conversations on the fringe



Creating and Supporting Developmental Communities

Kids are going to need more than just developmentally supportive relationships with adults. They also need developmentally supportive communities. 

The Search Institute has been researching developmental assets for youth for the better part of 50 years. The higher number of assets a young person has the higher the likelihood they will become thriving and contributing adults. The lower the number of assets, the higher the likelihood they will engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as bullying, substance use, or unsafe sexual practices. These behaviors often carry over into adulthood.

Conversations on the Fringe initiatives aims to equip individuals, organizations, and communities with tools to become asset rich and therefore increase the number of assets available to developing youth. We believe this will dramatically impact the outcomes of their journey into adulthood.

In 2017, we are highlighting three community-based asset developing programs. Each program exists to equip adults, organizations, and communities with real skills, tools, knowledge, and experiences to make a greater impact in the lives of the young they love and serve. You can choose and customize the program that best fits the needs of your youth and community.

RealTalkRealTalk Drug Prevention Program

RealTalk Drug Prevention programs are geared towards those who wish to have honest conversations about drugs and alcohol, providing science-based research drugs of abuse and adolescent brain development science.

bullyinglogoNOT IN MY SCHOOL: Anti-Bullying Program

This program helps to nurture safe school and social environments through empathy and character development by equipping students with skills to increase emotional and social intelligence.

No automatic alt text available.True North Student Leadership Intensives

Every student has leadership potential waiting to be nurtured and released. When young people assert their leadership they have the potential to unleash a powerful force for creativity and change.
Contact us today to find out about cost or if you are interested in scheduling one of our community-based program at your school, church, or organization.

Conversations on the Fringe

P.O. Box 74

Delavan, Illinois 61734

Phone: 309.360.6115


Check out our other Fringe Initiatives too!

Conversations on the Fringe: 2016 Year in Review

2016 was our busiest and most fruitful year to date. There’s so much that happened over the year that we’d love to share with you but we’ve condensed it down to the highlights. Thanks for making 2016 an awesome year. We’re looking forward to journeying through 2017 with you.

Grace and peace,

Chris Schaffner

Founder of Conversations on the Fringe


Top 10 Blog Posts

  1. Youth Ministry and the Post-modern Learner
  2. Teen Gender Dysphoria and Christmas Shopping
  3. Sex, Aggression, and Adolescents
  4. How to Talk About Intimate Partner Violence with Your Students: A Guide For Youth Workers
  5. Stages of Sexual Identity Development for LGBTQ Youth
  6. Imaginative Hope
  7. Trauma-Informed Youth Ministry
  8. White Privilege
  9. Protecting Against Sexual Abuse In Youth Programs
  10. This is Your Brain On Opiates



  • Youth Specialties Facebook Live Q&A Series (self-harm, addiction, depression/suicide)
  • Can the Church Be Good News to LGBTQ Youth for the Illinois Mennonite Conference
  • Can the Church Be Good News to LGBTQ Youth at Simply Youth Ministry Conference
  • Conflict Management at Youth Leadership Academy at Elgin Community College
  • Reimagining Adolescence at the Faith Forward Gathering
  • Racial Reconciliation Experience at National Youth Worker Convention
  • Student Retreat at Heights Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Albuquerque, NM
  • Guest Lecturing at Eureka College on Systemic Abandonment and Moral Disengagement for the Juvenile Criminal Justice Program


New Initiative in 2016

Innovative Disruption – Helping churches disrupt the status quo and discover innovative ways to reach marginalized and vulnerable youth.

Fringe Life Support Training – Helping churches help hurting youth through pastoral counseling, spiritual direction, and mentoring.

RealTalk Drug Prevention – Working with communities who desire to have honest conversations about effective drugs and alcohol prevention among area youth. We offer a variety of educational opportunities for students, parents, schools, and communities.

