I begin this personal view of youthwork with an equally personal view of a youthworker. This is my list of clues for finding actual or potential youthworkers.
They twinkle, i.e. they are alive, especially in their eyes, which invite mine. Related directly, youthworkers are
Intense – you experience them as taut, eager, as if ready to pounce. The playfulness of twinkling joined to their personal intensity can however result in “boundary troubles".
Boundary troubles is that state of being in which the self is not “used appropriately" vis “vis the youth. It is when the worker blurs the distinction between self and youth and acts “unprofessionally", e.g. takes a kid home, fights with an agency on behalf of a kid, or doesn't go home right after her shift. Such troubles often result from a misdirected sense of personal courage.
Personal courage in youthworkers is often expressed as a challenge to the youth-serving agency or system. It is seen as courageous because of the possible consequences for the worker. Often, it is simply doing what seems right to do. Many interpret courageous acts as a living out of the worker's biography, her adolescence, in a less than healthy way.
The youthworker's own adolescence is a source of courage in action. Youthworkers are people who live out their adolescence in a more or less healthy way, building on the joy and competence they experienced. This grounding in health is a root source of why it is hard to walk away from a youthworker.
A youthworker is hard to walk away from because of her intensity coupled with her twinkle and her invitation to meet, in a deep sense. There is playfulness without frivolity in the moment, it is hard to walk away, Yet ...
A youthworker is not afraid to say, “Come, let's play!" Youthworkers play, and in so doing, do youthwork. Herein is found their twinkle, their joy, their bounciness and their focused intensity; youthworkers don't walk away from a game!
Taken together, these are the clues I use to
recognise a youthworker in a room of people who work with youth.
In a more formal way, the following constitute one way of understanding what it means to be a youthworker:
Anyone can be a youthworker. Youthwork is not a profession or discipline as much as it is a way of orientating to youth. It is a way of seeing and acting, as potential rather than biography and troubles. Youthwork is not social work or psychology with youth. At best it is a way of seeing a way of giving. At most it is a craft, while it is never simply technique.
A way of living out caring, i.e. a fundamental way of being a person. Caring is fundamental to being a person. “Working with" someone is caring-in-action. Activated in the act of caring is the responsibility for self and for another. Life as youthwork is simply the search for alternative ways of living out your caring.
A way of being with another, not an attempt to change her. Youthwork exists in the now, the world of “is", while it stretches to the world of possibilities. Creating possibilities through choice and action result in difference. The person is a different person; we did not change her. She simply made herself. Cause is less important than consequence. Could and maybe are crucial. A focus on health, normalcy and the person in the world. The person as-is and as possibility are the foci of this view, not her trouble, problems or the isolated individual. The imbedded youth in her network of others is the centre: she alone and she in her bunch of grapes. Foci are on everyday life, the ordinary and the taken-for-granted. The existential and the developmental are grounded to the unique person and the single and singular moment.
The key words: Presence, Availability, Possibility, Emergence and Hope. Youthwork is a group of metaphors, not a set of techniques. There are also aphorisms: “Teach her to teach you how to help her", “Watch the person watching you watch him". The theological ideas are metaphoric in youthwork. Be there in a way which allows accessibility to you; see what could become. Allow or create a moment, and believe that the could will be a new is. In the linear sense of time, lean forward into the possible rather than backward into biography.
Person-in-context. The moment matters in its personal and social shapes and meanings. A person can not be understood out of context; he can only be explained. Youthwork is based on understanding the person in the moment, in the everyday context of ordinary living.
Youthwork is jazz, not ballet. In ballet, one practises so as to do it right, while in jazz one practises in order to do for the first time. Jazz is emergent and almost always new, a birth, for the first time, unique. Each is a different aesthetic. Youthwork is an aesthetic, not a set of cookbooks. It is an aesthetic that allows one to see the doughnut by looking first at the missing part, the hole, then at the ring and then at the whole, the relationship: to hear what was not said (the hole) and to see what did not happen (the hole).
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These two sets of notes introduce a personal vision of youthwork and the youthworker. Both can be grounded in a conception of youthwork as a form of education. Education: facilitating the process by which an individual penetrates his taken-for-granted reality and, by so doing, comes to understand how reality for him is constructed. Thus are extended the possibilities of finding moments of/for choice, and, in this, for extending and living his freedom.
Thus youthwork: creating the opportunities for a youth to choose more often about more things in his everyday life and in this way more thoroughly construct himself.