I was nineteen years old when I bought my first phone, the Nokia 3210. It was an incredible piece of technology, a mobile device that I could use to phone or text someone from wherever I was; so long as there was signal. I could store all my numbers on the sim card, and play snake anywhere I wanted to, and I could rest in the knowledge that my phone only needed to be charged every other day. Thirteen years on, and how radically different things are; we are no longer limited to texting or phone-calls - with Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram, Snapchat, Mailchimp, Doodlepoll and every other social media/communication app or tool that is available; communication is a massive part of our lives.
Today, we launch one important element of our communication profile, The Net Youth Project website. It is our hope that our website will provide opportunities for the community of Comber, and those further afield, to connect with the stories of young people whom we work with, while providing our professional opinions on youth culture, current affairs and the reflection of our own practice. We have a unique story to tell, which may provide some perspective on the issues that need to be addressed in our society, but there are just as many positive stories that we must celebrate too; this can only be achieved through communication.
Something youth workers do not do well is, to tell their story. We, more often than not, get caught up in the day to day running of programmes; setting up for sessions, meeting young people or building partnerships with other agencies, where these stories will take place. However, as for anyone not directly connected to the organisation, you will hear very little. These stories are normally shared in chance conversations, which turn to questions like “how is work going?” This only highlights that we need to do better, to be intentional and this website is our attempt to do that.
Our story is one that spans over almost two decades. It has always been our focus to engage with young people who are on the peripheries of society and the community they live in. As they search for identity and belonging through a variety of experiences, we offer them our support to address the issues that they are not equipped to make sense of. Being informal educators, we have a responsibility to support individuals as they begin this journey by undertaking, as Danny Brierley, author and the head of Oasis Youth Action puts it, “the process by which a person of any age grows in knowledge, awareness and life skills and, as such, as a means to growth and development.” It is in supporting young people through this process, with all of its stops, diversions and obstacles along the way, that young people can succeed in reaching their full potential; personally, socially and spiritually.
Young people are faced with many obstacles, such as the image or the reputation that they are given. Charity CEO and youth worker, Rob Rolls, writes that “young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint…As for the girls, they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behaviour and dress.” Comparing social behaviours of young people from over seven hundred years ago to today, one might surmise that this opinion still holds true. If this is the case, why is it so? Society’s default mode is to label the challenging symptoms of young people - wasters, delinquents, troublemakers; rather than address the root cause in a positive and intentional way. We strive to take a more patient and intentional approach to working with young people, giving them the time, space and opportunity to navigate their way through life’s more difficult issues.
This is a long process, which we [as current staff] have dedicated the last six years to developing. At its core, consistent, positive, authentic, adult relationships have proved the catalyst to engaging with young people in our community - as a result we have contact with approximately one hundred and thirty young people through our drop in sessions alone. We must be intentional, without being massively led by our own agenda, and simply make young people aware of their intrinsic value by being available and encouraging them when we can. This is our story, and we are committed to telling it, sharing it, and shouting it above all of the other noise that seeks to take your attention. Why? Because, these young people are made for more and can achieve more than anyone might expect, but only if we take the time to show them what that might look like.
By James McAlister
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