Reimagining Adolescence – We explore the developmental, physiological, social, cultural, and spiritual complexities of guiding adolescents through contemporary society. This event is perfect for parents, grandparents, teachers, social workers, coaches, youth workers, or anyone else that love kids and desire to walk with them as they navigate an increasingly difficult world.

AND…CHRIS RAN INTO BILL MURRAY!!! (That was a personal highlight, even though he locked up and could barely talk to him.)


Dreams for 2017

True North Youth Leadership Training Online Cohort – This online student leadership cohort is aimed at nurturing and activating your student’s leadership through individual and group projects that will directly impact the community they live in.

Fringe Learning Labs – Learning Labs fill in the gap that traditional youth ministry education doesn’t address. We provide an affordable, customized training experience for volunteer and staff youth workers to explore difficult issues facing yout today; issues such as race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and mental health.

Prisoners of Love: Teen Dating Violence Education

Dirty Little Secrets: dealing with the Problem of Porn

Digital and printed resources for youth, parents, and youth workers

Incorporation as a 501c3 nonprofit organization

Youth Ministries That Nurture Resiliency In Vulnerable Youth

Young people are living in a world that seems hell-bent on breaking those who try to navigate it successfully. Likewise, the church in America has a tendency to break people as well, especially its young. If our students, children, and community youth are going to move out of adolescence into functional adulthood they will need to be resilient.

So, what exactly is resilience? Resilience is the ability to ‘bounce back’ after a tough situation or difficult time and then get back to feeling just about as good as you felt before. It’s also the ability to adapt to difficult circumstances that you can’t change, and keep on thriving.

Rick Little and the fine folks over at the Positive Youth Development Movement have identified the 7 Cs: Essential Building Blocks of Resilience. They say “Young people live up or down to expectations we set for them. They need adults who believe in them unconditionally and hold them to the high expectations of being compassionate, generous, and creative.”

Competence: When we notice what young people are doing right and give them opportunities to develop important skills, they feel competent. We undermine competence when we don’t allow young people to recover themselves after a fall.

Confidence: Young people need confidence to be able to navigate the world, think outside the box, and recover from challenges.

Connection: Connections with other people, schools, and communities offer young people the security that allows them to stand on their own and develop creative solutions.

Character: Young people need a clear sense of right and wrong and a commitment to integrity.

Contribution: Young people who contribute to the well-being of others will receive gratitude rather than condemnation. They will learn that contributing feels good and may therefore more easily turn to others, and do so without shame.

Coping: Young people who possess a variety of healthy coping strategies will be less likely to turn to dangerous quick fixes when stressed.

Control: Young people who understand privileges and respect are earned through demonstrated responsibility will learn to make wise choices and feel a sense of control.


This is a great grid to think through when creating programs, purchasing curriculum, and planning events. Can our efforts increase resilience in the most vulnerable youth? I think they can but it will take thoughtful intentionality.

  • What if our we created more opportunities for students to lead (in big church)? Would that increase their competence to have their leadership validated and nurtured by other leaders?
  • What if we taught a series on confidence (I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me)? Sound familiar? Are we driving this truth deep into the hearts of young people? I’m not talking about the notion that I can achieve but more the notion that I can overcome.
  • What if we continued to beat the drum of integrity and character but laced it with grace so when they fail they are able to get back on track without having to avoid the shame monster?
  • What if we did more than just allow our kids to babysit for the Women’s Fellowship Coffee? What if we actually gave our students meaningful work in the church and community? What if they led teams with adults? What if they helped plan services? What if they researched their community needs and church leaders valued their work so much that it might actually alter the organization’s mission?
  • What if we offered more than shallow platitudes to manage the hurt and pain they experience as they navigate life? What if we deliberately included emotional and social intelligence in all our teaching and small group curriculum? What if we actually modeled self-control and appropriate vulnerability of emotions? What if we taught coping skills to kids in our youth group?
  • What if we allowed teens the power of choice? What if we allowed them to make wrong choices and were there to help them process the consequences of those choices? What if we encouraged rebellion (minor rebellion) and autonomy instead of conformity? What if we didn’t overindulge youth so they develop a sense of entitlement and instead taught them the value of work and earning respect?

