Utilization of Positive Youth Development Framework by Youth-Facing Organizations in Baltimore City


  • Selvi Rajagopal Johns Hopkins University
  • Kaitlyn Harper Johns Hopkins University
  • Katherine Holzhauer Johns Hopkins University
  • Tina Kumra Johns Hopkins University




positive youth development, qualitative methods, youth programs, resilience, African Americans


Positive youth development (PYD) is a strengths-based approach to youth programming which has been tested with success in largely higher income settings with mostly White youth. This study aims to identify the extent to which organizations who work in an urban context serving predominately African American youth incorporate PYD principles into their work. Organizations located in Baltimore, Maryland working with youth ages 14–24 were recruited for participation. In-depth interviews were conducted with organization leaders in this qualitative study. Thematic analysis using a deductive approach identified common themes and activities across organizations that aligned with PYD elements. All 17 youth-facing organizations interviewed described organic use of PYD principles through program activities regardless of prior knowledge of the PYD framework. Organizations prioritized activities to create an empowering environment for youth, build on youth assets and agency. The PYD principle of contribution was less explicitly incorporated into program activities, however organization leaders reported behavioral observations of youth exemplifying contribution. This real-world study demonstrates widespread utilization of PYD principles across a range of youth engagement activities in Baltimore. The results of this study provide insight on how organizations working with youth of color may naturally infuse elements of PYD into their programs. Formal training and evaluation support for these organizations may help achieve positive youth outcomes through application of PYD frameworks.

Author Biographies

Selvi Rajagopal, Johns Hopkins University

Dr. Rajagopal is an Assistant Professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine with a primary appointment in the Division of General Internal Medicine. She is board certified in Internal Medicine, Pediatrics and General Preventive Medicine, as well as being a Diplomate of the American Board of Obesity Medicine (ABOM). Dr. Rajagopal practices as an obesity medicine specialist at the Johns Hopkins Healthful Eating, Activity, and Weight Program, which focuses on prevention and management of chronic disease in individuals with overweight and obesity. Her research focuses on improvement of health and nutrition literacy and built environment reform as strategies to reduce chronic disease burden among low-income populations across the age spectrum.

Kaitlyn Harper, Johns Hopkins University

Kaitlyn Harper is a fourth-year doctoral candidate at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She holds an MSc in Public Health from the University of British Columbia and an MA in Urban Education from Loyola Marymount University. Prior to her engagement in public health, she taught high school science. Her current research focuses on food and nutrition security for U.S. children and adolescents, with an emphasis on nutrition policy.

Katherine Holzhauer, Johns Hopkins University

Katherine Holzhauer is a Research Program Coordinator in General Internal Medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She is also a master’s student in Epidemiology at the University of Washington School of Public Health in Seattle. Her current research focuses on nutrition, eating behaviors, and sleep health.

Tina Kumra, Johns Hopkins University

Dr Kumra is an Assistant Professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in the Division of General Pediatrics.  She is board certified in Pediatrics.  She is the Medical Director for a community pediatric practice in Baltimore City and is the Director for the first clinical clerkship in the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.  Her research and clinical focus has been on improving the health of underserved youth through community and preventive medicine. 


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