The “golden mean” of the youth engagement movement has been seen as systemization for at least ten years, and I have been a proponent the entire time, at times leading that movement and at times following. Today I’m wondering if I have been on the wrong path.
Somewhere along the way I learned that the charismatic, energetic and enthusiastic youth worker wasn’t enough. I came to believe that those of us who have the ability to draw young people out of their reticence were somehow anamolous and inherently flawed: rather than having a “gift” or some type of special ability, we are marked with some “X” that acts as a blight for sustainably engaging children and youth, because one person being able to do something is inherently unsustainable.
I came to believe that it can’t be all about us, these workers who have this ability. Instead, it must be about transforming systems in order to realign organizational priorities to focus on youth engagement. I came to understand that these single individuals are inherently going to be the “work horses” of youth engagement; instead of focusing on meeting their needs, we must focus on the larger systems surrounding their work. This is partially what has driven me from spending my time on the single-user focus of the Freechild Project website
to working within the Washington State Department of Health
, this desire to change the systems that affect youth workers rather than support youth workers directly. Today is catching me wondering why.
There is a dearth of adults whom fit the criteria of being able to successfully engage young people. These people must be:
- Authentically and genuinely committed to engaging young people
- Humble and determined enough to actually learn directly from young people
- Motivated and intentional in their professional and personal lives to sustain youth engagement
I never believed it was wrong or incorrect to be these ways; rather, I came to believe it was the systems these folks work in that need transformed to better sustain and nurture these traits, and to build and develop them within people who don’t already have them.
But all these years after researching and training, watching organizations wax and wane, and seeing systems change slowly disintegrate in the face of massive governmental budget reductions and foundation giving dissolve, I’m not so convinced that systems change is the way to go.
This is me considering where I’m at, where our movement is at, and where to go next. Let me know what you think.