I wish I had learned many of these lessons growing up. More than that, I wish I had been surrounded by a great herd of adults that walked alongside me while I learned these lessons, encouraging me, walking beside me, challenging me by raising the bar, modeling resilience, and not giving up on me when I screwed up. I imagine that sounds a little like heaven to a vulnerable teenager and that’s the point, isn’t it?

Building Bridges (pt. 4 – Sense of Belonging/Community)

In our research, the greater the disconnect, the greater the sense of marginalization among LGBTQ youth, the higher the likelihood of high-risk behaviors. To compensate for the deep depression of being isolated many would turn to drugs or alcohol to numb those feelings. Many contemplate suicide at higher rates than their non-LGBTQ peers. Often they would move towards unhealthy communities seeking acceptance and belonging and engage in unsafe and unhealthy sexual activity just to feel a sense of love and that of being wanted.

There are culturally accepted norms by which we hold all people to. The more they are like the norm, the greater level of acceptance and support we are likely to give them. It’s not pretty but it’s honest. Jesus flipped this upside down with his kingdom. One of his goals for the kingdom was to restore people to community with each other and with the Father. The more an individual is different from the norm (those with power) the higher the risk of marginalization.

Add to this tendency, the variety of intersections an individual might have that increases societal marginalization, such as; race, ethnicity, gender, religion, ability, disability, socio-economic status, location, etc.. The more different one tends to be the higher the likelihood of alienation and separation from mainstream society, thus impacting one’s ability to feel and maintain a sense of belonging and connectedness.

So, if we (humanity) are to work towards the reconciliation of all things, how might we better do this?

Where have our strategies failed? Where have they succeeded? What new strategies do we need? What posture might we take that increases the potential for restoration to occur?

New Trainings for 2016

We’re excited to offer two brand new training opportunities for 2016. Both address much needed conversations around important and urgent issues; the opiate overdose epidemic, and the need for cultural intelligence in a rapidly changing world. If you are interested in bringing either of these conversations or any of our other trainings/workshops/community conversations to your area, just email us at

Connecting with Marginalized Youth (increasing your CQ)

Do you have a diverse group of kids? Do you want to be more effective in reaching a more diverse cross-section of youth in your community? Do you desire to impact the lives of LGBTQ youth, kids with disabilities, cross racial and ethnic barriers, and get to know those who are strikingly different than you and those in your ministry? Do you desire to increase your cultural intelligence in order to build a bridge across the gap between your church and others? This training focuses on developing and increasing our cultural intelligence (CQ) in order to begin the bridge building process of learning how to love our neighbors that appear to be different that us.

Understanding the Opiate/Heroin Overdose Crisis

According to a government website heroin related overdose deaths have seen a 10-fold increase since 2001. Many of those impacted by this growing trend at adolescents and young adults. Prescription narcotics and heroin have become the drug of choice for youth across all classes, races, and socio-economic ranges. Learn about the impact of opiates on the developing adolescent brain and body as well as how someone becomes addicted to opiates. In this training you will earn how to use a life saving medication called Naloxone, an opiate overdose reversal medication that can save a loved one’s life. This workshop is in partnership with the JOLT Foundation. Visit JOLT Foundation for more information on Naloxone.

Disabled Youth and Youth Ministry Gatherings (pt. 6 – marketing to disabled youth and families)

It is not enough for a youth ministry program to simply be ready to serve the Disabled Youth Community.  Rather, the ministry should be proactive in making the Disabled Youth Community aware of it’s accessability.  It is hoped that any ministry targeting  youth with disabilities will be in contact from the outset with any known families or organizations serving them. It would not be a bad idea to contact such agencies to present your willingness to provide ministry opportunities for students and families that are interested, thereby providing a person contact for any of the referring staff.  Of course, the best promotion for your youth group are students with positive experiences of interacting with your youth group. 


