YDN offers customized development solutions to educational and business organizations so they can create a culture where people are encouraged to become their best.

Culture & Values

In working to improve the community, YDN lives and breathes the same core principles we inspire others to bring to their work with youth. YDN hires and grows highly talented people who are committed to youth success and the following core values, which are the heart of its success:


We build open and honest relationships that foster knowledge and trust. In this way everyone’s unique ideas are brought to bear, and the results are awesome.



We bring a positive team and family spirit to our work. We create ways to enjoy the work, and engage the heart and soul.


We embrace and drive change. To do this, we must be more curious than certain. Continuous improvement often means doing things differently.


Social Justice

To promote inclusion, our work honors diversity, equal voice and equal choice for all.

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Our Team

Trao Thao

Program Development Specialist/Trainer


Trao Thao is a certified IncredibleCoach, LEGO SERIOUS PLAY facilitator, and is one of the Youth Development Specialist/Trainers with YDN. Trao has promoted Youth Development over the past 13 years through his work with community organizations in the greater Sacramento area, specifically focusing on resiliency, engagement, well-being, and building the strengths of young people.

Meg Birmingham

Program Development Specialist/Trainer


Meg joined the YDN team in October of 2019 as a Youth Development Specialist/ Trainer.  Meg is motivated to help others develop and grow to their full potential and is determined to create/foster intersectional and inclusive communities through a Youth Development framework. When she’s not at work you can typically find her at live sporting events, or out in the wilderness.

Helen Yee

Gallup Certified Strengths Coach


Ms. Helen Yee, a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach with YDN is dedicated to supporting her community with a commitment to bringing out the best in people and making a difference in their lives. With over 25 years of board and non-profit experience, Ms. Yee brings expertise in team building, event coordination, training, facilitation and board development. Ms. Yee’s broad array of experience and her commitment to bringing out the best in people has fueled her Strengths development and provides real life experiences her clients can relate to and use to enhance their personal strengths journey.

Vicki Stockbridge

Assistant Director


Vicki joined the YDN team in October of 2005. Currently she supports the organization in the position of Assistant Director/Office Administration Coordinator, managing the office responsibilities of the YDN.   Vicki is proud to be a part of the YDN team and is excited to be a part of making a difference in the lives of the people we serve.  “We all have a role in the success of our future. Engagement and relationship building are the key to a happy and enriching life.”

Adrian Ruiz

Executive Director—Gallup Certified Strengths Coach


Adrian Ruiz is a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach and Executive Director of YDN. He is recognized regionally as one of the leading facilitators, coaches, and trainers surrounding the strengths-based youth development approach. He assumed the role as Executive Director for the YDN in 2009. Over the previous years, Adrian has held the positions of Co-Executive Director and Youth Development Institute Lead Trainer. Adding Gallup Certified Strengths Coach to his repertoire, Adrian continues to shift the paradigm in how youth and adults partner with each other to create life-changing opportunities for youth to thrive and succeed.

Our Story

In the year 2000 Sierra Health Foundation and the Sacramento County Integrated Services Team conducted a study that identified a need to support youth providers with training and networking activities focused on promoting youth development research and practices. These research findings prompted a group of dedicated youth workers in Sacramento to gather around a table and ask questions like “How can we find out who else is doing what we do?” “How can we do a better job of working together?” This conversation led to the formation of the Youth Services Provider Network, or YSP.

In the early years YSP brought together youth-serving staff from all over the region to meet and get to know each other as well as to benefit from mini-trainings and presentations on youth development. In 2007 YSP became Youth Development Network (YDN) when it graduated from being a branch of a partner agency into its own independent nonprofit organization. In the years since the small beginnings of the organization YDN has reached thousands of youth workers from every sector with the intent of increasing powerful life-changing experiences for young people wherever they may be.

The Youth Development Institute

In 2004 to meet the training needs for youth development professionals YSP, now YDN, brought the youth development institute (YDI) to Sacramento (from its partner, Community Network for Youth Development, in San Francisco). These YDI trainings brought together teams of staff from multiple organizations to learn alongside of, and from, each other as they developed programs and practices that more intentionally support the positive development of young people.

Resiliency and Strength

The economic downturn presented a myriad of immense challenges for the Youth Development Network. In the face of these obstacles a small but mighty team emerged through the tough times. In 2012 YDN began to build its capacity to address projects on a larger scale, as well as dive deeper into its capacity to coach, train and provide technical assistance to teams focused on Youth Development in the Sacramento area. In addition YDN partnered with WestEd on a 21 school, California-wide effort to measure school climate through the “fishbowl” process, also known as “listing circles.” Today YDN continues to host YDI’s, and is also the regions expert in strengths-based Youth Development. As a Gallup Certified Coach, YDN Executive Director Adrian Ruiz continues to shift the paradigm in how youth and adults partner with each other to create life-changing opportunities for youth to thrive and succeed.


