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Compassion, Awareness, Acceptance, Validation, Empowerment  (CAAVE)

How can I empower my staff to best engage with and serve youth? Is there a magic formula for providing services that increase youth outcomes? Based on the YMCA’s experience serving under-resourced youth and families,  Compassion, Awareness, Acceptance, Validation, and Empowerment have revealed themselves to be essential staff qualities when engaging with and serving youth.  

Our work began nearly a decade ago, and in partnership with young adults, we have grown the CAAVE approach and shared the concepts with a variety of professionals in different industries across the country. With informative topics, a dynamic presentation style, activities, and real-life stories, CAAVE trainings are rooted in social services and introduce an approach that will support the effectiveness of your work and support personal longevity. Much of the information presented will not be “mind-blowing,” rather the topics are packaged in a way that will help you apply Compassion, Awareness, Acceptance, Validation, and Empowerment. We hope that this opportunity will reconnect you to the roots of the helping professions.

What is CAAVE?

CAAVE is a promising practice focused on building relationships with a variety of client populations. It is designed to be a useful and practical approach that can be easily implemented in any setting that requires meaningful personal interaction, from youth development to social services to education to healthcare, and in both the public and private sectors. In essence, it is a fundamental customer service approach.


Client engagement and retention, especially with adolescents and young adults, is a constant battle for service providers. By focusing on the relationship between the worker and the client, programs will realize meaningful engagement in services, an increase of intervention uptake, and increases in positive outcomes.

When service providers are well equipped to connect with clients, the relationship can be the catalyst for clients to increase relational wellness, healing and skill development. Individuals that work with youth in a variety of environments, such as teachers, social workers, or youth service workers, are in a unique position to help fill this essential role in the lives of youth.


The CAAVE training is customizable to fit your organization needs.
This approach influences the following:

  • Participant Engagement
  • Participant Retention
  • A Shift in Worker Mindset

Interested in learning more about the benefits of a CAAVE training for your team?


What others have said about CAAVE trainings 

85% of training participants were able to apply the concepts in their work with youth and 79% thought the application was very effective. 

"This training is relevant for life skills, empowerment, and emotional support with youth in different situations and from different age groups and backgrounds."

"The training helped me build judgment-free relationships with youth and to be aware of my practice and attitudes with youth."

The History of CAAVE

The CAAVE approach was born out of necessity when it became evident that clients responded particularly well to a worker with specific attributes. In order to increase engagement, we incentivized clients by offering gift cards. However, we noticed that participants did not exude a greater amount of motivation or engagement than in other programs with less plentiful resources. We quickly realized that participants were not motivated to participate solely by incentives. So, we asked them, what kept them coming to our program. The answer was simple: the relationship they experienced with their program worker. Our staff also identified that their connections with clients as being highly influential to the success of their clients in the program. When staff created these genuine and positive working relationships with clients, engagement and retention increased thereby leading to an improvement in positive outcomes.

About the Trainers

Krysta Esquivel

Krysta is the Executive Director of YMCA Youth and Family Services (YFS) in San Diego. Krysta began with YFS in 2003, providing direct service as a case manager in an Independent Living Program. She is a nationally recognized expert in her field as well as a visionary, committed to advancing and diversifying the branch’s profile in critical areas affecting youth and families in San Diego. She is honored and grateful to spend her professional life working for and with others and is fascinated with what we can do collectively through policy influence, evidence-informed practice, and innovation to lift up under-resourced members of our communities. Krysta holds a Master in Social Work, specializing in Organizational and Community Practice. When re-charging her batteries, she loves to relax in Palm Springs, California.

Kristina Halmai-Gillan

Kristina serves as the Clinical Innovation Consultant for YMCA Youth & Family Services in San Diego. She blends her interest in the human experience with her endless curiosity, which results in creative approaches to programming. Kristina is particularly passionate about giving under-resourced youth the opportunities they deserve so that they can identify their interests, unlock their potential, and ultimately contribute to the greater good. She also supports staff development and believes in a relationally based workplace culture. Kristina is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Her favorite way to re-set is listening to music while snowboarding.

Nicholas DeVico

Nick functions as the Connections 2020 Program Director at YMCA Youth & Family Services in San Diego. He began volunteering at a young age and at 19 years old, Nick seized an opportunity to travel to Cape Town, South Africa. This experience confirmed his desire to work with, and for, under-resourced populations. He is committed to ensuring that all communities have chances to thrive and live fulfilling lives. Nick enjoys working directly with young adults and is motivated by their resilience and grit. He holds a Master in Public Administration and is an encyclopedia of all-things Boston sports.

Justin Lipford

Justin serves as the Director of Community Engagement for YMCA Youth & Family Services in San Diego. He is passionate about connecting disconnected and vulnerable young adults to the resources necessary to flourish. He is a champion of diversity and inclusion and truly understands the hardships and barriers that marginalized communities and people of color face on a daily basis. In addition to community engagement for YFS, Justin utilizes his shared life experiences to mentor runaway, homeless and foster youth at the Y. Justin has over 20 years of experience serving families, young adults, and children. In his off time, he designs and builds unique pieces of furniture.

David Baker

David serves as a Support Specialist and Policy Advocate for YMCA Youth & Family Services in San Diego. He is dedicated to making positive change in the world. He is passionate about direct service work and is gifted in connecting with disconnected young adults. David’s advocacy work focuses on matters of equity and access for young adults. His personal experiences and profound resiliency make him a compelling speaker. David “loves helping people overcome barriers that didn’t seem possible to them.” David is pursuing a bachelor’s degree. He is also the owner of a small consumer electronics business.