Outreach material should assure potential students that your ministry gatherings are able to provide accessible, age appropriate youth ministry experiences for persons with a disability.  In addition to stating that accommodations and alternative communication strategies can be provided as needed, you may wish to assure the students with disabilities that they are welcome by including the universal accessibility symbol on your literature or website.











There are many facets of an outreach ministry that can be modified to accommodate the needs of youth with disabilities:

  • Tailor marketing materials, including signage, messages, brochures, website, and yellow pages ads to people with disabilities.  Have all such material state that accommodations are available.
  • If the ministry is committed to serving persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, have a dedicated line for a TDD, and have that TDD number printed on all outreach communications.
  • Provide a sign interpreter if one is available.
  • Create and use mailing lists of organizations that serve people with disabilities.
  • Conduct specialized training and presentations (include students with disabilities in the creation of) for adult volunteers and student leaders.
  • Adapt conference trips, camps, retreats, etc. with the disabled youth in mind.
  • Recruit students with disabilities to the student leader team or hire an intern/staff with a disability.
  • Work with family and support agencies (if necessary) to determine style of learning for students with cognitive impairments.
  • Link with particular disability groups for their expertise and to create staff training opportunities.
  • Be conscious of intersections (e.g. Latino youth who is gay and disabled)

Every ministry should expect to have students for whom they will have to make accommodations, but many of these accommodations will not require extensive or expensive changes.  Perhaps even more importantly, making accommodations and adapting your ministry for youth based on their functional limitation should create and environment in which they can be restored to community.  Often these disabilities carry with them stigmas that separate and isolation occurs.  God’s purpose for all of us is to participate in the restorative activity of God in this world.  This is just one of many ways we can do that.


Disabled Youth and Youth Ministry Gatherings (pt. 5 – physical disabilities)

As a general modification to the typical youth ministry gathering, it is necessary to accept different types of body positioning for people with disabilities – some people may need to stand up or move during group, and this activity should not be considered rude.  Youth workers may have to keep group meetings short or schedule frequent breaks to help people who lack physical stamina and make allowances for increased travel time to gatherings for people who use wheelchairs or rely on public transportations. 

Sometimes students with spasticity or other motor problems, such as those associated with quadriplegia, have voluntary or involuntary movements that are sudden and unusual for people not familiar with them.  The youth worker should ensure that group members are not distracted by these movements and understand that they are a normal manifestation of some disabilities.

Youth workers are weary, and rightfully should be, of personal boundary issues (e.g. the side hug with members of the opposite sex).  With a student with a physical disability that sense of what is proper may need to be modified for some in need of assistance, such as adjusting a wheelchair, etc.  When the proper course of assistance is not apparent, ask the student of family for guidance. 

The relative height of the youth worker and disabled student, when seated and talking, may also be an important consideration when working with a student who has a physical disability.  Disproportionately great differences in seated height can hinder communication, especially relative to body language.

If a student with a disability has limited transportation options, the creative youth worker will find ways to minster to them and their family.  Often visiting them at home or at an alternative site is will allow the youth worker to gain valuable insights into a person’s life and ultimately facilitate effective ministry.  It also communicates to the student that they are valued enough to make the effort (we’re hopefully doing this to all students).  Going to the residence of a student with disability also provides invaluable information about that student’s lifestyle, interests, and immediate environmental challenges.

Lastly, we must take into consideration not only the physical limitations the student might have, such as; playing certain games or traveling over certain terrain, but also the psychological and social consequences of the disability.  Issues that may need to be addressed can include impulsivity, social isolation, low self-awareness relative to medical or psychological needs, anger, feelings of hopelessness, or outright fear at living life with the disability.  These issues are hardly new to a seasoned youth worker, nor are the unique to persons with disabilities; however, a disability may exaggerate the severity of these conditions or their impact on your ministry efforts.

