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CYC People

Karen VanderVen

 

Location

Pittsburgh, PA,  USA

Biography

I was born in New York City and raised in a small suburban town on the Hudson River. I grew up during World War II and despite the focus on the war, was able to participate in many forms of play and activities (which included war related activities such as helping with the family’s chickens) and many household chores. I always loved working and playing.  Most but not all of my jobs were working with kids. One of my favorites was passing out chewing gum samples on the street corners of downtown San Francisco as an advertisement for Wrigley’s gum. I wore a yellow dress, a straw hat, and dispensed the gum from a metal container painted to look like stick of gum.

How I came to be in this field

The forces converged – I started reading about ‘psychology’ at about age 8 and found it fascinating, I had early responsibility for a younger sibling, my first paying jobs all were with children – baby sitting, day camp counselor, swimming instructor. My best college grades were in psychology. After an initial job that did not work out, I continued work with children and youth in various settings. It just continued and expanded. and was greatly enhanced of course by the University of Pittsburgh and my incredible opportunity to become a part of its storied Department of Child Development and Child Care (now Programs in Applied Developmental Psychology). I taught my first course in 1968 and then continued to grow my career and interests in the field.

A favorite saying

“Always go forward”.

“You are what you do and become what you’ve done”.

A few thoughts about child and youth care

Once the “child and youth work approach” is applied to the entire life course it will not only be a full profession but also it will be the most important human service field. Early childhood, afterschool, and youth work are increasingly subsumed in the wider field, so things are moving in the right direction. I think the “work” with its emphasis on relationships, communication, activities, environments (etc.) is the fundamental human service.

A favorite CYC experience

In one of my early positions, I ran an arts and crafts and woodshop type program for adolescents (about 95 % boys) in a huge adult mental hospital. They were impulsive and acted out, to say the least. But I insisted despite their swearing, name calling and angry tantrums that they do a good job on their woodwork. Nails had to be hammered in straight, wood sawed evenly, rough spots sanded and planed, etc. They finally completed birdhouses that had aluminum covering that they textured by gently hammering aluminum sheets with a blunt object and nailed to the roofs; and were painted neatly. I heard the ward attendants were buying them. I said to my supervisor, “But I wanted the kids to keep their projects”. She said, “Don’t worry. This is probably the first time they ever did something productive”.

A few thoughts for those starting out

Stick with it. Study the roles and functions that are subsumed in the field and the populations and settings to which the work applied. Realize you can have a life long career in this field. Use a sense of humor, err on the kind side, be playful and involve those you work with in activities. Remember those you love and loved yourself as a child and pass them on.

A writing of my own

My writings are in such areas as activities and activity programming, professionalization and the pitfalls of point and level systems. They’re in the journals we all read and some can be found on the internet and downloaded by “googling” me.

Influences on my work

Numerous. Family of origin and my own family. Many children and youth, colleagues, organizations, readings both within and outside of the field.

 

Last updated October 2016

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