The power of authentic relationship, for at-risk young people and all of us

The world is a complex place, and the problems we face do not have easy solutions. Yet one simple thing proves over and over to be the source of powerful change: relationship. So simple that we perhaps underestimate its true force to transform individuals and society. But as people of faith trying to help, we sometimes build one-way relationships, where we seek to bring our resources to bear to change the life of someone less privileged. There can be great value in such transactions, but they are, indeed, transactions. These are rarely the relationships that drive sustained impact. Only when we bring our gifts and brokenness to a table where others can, equally, bring their gifts and brokenness do we create the possibility for transformation. Here are three local initiatives that brilliantly leverage this power to create true, dynamic change in the lives of at-risk young people, and those of the community members who step up to build relationships with them.


Thread in Baltimore redefines the meaning of family for at-risk youth and volunteers, changing the traditional one-on-one mentorship model to instead surround young people with a community of volunteers. They are unapologetic about the secret: unconditional love. They never, ever give up on a young person.

Unconditional love is so rare in life that it is identity-changing when somebody keeps showing up even when you reject them. It is also identity-changing to be the one rejected.
— Sarah Hemminger, Founder, Thread

reVision Houston similarly creates communities of kinship around incarcerated and at-risk youth. The idea emerged from faith institutions and community and government institutions coming together to create a collaborative, systemic solution with and for young people. 

We began to realize that the way to break down the barriers that exclude these kids and that keep them from accessing a successful future, is to help the people that don’t know them get to know them- the people in our churches.
— Charles Rotramel, CEO, reVision Houston

Fresh Lifelines for Youth (FLY) in California empowers young people in or at risk of entering the juvenile justice system to create a different pathway for themselves. It does this in large part by building relationships and fostering empathy among young people, between young people and officials in the system, and between young people and other community members.

At the end of the day, no man is an island; you’ve gotta create your village. Some of us are fortunate to have a village that’s functional, that meets all of our needs, and some of us have to find our village. But you do need a village.
— Ali Knight, COO, Fresh Lifelines for Youth

Read more about the power of relationship in this interview with Ali Knight at www.theroot.com. And learn more about FLY at www.freshlifelinesforyouth.org.