Family Resiliency Center | Illinois


The Pathways Project (Proyecto Caminos): Youth, Programs, & Parents

Overview | Programs | Study | Research Team | Publications | Funding Partners | Contact

Project Overview

Participants and program staff alike can attest that out-of-school programs provide a unique opportunity for youth development. But how exactly does the "development" in youth development work? We know that young people are highly engaged and stretched in new ways. We know that they develop important life skills (responsibility, teamwork, skills for navigating the world around them) and that these often transfer beyond the program to other parts of their lives (family, school, planning for the future). But we have little systematic knowledge about how these developmental changes occur, what conditions best foster them and how culture comes into play. This study aims to bridge the gap between research and practice. The objective is to understand the processes and pathways of youth development in ways that are directly helpful to youth programs.


We are selecting programs for high school aged youth in a variety of community and programmatic contexts. We are focusing on programs that are structured, meet regularly, where participation is voluntary, and where the participants plan and work together towards a shared goal (e.g., a production, performance, community event or service project). We will choose a sample in which half the programs primarily serve Latino youth from Mexico and Central America. Programs are located in Central Illinois, Chicago, and Minnesota.


This study will involve obtaining information from youth and program leaders over one full program cycle (such as a school year). We feel it is critical to understand how the experiences and actions of both together shape youth development. This information will be collected through questionnaires, interviews, and observations at four points in time. To see how families influence and are influenced by youth's experiences in programs, we will also seek information from parents at the beginning and end of the program cycle.

Research Team

In addition to the University of Illinois, the research team includes researchers at the University of Minnesota, Loyola University of Chicago, Binghamton University and Arizona State University. We are highly commited to working with programs in ways that are beneficial to all. The prior research project by our team provided information that has been used by programs nationwide, as well as two dozen published articles that illumiate the experiences of youth and youth practitioners.

Reed Larson and Marcela Raffaelli, Principle Investigators
Dept. of Human and Community Development and Family Resiliency Center
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Rusk, N., Larson, R. W., Raffaelli, M., Walker, K., Washington, L., Gutierrez, V., Kang, H., Tran, S., & Perry, S. C. (in press). Positive youth development in organized programs: How teens learn to manage emotions. In C. Proctor & P. A. Linley (Eds.), Positive psychology: Research, applications and interventions for children and adolescents. New York, NY: Springer.

Prior publications from our research on youth development in out-of-school programs are available at:

Funding Partners

This research is funded by the William T. Grant Foundation.


Reed Larson