cornerstone—a community initiative of the YMCA Silicon Valley—for his innovative idea. Brian’s concept for the FunZone was to create a space where students don’t need to be alone during lunch and recess times. Brian took initiative to make the FunZone thrive, programming and facilitating games for every lunch hour of an academic year.

Brian’s leadership emerged from Project Cornerstone’s focus on developing healthy relationships with peers.

“We want to help kids understand their feelings, resolve conflicts, deal with bullies, and really learn to lay the social and emotional skills they need in order to create healthy peer relationships and become more engaged in schools,” says Anne Ehresman, Project Cornerstone’s Executive Director.

Building on Strengths

Project Cornerstone staff and leaders are using Search Institute tools and approaches to help young leaders like Brian cultivate key relationships with his peers. Our research shows that relationships with friends and other peers are critical to positive youth development. Project Cornerstone staff are working every day to intentionally build relationships with young people, and creating a web of relationships that includes teachers, parents, peers and near-peers.

Every five years, Project Cornerstone takes the opportunity to conduct Search Institute’s Attitudes and Behavior (A&B) Survey. This survey is based on the developmental assets framework, 40 research-based, positive experiences and qualities that influence young people’s development and help them to become caring, responsible, and productive adults.

Project Cornerstone administers the survey to 43,000 students, allowing the staff to examine

The strengths and supports that young people have

The perspectives of young people

Risk behaviors and thriving indicators

As a result, program leaders are able to chart a course for increasing students’ success by truly listening to young people.

“So many people want to make a difference and this framework has helped connect them to each other and helped kids become their best selves,” says Ehresman.

ABC—A Different Kind of Reading Program

Project Cornerstone also partners with 215 elementary and middle schools for the ABC Program (Asset Building Champions). This groundbreaking approach incorporates the principles of developmental assets into reading time, both in school and at home.

Once a month, parents come into the program to read stories that focus on one of the developmental assets, helping young people learn more about themselves and their peers.

Ziem Neubert, Project Cornerstone’s Director of School Partnerships, says ABC is one of the most rewarding experiences she has had working with young people. “I’ll never forget one little girl told me I was like her second mom,” she says.

The ABC program had such an impact on Joselin Maeyama when she was in kindergarten that she later advocated for becoming the first youth reader in two elementary schools. She wanted to pay it forward. Like Brian Sawaya, she received a Trailblazer Award for her leadership.

“For the most part, everyone gets transformed,” says Neubert. “Everyone gets their own ‘aha’ moment. It’s the small things that set the lightbulbs off.”

"For the most part, everyone gets transformed. Everyone gets their own ‘aha’ moment. It’s the small things that set the lightbulbs off."
Ziem Neubert, Director of School Partnerships Project Cornerstone

Relationship Matter in Youth Programs

Programs like Project Cornerstone are basing concrete actions on Search Institute’s decades of research and partnerships. These forward-thinking organizations are using practical tools such as the Attitudes and Behaviors Study to create lasting, positive change in communities around the world.