Author Archives: Tim Duffey

Reframing the Dialogue re: Beauty

We just posted our latest Video Short entitled A Beautiful Body. You can view it here free throughout January. It portrays the touching true story of how one dad intentionally spent time helping his young daughter (age 4) think about the real meaning of beauty by recasting the definition of “beauty” in light of what our own bodies are and can do just the way they are, rather than the culturally dominant theme of how our bodies look.

This is an important message related to body image for females of all ages. While some businesses, like Dove® soap, have tackled body image head on (see their Real Beauty campaign), this messaging is the exception to the marketing norm in the United States. As referenced on Dove’s website, a global study found that only 2% of women worldwide describe themselves as beautiful. In a compelling video demonstrating women’s self-perception, Dove’s efforts help us see how “disconnected” a woman’s view of self can be from reality.

It’s challenging enough for me to wrap my head around this when I see it impacting my wife, my close female friends and colleagues . . . or my own adult daughter. But when I see the impact of our culture already beginning to inform perceptions of my granddaughter at a mere five-years-of-age, it causes a skip in my heartbeat.

And what additional challenge do women of color, or differently-abled women face? How much more effort must it take to ward off the overwhelming marketing message of what becomes defined as beauty? The brushstroke altered, photo-shopped images that adorn every checkout aisle at the local convenience story or grocery remind me daily of how deeply the messages permeate our experience.

So . . . take up the challenge with me of letting every woman you know, regardless of age, about the real beauty you see in them. Recognize their gifts and talents. Compliment their effort and persistence, their ability to overcome, their capacity to love and care for themselves and others. The gift each of them is to the world. We can “out market” the marketplace, one interaction at a time!

Reflections on Transition

The end of another year approaches. (Do they get faster every year or is it just me?) This is a typical time for reflection, so I’ve given in to the trend and have been engaging in some myself.

2013 was a year of significant transition for me. And I don’t really care for significant transition all that much. Well, at least not always. There were major shifts in the collaborations we are part of in our work this year. After over a dozen years serving as the sole provider of Search Institute’s speaking and training events, that relationship shifted. There was loss and grieving involved, but what I’ve learned is that in that transition, great opportunity has presented itself. It’s as though we were running so hard and fast to sustain the old way of doing business that the idea that there might even BE a new way just never really occurred to me.

Like I said, I don’t really LIKE to shake up my life all that much. “Straight and steady as she goes” is often just fine by me. But I have to say, I’ve come to see the upside to the 2013 transitions we’ve endured.

I’ve learned more about myself; what I’m really made of, what’s really important to me, and that at this stage in my professional life there are certain work priorities that are non-negotiable. (Important stuff!)

I’ve learned more about our business; where we have established really important connections, whose work it is I cherish and wish to make present to the world in deeper ways, and how dang essential it is to hang with really good people who do GREAT WORK!

Yeah, so I don’t really like transitions all that much . . . but I’m warming to the idea. Here’s to a most prosperous and THRIVING New Year. To all of you, and to the young people we serve.

Tim Duffey, President, Vision Training Associates, Inc. and co-founder, Bolster Collaborative.

Our Presenters ROCK! (Really, they do!)

At the risk of sounding self-promoting, I need to take a few minutes to brag about the team of top-notch, high-energy, committed, passionate, people-of-integrity that comprise our small team of presenters. I often hear friends (and strangers) bemoan the awful people with whom they work. (Some sound particularly HORRID!) And I’m always left thinking . . . “that’s not the people I work with!”

I know. I’m fortunate. But I’m not alone. Through their work this dedicated team has traveled across North America (and beyond) sharing uplifting, research-based details that bring hope and possibility to tired professionals, weary parents, and distraught communities. And they love it!

Okay, I’ll stop. But do yourself a favor. Check them out here.

Tim Duffey, President, Vision Training Associates, Inc. and co-founder, Bolster Collaborative.

A New Workshop from Bolster Collaborative

We are proud to announce the addition of a new workshop event to our line up! Raising Thriving Kids: Training of Trainers is now available for delivery across North America. Developed and field-tested in conjunction with two major school districts in California, this event prepares participants to deliver five sessions to parents, including multi-lingual groups. With content rooted in Search Institute’s® Developmental Asset® framework, parents learn how to utilize the information to enhance their relationship with their child(ren).

Find out more by clicking here!

Tim Duffey, President, Vision Training Associates, Inc. and co-founder, Bolster Collaborative.

Big Secret Revealed

I often hear adults commiserating over how to know what young people want. “How are we supposed to deliver programming that draws them in?” or “We do all this for them and they don’t show up. What gives?” The comments come in lots of versions, but I think you get the idea.

Well, I’m prepared to give you the #1 tool to address these questions. This is information that eludes all too many of us adults. Perhaps it’s because it’s just so dang complicated. Perhaps it wasn’t covered in our graduate curricula as we prepared for our jobs to serve young people to the very best of our ability. (Our heart and spirit are certainly in the right place, so it’s not THAT!)

Are you sitting down? Here is the #1 answer: ASK THEM!

Tim Duffey, President, Vision Training Associates, Inc. and co-founder, Bolster Collaborative.


More people in the United States travel to be with family and friends this week than any other during the year. Perhaps that’s because we need to occasionally stop to reflect, in the company of people we know and trust, on those things for which we are thankful. (I certainly DON’T think it’s because we relish the idea of hours in the car or enduring the “joy” of modern-day airports!)

So, in that spirit . . . I’m thankful for:

  • The chance to do meaningful work, with like-minded people–all committed to giving our best to the next generations
  • Young people of all ages—their hope, creativity, and passion inspire me
  • Health and well-being
  • Family: from my 90 year-old mother, to my spouse of 37 years, to our three wonderful adult children (making a difference in the world, each in their own unique way), to our three grandchildren
  • Chocolate
  • Sunny summer days for trips to the lake; sunny winter days for snowshoe treks through the Maine woods
  • And much, much more

And you?

