Young people in a group

sometimes even seasoned youth worker’s need to re-learn a lesson.

Today I was forced to re-learn a lesson I had learnt as a young youth worker. I was cocky. I thought I had it all in the bag. I forgot the cardinal rule of running a group… Deliver what you say you will. I could say it wasn’t my fault. I could pass the buck to my staff. If I really wanted to I could blame the partner organisations for not being clear about to goals and objectives. In the end though, as the coordinator of my program I was responsible. I had gone from unconciously competent to consciously incompetent in a heartbeat.
Recently, my council was approached by neighbouring councils to run a music program. The program was for two days and was designed to help young people to write their own song and have it recorded. It was being facilitated by renowned music teachers and support people. All we had to do was get 30 young people to go. My team and I set about recruiting potential participants from every nook an cranny we could think of. We asked other youth organisations to help and even re-composed the flyer that we were given to make it more appealing.
Today, on the first day of the program over half of the young people did not show up for the bus. Within an hour of arriving there was a swell of discontent amongst the 13 young people who attended. Apparently whilst we were advertising the program we had not mentioned that there would be dancing involved and that we would be doing a pop song. For a bunch of hardened metal heads this was just too much. For one young man it was a deal breaker. It took all of my youth work savvy to keep him from hitching a ride back with the first trucker he saw.
Much of my day was spent putting out spot fires and making sure my little brood didn’t mutiny. Needless to say, this also put a strain on our relationship with the program facilitators as well. It wasn’t the program at fault… at first I thought that it was their lack of facilitation skills. That wasn’t the case, they were great facilitators. Even I came to conclude that actually we had just marketed the program as something it wasn’t.
As a seasoned youth worker it is hard to admit that you still sometimes make rookie mistakes. It takes away some of the mystique that you hold as a miracle worker. But I made one! If you are not crystal clear about the intent of the program you are running you can not expect buy-in from your young people. Sometimes a stumble reminds you of your humanity. This was a little mistake in the grand scheme of things. But it is one I won’t soon forget.
Don’t get so comfortable that you forget the lessons you have learnt… it is painful re-learning them.

Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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