One of the challenges of our work that’s subtly different than working with youth in a church is that beyond the relationships we have with youth, we don’t have a natural feeder system for our programs. In a church, parents are usually encouraging or even mandating their kids to go to youth group. For a community youth worker, the typical reason kids are coming is because of their relationship with you, your volunteers or your youth. This means that almost every September we see a drop in attendance because a bunch of youth have graduated and we don’t have that freshman surge of new youth yet. They don’t come because we likely haven’t met them yet. Our programs are almost always a couple of years away from becoming a ghost town.
For this reason, I always encourage our staff to spend a lot of time with the grade 8’s and 9’s or even younger. That can be hard when the deeper relationships and conversations typically happen with older students and so it feels more “productive” to focus on older students. It’s much like financial investment that might hurt a little in the short-term but you know will pay off in the long run. We can use the strategy “Earning the right to be heard.”
Earning the right to be heard means we spend a lot of time doing things that don’t seem like their important; playing video games, going for slurpees, telling jokes, or playing basketball. Often I wonder if I did anything of value today. It is then I choose to remember those kids who graduated and what they were like when I first met them compared to where they are now and I realize those mundane, silly and even frustrating years were a good investment.
Thanks for your long term investment in us so that we can make a long-term investment in youth!
- Derian Julihn