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122 APRIL 2009
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Thom Garfat

Al Trieschman, a renowned leader in this field, once talked about having a “twinkle in your eye" for working with children (Treischman, 1982) and workers often talk about a feeling they have in their guts for the work. The message here is clear: the primary motive for being a caregiver has to be that something in your center or gut or heart or all of these is telling you this is what you want to do. Without this feeling, there is not much that can be learned that will be helpful. (Krueger, 1991).

I had the opportunity to be at Homebridge Youth Society in Halifax a few weeks back. Homebridge is one of CYC-Net’s strongest supporters, and they had invited me to a special event celebrating their 30 years of service to youth and families.

As a part of their celebration they had put together a special day of breakfast, learning and celebration of the employees who had been with the organization for 15 years or more. It was quite a group. I forget how many people came but it was somewhere around 25 – supervisors, managers, youth care workers and a wonderful administrative assistant central to the organisation. Obviously none of us were puppies, although a few of us do like to pretend.

At one point, Linda Wilson, the Executive Director of Homebridge and a strong Child and Youth Care supporter, asked people to identify why they had come to work there originally, how long they had been working there, and why they stayed.

The reasons why people had started this work ran the usual gamut: “someone suggested it when I was looking for a job”, “it was an accident” or “my friend worked here and seemed to be having fun”. My personal favourite was “I was tricked into it”.

When people were asked how long they had been working there, the length of time stretched from 15 to 30 years. Imagine the commitment that takes – to stay in the same organization for so long when other jobs are available. Imagine how much one learns in that length of time. Imagine how many kids one has helped.

As the staff identified how long they had worked there, Linda added up the numbers – 431 years, excluding Linda and I. Imagine 431 years of helping, or serving others, all in one room at the same time. What a wealth of information, knowledge, experience and ideas! And that was only a small part of the agency’s staff. Other committed professionals staffed the units, and rested from their shifts, as the rest of us celebrated. In celebrating such commitment, we celebrated those other workers as well.

Finally, we got to “why did people stay” for so long? The list of reasons is too long to recite but it perhaps best summed up in the words of one staff member who said “people, people, people”, referring to the kids, the families and the staff. What better reason could there be?

In opening the day with a note of appreciation, Linda referred to these long term staff as “Twinkles”, people who have a twinkle in their eye which reflects their spirit, the spirit of caring.

“They have a twinkle in their eyes. Al Trieschman once said “the youth becomes a twinkle in your eyes and you in his". ... They (good workers) understand that relationships are not formed instantly, and that we have to “do time" (often long and hard time) in the “kids' space" before either of us see the “twinkle." (Ernie Nightingale, 2003)

Twinkles seems like a fine title for people who have “hung out” and “hung in” for so long with kids and who still have the passion and commitment to keep giving.

These folks at Homebridge are just a few of the Twinkles in our field. Because Twinkles are everywhere. Perhaps you are one yourself. Maybe your friend or colleague is one. If you are fortunate, you might even be mentored by one.

As I stood in the room with these people, appreciating their dedication, abilities and wisdom, I felt for a brief moment or two that I was hanging out in a galaxy of stars.

And, indeed, I was.

“Twinkle, twinkle, little star”.

Hardly little. Giant stars. Lights in the darkness, leading us to our destination.

“The most important observation you will ever make
is when you become a twinkle in the eyes of some child.”

(Al Trieshman, as quoted by Larry Brendtro, 2003)



Brendtro, L. (2003). Heros and pioneers of Child and Youth Care Work. Available here: /cycol-0499-pioneers.html

Krueger, M. A. (1991). Coming from your center, being there, meeting them where they're at, interacting together, counselling on the go, creating circles of caring, discovering and using self, and caring for one another: central themes in professional Child and Youth Care. Journal of Child and Youth Care, 5(1), 77-87.

Nightingale, E. (2000). Qualities of a Child and Youth Care Worker: Retirement Address. CYC-Online. May 2000. Available here: /cycol-0500-editor.html

Trieschman, A. (1982). The anger within. [Videotape interview.] Washington, DC: NAK Productions.

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