There is one essential element that young people need to thrive: relationships with caring adults.
In his new book, “Vital Connections: Harnessing the Power of Relationship to Impact the Lives of Young People,” Human Ecology alumnus Lou Bergholz HD ’94 distills decades of working in youth and adult development into a collection of powerful stories and practical techniques for how to positively impact the lives of young people.
“There are three ways you help young people become successful,” Bergholz explained. “There are formal activities, such a curriculum, there is culture, and then there are relationships. In all the research I’ve looked at, in almost every corner of the world, relationships consistently show up as the most protective factor for young people.”
In his book, Bergholz describes six practices for building relationships that he gleaned from working with young people across the globe. These include designing a sports program for adolescent girls affected by complex trauma, implementing an after-school program in Gaza focused on mental health promotion and violence prevention, and working with Paul Newman’s global network of summer camps for children and families affected by illness.
Bergholz uses the same concepts about relationship building to work with corporations, schools and non-profit organizations by promoting teamwork, communication and leadership. He does this through his business, Edgework Consulting, which he founded in 2001.
“The idea behind Edgework is that everyone has a comfort zone,” he said. “Just outside of that, they have a stretch zone where they are learning and growing. And beyond that is a panic zone. We help our clients to work at the edge of their stretch zone, where they are learning and growing the most. That’s where the name Edgework comes from.”
Bergholz credits the College of Human Ecology with much of his focus on helping people to become their best. He remembers experiencing an “aha” moment when coming across a Human Development brochure at Cornell’s Ithaca campus.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to study when I was applying to college,” he said. “I was sitting in an Arts and Science information session when I saw a brochure about Human Development on the shelf next to me. I read [it], turned to my mother and told her this was what I wanted to do.”
“I soaked up every course, from “Close Relationships Across the Life Span” to “The Role and Meaning of Play,” he said. “I didn’t know it at the time, but studying the ways people grow and evolve over their life course would form the foundation of all my work. My degree was incredibly important in launching all that I do now.”