Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Success in Youth Work Means Not Letting Programs Get In The Way

Success in Youth Work Part 7

I have been a youth worker for a long time and through many different phases of life. At each new phase it becomes necessary to stop, catch my breath and reevaluate why and how.
The situation

I had started a successful youth intervention program, hired staff, recruited volunteers, expanded programs and met a ton of at risk kids. Things couldn’t be better – until…. Everything fell apart. Vehicles broke down. People quit. Opportunities that were once open were now shut. I had nothing left. I felt like a complete failure. I had nothing to offer kids. I had nowhere to invite them. Then one day as I sat with a group of kids over lunch as they chatted about how drunk they were over the weekend I piped up and shared a bit of my life story. I was normally content to merely listen but something about this day was different. I didn’t hold things back or translate them into a PG rating. I just talked. When I stopped speaking I looked around the group of kids and their mouths dropped open. The ring leader of this group piped up and said, “that was the most amazing story I’ve ever heard.”
Why was I doing it?

As I walked out of that fast food joint nothing had changed about my situation, but something had changed in my attitude. I knew my story was nothing special. If I wrote a book about my life no one but my mom would read it – (and she would be the one I would be the most unsure of reading it). I realized what made my story special was God’s mercy in the midst of it.
How I would do it?

I decided then and there that I would not orient myself on my programs ever again, but instead just work on building relationships in the context of the day to day lives of young people. I started spending hours every day just sitting in the local coffeeshops and restaurants where I knew I would run into young people. I never knew what was going to happen or who I was going to talk to. That was when things really began to move.

This experience really shaped my perspective on what success was. I came to the conclusion that I didn’t need the outward successes of projects and programs but success was really in just being available. My time was freed from having to plan and prep for the next event and I was able to invest massive amounts of time into the young people themselves.
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