What is YDN?

YDN’s programs and services offer resources and support to a full range of individuals, teams, and collaborations. Since its inception in 2000 (incorporating as an independent 501c3 in 2007) YDN has provided an array of customized developmental solutions to educational and business organizations that are dedicated to building environments and cultures where people are valued for who they are and encouraged to become their very best.

YDN is recognized throughout California as one of the leading facilitators, coaches, and trainers of the “strength-based” approach. YDN specializes in the areas of leadership development, team optimizations, and organization climate and culture. Its unique style of leading change connects people to their passion and purpose.

Why YDN?

Places where people work, learn, and develop do not suffer from an achievement gap in as much as they suffer from an engagement gap.

Beyond the research, curriculum, and data that we share regarding strengths based human development you will find a gentle warm glow that invites you in. It invites you to take a seat, share a thought or two, give and receive the gift of listening, laugh, cry, ask why, and build the new. The container we set for dialogue is intentional. It is the difference between attending a training and belonging to a movement. It is where intelligence and empathy meet to create a wonderful place to gather. It is our commitment to you to create the “wego” – a collective movement forward for the benefit of all. It’s that feeling that we are stronger together than apart- that we

“What we know about individuals, no matter how rich the details, will never give us the ability to predict how they will behave as a system. Once individuals link together they become something different…Relationships change us, evoke more from us. Only when we join with others do our gifts become more visible, even to ourselves.”    Margaret Wheatly and Myron Kellner Rogers

YDN believes that in order for schools, businesses and organizations to function at an optimal level the people who work within those systems must be equipped with the proper tools and possess an understanding of best practices. The YDN approach will help you start creating positive change within your organization or team.

What are the Five Key Supports and Opportunities to Success?

The five key supports and opportunities that promote desirable outcomes and success include:
1. Access to emotionally, culturally, and physically safe environments
2. Caring and consistent healthy relationships
3. Opportunities to participate (decision making power)
4. Opportunities to contribute and know the community
5. Opportunities to build skills in engaging and challenging ways

One of the primary goals is to create a shift in thinking that encourages organizations, schools, and businesses to focus on providing the basic supports and opportunities needed to promote optimal development of students and employees.

We encourage individuals to focus on what’s right in order to help fix what’s wrong.

What Is Youth Development?

A process by which all young people seek ways to meet their basic physical and social needs and to build competencies (knowledge and skills) necessary to succeed in adolescence and adulthood.

An approach to working with young people that intentionally helps youth meet developmental needs, builds their capacity, and provides relationships and connections needed for their success. The youth development approach is based on over 50 years of research in the youth development asset development and resiliency fields.

Youth Development Principles:

  • Problem free is not fully prepared
  • Single focus strategies don’t work
  • Development happens across all settings
  • All young people need the same supports and opportunities
  • Youth should not be viewed as service recipients
  • Youth engagement and high levels of participation are important

Why Youth Development?

  • In Sacramento County, fewer than 45% of students meet or exceed standards on statewide CAASPP tests– for some groups of students as few as 18% reach those standards.
  • 14% of all students are marked as chronically absent (10% of instructional days) while 6% of all students were suspended for at least one full day.
  • Only 47% of all students completed their A-G requirements.
  • While 59% of Sacramento area 11th graders (who took the California Healthy Kids Survey in 2018-2019) reported high levels of caring adult relationships in school settings, only 35% indicated that there were positive relationships between peers.
  • 69% of 11th graders reported they did not have opportunities to participate in efforts to create positive change.

Research shows that youth who have support and opportunities that include: caring relationships, safe places, opportunities to participate and give back to their community, and have challenging and engaging skill building opportunities are more likely to thrive. Not all young people have equal access to these supports for healthy development. This is especially true in marginalized and high poverty areas.

While we recognize that all youth take risk in adolescence, it is the responsibility of all adults who interact with young people to bring out their promise.

What Is Strengths Development?

The strengths movement is sweeping the country, and the strength-based approach is proving to be a dynamic way of increasing youth and staff engagement. Research data shows that most people do not come close to making full use of their assets at work—in fact, only 17 percent of the workforce believes they use their strengths on the job. Building a strengths-based culture is about getting every person in the organization to do what they do best every day, and in doing so—lower turnover, improved productivity, and increased client loyalty.

People who focus on using their strengths…

  • Are three time as likely to report having an excellent quality of life
  • Are six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs

People that are in the strengths zone…

  • Look forward to going to work
  • Have more positive than negative interactions with coworkers
  • Treat customers better
  • Tell their friends they work for a great company
  • Achieve more on a daily basis
  • Have more positive, creative and innovative moments

These statistics also play into environments where youth are introduced to the strengths zone:

  • Look forward to going to class / program
  • Have more positive than negative interactions with teachers, students and youth serving professionals
  • Treat others better
  • Tell their friends they attend a great school / program
  • Achieve more on a daily basis
  • Have more positive, creative and innovative moments

YDN’s extensive experience with the strengths approach, in conjunction with their expert knowledge around human development and engagement, helps make the Strengths-Based training and coaching offerings powerful and impactful opportunities for the youth serving professionals, business leaders, schools and organizations that participate.

