Friday, October 15, 2010

What is a Youth Worker?

I was having dinner with my parents when my dad piped up, "So when you 'go to work' what is it you do?"  Now he knows that I have been active in some sort of youth work for the past 14 years the past 7 in the same organization.  he has come to my info nights, the open houses for my youth initiatives, he has even financially supported some of these endeavors.  He knows that I am a "Youth Worker" and yet when he stopped to think about it - he didn't really know what that meant practically.  He is not alone.  I have been asked by well meaning people when it is that I am going to get a "real job". 

In any given community there will be people that you could designate as youth workers.  There are city youth workers that are primarily tasked with running community recreation programs.  There are government funded youth workers that work in tandem to a social worker in providing resources and informal education to young people.  There are church based youth workers that oversee programs and events for the youth within a congregational membership.   Lastly there are community based youth workers that are tasked by their organization in outreach programs and initiative that are generally motivated by a passionate cause (i.e. faith based, sexual abuse support, family mediation, political involvement, etc).  Therefore it can be difficult to simply define what a youth worker is.

A youth worker is different than most of the typical adult influences in the life of a young person.
  • They are not a peer, but can be considered a friend.
  • They are not an authority figure, but can speak with authority in teen's lives
  • They are not a teacher, but they are constantly trying to teach
  • They are not social workers, but they are concerned and can provide help with the welfare of the lives of youth
  • They are not parents, but can as times discipline, correct and encourage
  • They are not coaches, (well some might be) but they are mentors for life change
  • They are not priests, but can be emissaries between teens and God
The most difficult thing about defining a youth worker is that when they are most effective they are practically invisible and forgotten.  There is a bible story in 2 Chronicles 24 about an 8 year old boy named Josiah becoming king.  What does an 8 year old know about running a kingdom?  And yet it describes his actions as being noble and righteous.  This is evidenced in his 18th years of refining his kingdom back to principles of morality.  We know that there must have been advisers to this boy king that helped to shape him and lead him to make these good choices, but they are never named.  So it is with youth workers.  Our successes are most often silent.  This is the reason why I named my oldest child Josiah.  It is my joy to remain unknown.

Every once in a while a young person will me you in the eye and thank me for walking with them. They may end up forgetting all about me and my help for them as the next crisis arises, but I don't do this job to be successful and show off all the polished kids.  I do this job to be faithful to the passion from God in my heart to walk with those that have no one.  I know from my own life that it takes a life time to change and youth workers are in the picture for a very short window of time.  Maybe in 50 years I'll be watching TV seeing one of the "kids I used to know" changing the world in powerful ways.  In that moment no one will be thanking me for my years as a youth worker, but I'll be thanking God I had the chance to be one.

How would you describe what a Youth Worker is?
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