I love being known as someone who works with youth. It’s very daunting and sometimes downtrodden at times, but a great feeling knowing that what you are doing is shaping Canada for the better. I’ve done a lot of things in my life and have taken a few calculated/uncalculated risks, but the hands down best thing I have ever done is be a community youth engager. I’ve been employed as one and I’ve volunteered as one since I was 19 years old (so 10 years for those keeping track). But what is a community youth engager?
I couldn’t find one straight forward answer, so I’m going to make my own by combining the definitions of “youth advocate” and “community engagement” (more commonly known as civic engagement). A community youth engager is “someone who works with youth in their community (however community is defined by you personally). They are someone who engages youth in inspired actions to create a better environment for themselves and others, both now and in the future. They provide resources, guidance and opportunities for youth to gain & realize their ability to advocate for themselves and others.”
Yes, it needs finessing. I’m creating a whole new phrase and, like always, defining in proper terms a unique part of who I am ;).
How do I become one like you are?
Here’s the fun part – it’s super easy, and super difficult. Why? Because you are working with one of the most vulnerable sectors of society, and there’s no professional or educational path you can take, as its more of a calling and a part of you than it is an overall profession…yet. So, how do you become a community youth engager?
- Obviously, work with youth, either on a standalone project or as part of your profession.
- Even if your profession is being an Accountant, you can still incorporate youth into your business, either as summer students, co-ops, etc. You can also volunteer on advocacy boards or projects that concern youth-related issues.
- I’m one of those people that believe that every municipal standing committee should have a youth voice as a way of aiding in proportional representation, not just a youth advocacy committee. Let’s get on that, eh?
- Believe in them.
- They are going to make mistakes. Lots of them. Some big and some small. Some expensive, some not expensive.
- Remember that they (we) are not robots (yet). Human beings make mistakes or take missteps. The important thing is being there to provide guidance and support as they deal with and learn from them.
- Be patient.
- Be patient, be patient, and then be patient some more. ’nuff said.
- They’re trying their hardest and learning all about that thing called “time management”. It will drive you up the wall and back down sometimes, but they will eventually figure it out with your guidance and resources. Maybe show them Organize Like An Expert: Tips For Life and Business.
- Be a sounding board when they need it and let them know that you are there.
- Youth have a lot going on their lives (school, friends, first loves, jobs, parents, feeling like they need to know what to do with their lives by 18, wanting to make a world a better place), and sometimes they just need to vent. If you spend a lot of time with them, they can get comfortable enough to open up to you about these stressors. You might be the only one in their life to be there for them.
- Sometimes they, like all of us, just need someone to be the board while they talk things out themselves. It’s kind of awesome to be in that room or on that virtual meeting when they are verbalizing their thoughts into game plans. You can see/feel the lightbulbs going off in their heads.
- Help them access the resources that they need to create change or to better themselves.
- Do they need to know where to look for career counselling? What about getting a sidewalk that’s on municipal property fixed outside of their school that’s caused kids to trip and get hurt?
- If they need resources and have mentioned this at all to you, or you’ve noticed that they might need them, offer them up. I find it’s best sometimes to not always wait until they ask, because they might not be sure how to do that. Just say or email them with “I know you were looking for resources on (blank). In my experience, (insert resources) have helped me or I’ve heard good things about them. Once you’ve taken a look at them, get back to me on if you’re interested in pursuing this further and I’m there”.
A lot of people think that youth are conceited, belligerent, disrespectful, etc. I respectfully disagree, at least on behalf of the great youth I have been lucky enough to work with. Yes, they can be all of these things at times, but I find it’s often because they are in the midst of finding their voice(s) in a world that’s not quick to accept them as members of the community right now, but members of the community later. That’s frustrating as heck, trust me. That’s why I’m getting myself in the habit of saying that I work with Canada’s young leaders, not Canada’s next leaders. Their voices are being developed now and they are using them now.
It’s up to community youth engagers like myself to help them cultivate those voices for their betterment and those around them, by providing resources, guidance, support and opportunities.
Here’s pretty cool link I came across while researching this post: Youth Advocacy and Voice | Learning to Give