What is Human Development?


Human Development is a process of human growth through which people move from being taken care of to taking care of others and themselves. An approach in which people are supported as they build their capacities and strengths to meet their personal social needs and those of the organization.

An approach to working with people that intentionally helps them meet developmental needs, builds their capacity, and provides relationships and connections needed for their success. The human development approach is based on over 50 years of research in the human development asset development and resiliency fields.

Human Development Principles:

  • Being fully prepared is an ongoing process
  • Single focus strategies don’t work
  • Development happens across all settings
  • All people need the same supports and opportunities
  • People should not be viewed as service objects or recipients
  • Engagement and high levels of participation are important

Successful Model:

The City of Sacramento, Youth, Parks, and Community Enrichment Department set about creating organizational culture change over a three-year period. YDN supported the management team and staff by creating a sustainable model. The department continues to use both the Human Development Institute and the Youth Development Institute models to sustain optimal environments within their teams and programs for both staff and youth. To date, over 3,500 staff have been trained in the development model. Sacramento now has a city-wide master plan that embodies the development framework as evident in the city’s asset-based policies, procedures, and programs.

What Is the Connection Between Inequality, Equality, Equity, and Justice?

We must first come to terms that inequality does exist and that the data suggests real disparities in the opportunities that some groups of people receive versus others. The terms equality and equity are often used interchangeably; however, the difference between equality and equity is that equality is evenly distributed tools and assistance while equity is custom tools that identify and address inequality. Justice is fixing the system to offer equal access to both tools and opportunities. Social justice is and has been one of YDN’s four core values since the organization was established and it is infused into everything we do and everything we are.

Inequailty, Equailty, Equity, Justice_Tree Example

What Is Cultural Relevancy and Cultural Responsiveness?

Cultural Relevancy is effectively reaching and engaging communities in a manner that is consistent with the cultural context and values of that community; while effectively addressing the disparities of diversity and inclusion within an organization’s entire structure. The key to this is Cultural Responsiveness.

Cultural Responsiveness is a life-long learning process that requires knowledge and capacity at individual, organizational, and systemic levels. It focuses on establishing a long-term change set of consistent behaviors, attitudes, services and policies that are respectful of, and relevant to, the beliefs, practices, culture and linguistic needs of diverse families and communities. Culturally responsive organizations have a continuous improvement process that examines policies, practices, procedures, attitudes and cultural messages that reinforce or fail to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities.

What Is Our Approach?

YDN believes that in order for schools, businesses and organizations to function at an optimal level the people who work within those organizations must be equipped with the proper tools and possess an understanding of best practices. The YDN approach will help you start creating positive change in your organization or team.

Why does YDN always incorporate icebreakers and energizers (games)?

Icebreakers and energizers get participants moving, engaging with one another, and out of their comfort zones. When these three things occur, learning happens at the most optimal level. Everything YDN does is about modeling an approach to take with young people. One of our favorite sayings: “When the bum is numb, the brain is the same” – this is the reason we tactfully put them into place. We know when participants (and youth) have an opportunity to be engaged through visual, auditory, and kinesthetic modalities, it creates a mental as well as emotional attachment to learning.

Why are some YDN trainings multi-day events (up to 4 days)?

YDN is in the paradigm shift business, meaning we use trainings as a launching pad for actionable and sustainable change. Just like a prescription, if the dosage isn’t right we can’t guarantee that it will have a lasting and positive effect. An extended training leaves time for teams to create action plans for implementation.

Why does YDN limit the session participant sizes?

The modalities we use are interactive. We set up true learning communities, when groups get too large participants feel like they are attending a conference or lecture – that’s not the “YDN way.” We can’t create engaged learning communities without using engaging modalities.

Why does YDN strongly recommend coaching as a follow up to training?

Training leaves participants wanting to create change, coaching takes them to the finish line. Most teams LOVE training, but struggle to implement their action plans–coaching gets teams to the place where they can say “we achieved something out of that!”

Why use the term “youth” vs. “kid or child”?

In the field of youth development, some youth report pejorative connotations with the terms “kid” or “child” (as if adults are talking down to them). As 21st-century learners, youth have shifting attitudes toward authority figures and place higher value on adult relationships that resemble a coach or mentor. The term “youth” equalizes the playing field for many young people.

Why do some people interpret my strengths as weaknesses?

Often, our greatest talents are hidden behind negative labels. Someone with a weakness seeking mindset may misidentify or undervalue a talent of yours. Other times, our talents may be used in such a way that others perceive it as negative. In other words, our talents can be misapplied or overdone. We call these scenarios the “basements” of our strengths.