Non-profit organizations and community programs work with at-risk youth to teach social-emotional skills like empathy, self-confidence, and self-efficacy. This research aimed to examine best practices for community programs that use human-animal interaction as an intervention for at-risk youth. Specifically, the phenomenological study aimed to review the successful strategies that community programs when working with the at-risk youth population. The challenges faced and how these type of community programs measure their success were also important purposes of these research. Participants shared successful strategies, how success is measured as well as challenges and recommendations for other community programs that work with the at-risk youth population. As a result, PESA (Planning, Education, Safety, and Assessment) Model was created to help individuals focus on the essentials when starting a program. Organizers should focus on planning and identify goals, followed by communicating and getting buy-in from all partners. Non-profits should provide and engage in training, mentorship and research. Furthermore, safety for all participants is paramount when conducting the program. Lastly, assessment via feedback and research based measurements are crucial to the betterment of these types of interventions.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Problem youth -- Services for; Human-animal relationships; Community development; Nonprofit organizations

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Farzin Madjidi