Disabled Youth and Youth Ministry Gatherings (pt. 4 – cognitive disabilities)

Accommodations for students with cognitive impairments can include the use of visual cues, mixed media, and the repetition of major points.  Experiential exercises is often effective for a young person with intellectual or cognitive disabilities.  Role-playing works well for a person with developmental disabilities – the process of playing a role themselves helps them to internalize it.

The use of verbal and nonverbal cues will help increase participation and learning for students with cognitive disabilities and make the group run more smoothly for all.  People with cognitive impairments are often impulsive because they lack normal feedback mechanisms.  They do not wish to be impulsive, but lack the ability to regulate this behaviors for themselves.  Therefore, youth workers and peer students should try to provide external cueing until the student can internalize it.  The youth worker and the youth with a disability can design the cues but should keep them simple, such as touching the person’s leg and saying a trigger word (e.g. “interrupting”).  If cues are used in a setting where other people will observe them, alert the group to the cue in a matter of fact way as you would alert them to a use of a dog or the space needed for a wheelchair.  Cueing can be useful for people with other types of disabilities and for other purposes as well.

For students with Ad/HD, it is helpful to establish a maximum length of time, for example, 10 minutes, for presentations.  Another modification to the group setting, which is beneficial for those with developmental disabilities or brain injury (as well as for other students), is to set aside 10 minutes at the end of the meeting to reinforce what was taught during the group.  Such discussion ensures that content is retained and promotes active rather than passive learning.  Some students with cognitive disabilities may have problems with time management and will need to be reminded of group meeting times with an email, call, or text.

It may be necessary to make changes to group learning activities in order to accommodate students with cognitive disabilities.  The use of alternative media to replace traditional learning tools, such as writing and reading, can be very useful.  An individual who has an expressive language disorder may be unfairly judged as uncooperative in participating in group discussions.  However, given the opportunity to express himself or herself through artwork, they may be able to communicate quite a bit.

Mixed media can be incorporated in other ways as well.  As a group learning exercise, students could work together to “draw the narrow way” depicting all the potential stumbling blocks they might expect to encounter as they go back to school.  Students can create memory books or journals (to capture the content of each bible study), or flash cards (or words or pictures) to jog memory of previously taught stories or lessons.

Youth workers should not assume, however, that one student’s experience will be understood by another, particularly in the case of a student with a cognitive disability.  There may be a great deal of shared experience, but the student with a disability may not understand it unless it is made specific and pertinent to their own life.

Disabled Youth and Youth Ministry Gatherings (pt. 2 – visual impairments)

Youth who are visually impaired need to orient themselves to the group setting in a different manner than those who are sighted.  They will need to understand the group environment, including the position of all the participants and the format or structure of learning activities such as readings, or breakout discussions, so that they can prepare for them in advance.  Other group members should be aware that they cannot use eye contact to communicate with members of the group who are blind, and must rely on different methods such as:

  • To guide a person who is blind, let him or her take your arm.  When encountering steps, curbs, or other obstacles, identify them.
  • When giving directions, be as clear and specific as possible including distance and obvious obstacles.
  • Speak to the person in a normal tone and speed.
  • It’s okay to touch a blind person on the shoulder or arm to convey communication.
  • Don’t touch or play with a working guide dog.
  • Ask the person how much vision he or she has and what communication modality  they are most comfortable using.
  • When leaving a room, say so.

Solutions to access problems:

  • Keep pathways clear and raise low-hanging signs or lights.
  • Use large letter signs and add braille labels to all signs.
  • Keep doors closed or wide open; half open doors are hazardous.
  • Have adaptive equipment available so people who are blind can be full ministry participants (i.e., talking computer, Brailler, etc.).
  • Make oral announcements; don’t depend on postings, electronic or otherwise.
  • Any printed material must be created with larger font size and clear script that is easy to read.
  • Add raised or Braille lettering to elevator control buttons, and install entrance indicators at doorways.
  • Utilize audio communication tools such as podcasts, streaming sermons, etc.
  • Make optical magnifiers and aids available for people with visual impairments.

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