My First Job in Youth Work

We all start somewhere. 20 years ago I had my start working professionally with youth. A small nonprofit in my neighborhood in North Omaha, Nebraska, hired me to work with an acting program called “You’re The Star.” This program, based on Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed, was focused on teaching children and youth about their own power and ability. I was an assistant to Omaha’s premier African American directors, and we took the program to several low-income neighborhoods around North Omaha.

I wasn’t successful in junior high school. Yeah, actually, I really didn’t like school. The only thing that hooked me in those years was in the eighth grade when the school’s art teacher invited me to be in the school’s mime show. I’d never been on a stage before then, and loved the experience. For a semester I worked diligently to learn my staging, and when I performed I loved it. Well, the director of You’re The Star knew my mom, and he invited me specifically to help him. “I don’t know how to teach,” I said to him. He told me to just follow him, do what he did and eventually I’d get it. Well, I got it, and for the next three summers I worked with the program.
More importantly, I found a career track that attracted me, and after that I worked in dozens of different youth-focused jobs in nonprofits and a few schools across the U.S. Not knowing there was such a thing as a youth development degree or an actual field of youth work, I knew that I had to work. Along the way I worked in a warehouse, painting houses and roofing, and waiting tables, but more importantly I learned the struggle of action-driven youth work, focused on outcomes and real impact. But this was my first job in youth work, and the start of my career.

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