One of the main differences between a good youth worker and a great youth worker is their ability to get things done in a timely manner for the young people they support. Whether it is helping them find work, get a medical check up, enter a rehab facility or any other thing we do being able to refer them on to other agencies and have the agency get to them is an art… or is it???
On the 21st of February 2012 I posted on Facebook, “How big is your network? a good youth worker has a wide and varied group that they can call upon in need.“. What I didn’t say was how a youth worker could do it. So many people I speak to think that building a network is something for the extraverts and party people. They say things like, “I wish I had a bigger network, but I don’t know who to ask” or “If only I knew someone at (insert service) it would make my life so much easier…but I don’t“. Most think that to build a network you have to have been born with an innate ability to attract people. The good news is that is a crock. Anyone can do it!
The most difficult part is having the guts to do it. I know it is hard. PEOPLE ARE SCARY. Its why we like email more than a phone call and love it compared to going face to face. But if we can get past our fear of other people our network can grow daily!!! Think of all the people you meet every day. The people on your train to work. The Barrista who makes your coffee. The other service providers in your building. The school staff at your kids school. The doctors at your local clinic. HOW MANY PEOPLE DO YOU SEE EVERY DAY???
Once you realise that you meet people everywhere everyday the next part is easy. With the courage you have been plucking up you stick out your hand and say “Hi i’m …..”! I was in a cafe about a month ago waiting to meet a volunteer. The cafe is a regular haunt and I have gotten to know some of the staff but I was in during lunch which is a time I don’t usually go in. There was a waiter I had seen a couple of times in the evening who seemed to be running things during lunch. After I met with my volunteer the waiter mentioned that he had seen me in the cafe a bit over the last few months and asked what I did. After a brief chat I stuck out my hand and said “By the way i’m Aaron”. We chatted for a bit longer and it turned out the guy had just brought the cafe and was spending a couple of months learning the ropes. Since that time I have never paid for a coffee for a volunteer and we have found a new place to hold our volunteer get togethers.
Once you do this a dozen times you will have a pretty good idea of how to do it and what to say. From here the next part is a cake walk. If you are at a conference, stick out your hand. If you are at a multidisciplinary meeting, stick out your hand. If you are in a cafe, stick out your hand. Everywhere you go stick out your hand and introduce yourself. Remember the person’s name!!! Write it down if you have to. Get a business card if they have one. The main point is to do it everywhere. Yeah you will meet some people you will never meet again (I once met a professional telemarketer, I annoyed her during her dinner:)) but you will have a card book full of contacts that you will be able to develop into your network.
When I was working in a youth drug and alcohol rehab we expected that the young people coming into our centre had completed a detox for at least a week. A former colleague gave me a call to book her young person in but couldn’t get him a detox stay for at least 2 months. Knowing my colleague and her practice style I knew the young person was at a crucial stage and would bail on her before 2 months so I asked her to leave it with me. I rang a guy I had met a few weeks earlier at a conference who managed a youth detox service. We didn’t really know each other but I asked if we could catch up for a coffee. Two days later over coffee I mentioned how difficult my former colleague was finding a place for her young people to detox and before I finished my sentence he said that I should get her to call him. Three weeks later the young person came to my rehab after a week stay at my new friends detox.
Build your network!!! It can help you or someone you know as in the case above, but most of all it can help your young people. My network has mechanics, financial planners, allied health staff, a pilot and many others who I stay in contact with and get to know whenever I can. It doesn’t matter who you meet but in the words of Nike, JUST DO IT. To learn more about building your network you can listen to our friends Mike and Mark talk about it in more details on their podcast.