Tim Duffey, President, Vision Training Associates, Inc. and co-founder, Bolster Collaborative.

Reflections on Family

We recently celebrated my mother’s 90th birthday. 90 years! When mom was born in 1923 the price of gas was 22 cents/gallon and the price of a movie ticket was 7 cents! (Though to be honest, the most interesting figure I found was that the price for a pound of prunes was 3 cents. Who tracks such things?) A lot has changed in nine decades . . . .

My siblings and I coordinated a family celebration of the big event that grew beyond our expectations. Four generations of our family ended up gathering in rural MT to pronounce to the world that we are PROUD about this woman’s life.  Three distinct generations of cousins were in attendance: those of my generation, my nieces and nephews, and finally their children—the newest generation to the clan. One of my cousins spoke to the fact that he was enthralled by the youngest in our midst. In watching them he was transported back to his own youth when, at similar times of family celebration, he recalled enjoying time with others of his own age while “older folks,” many of whom he didn’t really know, sat around the edges chatting about farm prices and politics.

What he reminded us all about was the power of family. How in this celebratory gathering we were planting seeds of groundedness with the youngest members of our family. They were building the ties that bind and together we were honoring the ties to days gone by.

As with any family, we have our challenges, pains, and sorrows too. On this occasion though, I was reminded mostly of the power of good that exists in these relationships. With its “warts and all,” it was still home.

Happy Birthday, Mom! Thanks for bringing us all together to weave the next chapter of family history.

Tim Duffey, President, Vision Training Associates, Inc. and co-founder, Bolster Collaborative.



An extensive line of toys and several hit movies have been built around the idea of “Transformers,” vehicles that become elaborately concealed beings through acts of transformation. I’ve wondered if part of the fascination with them is our own intrigue with the notion of transformation overall. Is transformation really possible? How do we initiate transformation? What energy is realized when someone undergoes a meaningful transformation?

And then I’m struck by how often I see people transformed in front of our very eyes as we have meaningful discussion about positive youth development principles in workshops, conference keynotes, annual meetings, or over a cup of coffee. Darkness fades and light seems to appear as they begin to shed layers of deficit-based thinking about our young, our communities, our organizations, and our ability to make change happen. People sit up straighter. Their conversation becomes more alive, more vibrant. They begin to imagine possibilities rather than only challenges. They are transformed.

Several years ago, in one of our annual trainer retreats, I issued this challenge to our team: “Our job, with every interchange with an individual, in every encounter with an organization or community, is to leave them a different place than when we arrived. We are agents of transformation.”

And on every table during that meeting sat a Transformer as a reminder of our goal.


Tim Duffey, President, Vision Training Associates, Inc. and co-founder, Bolster Collaborative.

Mission over Margin

I’ve been intrigued over the years by friends, acquaintances, and family members who have tried to understand “what I do for work.” I remember sitting at a table of family members, for example, the day of a family wedding when my dad said: “Tim, I STILL don’t understand what it is you do for work.” I took another crack at it, talking about how we help organizations and communities do a better job of raising healthy kids. (Polite nodding.) “We really want to help reduce risk taking and increase thriving among the young in every community, Dad” (More polite nodding, followed by “Can I get some more coffee?”)

It’s really no wonder that the “what I do” question is a bit hard for some folks to wrap their head around. It’s a bit counter-cultural. Placing Mission over Margin, I mean. I don’t work in a place that makes widgets . . . or gadgets for that matter.  There is no brick and mortar edifice where we all gather to work collaboratively toward some financial goal or try to convince hoards of investors or unsuspecting customers to “buy our stuff” because it will make them sexier, taller, richer, or more popular.

No, ours is the work that’s deeper. In my case, my professional journey was JARRED out of a more predictable path when I first heard a powerful line up of thought leaders in youth development in Albuquerque, NM in 1994. Emmy Werner was there, and Steve Wolin, and Bonnie Benard, . . . and Peter Benson. Peter’s vision of a world where all young people are valued and thrive pulled me in, as I know it has many who visit this website. It was a life changing experience. Since then my work, more than anything, has been to help others have that same experience. To see that we have an opportunity DAILY to make a difference for young people, to be intentional, to inspire others, to care enough to DO.

I don’t have a substantial 401k or retirement plan, but in my book a life driven by mission trumps one driven by margin every day of the week.

Tim Duffey, President, Vision Training Associates, Inc. and co-founder, Bolster Collaborative.

Welcome from Tim Duffey

Welcome! Bolster Collaborative and Vision Training Associates, Inc. are committed to bringing inspiration, proven practice, and challenging ideas to the forefront for anyone concerned about young people. Toward that end, we provide this weekly blog as a way to enhance reflection on our daily actions and interactions.

Our usual blog author will be Nancy Tellett-Royce, someone many of you will know very well from her extensive history at Search Institute. While there, Nancy proved herself to be an invaluable resource to individuals, organizations, and communities implementing strength-based, positive youth development strategies. Her extensive knowledge and experience are invaluable resources to Bolster Collaborative… and we are glad to provide you access to her wisdom in and insights through these blog posts.

We know that anyone visiting the Bolster Collaborative website is passionate about the future of our young. To support you in that goal, the content you’ll find here will provide you weekly reflections, insights, and strategies. We welcome your feedback and input on how to make this blog most valuable for you.

Enjoy your reading . . . and thanks for all you do!

Tim Duffy photo

Tim Duffey, President, Vision Training Associates, Inc. and co-founder, Bolster Collaborative.