Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Youth Development Ideology

As youth development is a massive umbrella that encompasses so many diverse avenues of work, this helped me to breakdown the three general directions that the professional may pursue.

1. Risk, Resiliency & Prevention 
2. Positive Youth Development
3. Critical Youth Development
(These ideologies are explained here)

Overwhelmingly, according to these guidelines, my values seem to lie in Critical Youth Development, not too far behind was Positive Development. Risk Resiliency & Prevention consistently received the lowest rank in each category.

This was kind of surprising, as I imagined myself working with at-risk youth. In fact as of lately, its been drawing me in  more than anything else, in terms of youth populations, and internships in RI. So initially I was confused, as "Risk" was a term used to categorize this particular theory, but after looking at the core beliefs, it makes sense.

Although I do want to work with teens and do recognize the reality of these issues such as pregnancy, drug abuse, violence ---the values and perspectives described do not match my own. I can't help but think that they are blaming the individuals for these "epidemics" and with no consideration or fault to external forces, media, or systems etc. Private trouble solutions will not solve public issuesTo assume they don't have the capacity to make good choices for themselves is something I completely disagree with. I tend to believe more that everyone makes the best decision with the knowledge and resources they have at that moment. And youth who are living in challenging situations, with limited resources, no doubt feel pressure in some form, coming from their outside world, which obviously impacts their decisions. Do I blame them? Not really. Do they need guidance? Sure, doesn't everyone? But they are not incapable. I think the issue lies less with the individual and more with society, and the difficult environments we've created that they live in, and that's not their fault. Their choices reflect the inherent inequality and disadvantages they face.  It is not a coincidence these "epidemics" are more prevalent in poor, oppressed, resource-less communities.

Critical Youth Development seems best fitting, so I am happy with the results of that. This perspective seems to align strongly, in regards to my beliefs about youth work. It also seems like this avenue of work is well suited to address issues from the top, and initiate social change within larger systems, policy and legislation.

Young Minds Driving Change

A World Where Youth Hold the Power--
Youth In Action (a youth-led nonprofit organization)
Providence, RI
You can find this article here

Youth in Action (YIA) is an example of an organization which truly seeks to empower young people. They are inherently challenging the status quo of youth mostly everywhere in the world. Overwhelmingly youth input and participation in the larger systems is given little value. They are generally discredited in large policy or agenda stetting decisions, and conditioned to follow the rules as they are, without question.

YIA is shaking this power dynamic. They are proving that not only should youth be obviously involved in decisions that effect them, but also that they in fact, have the specific expertise to initiate positive change. In an organization like this, their voice is given value and influence.

The self-fulfilling prophecy comes to mind when I read personal stories like these. It is unfortunate that youth are consistently, directly or indirectly, treated as if they are powerless to the environment around them. Social systems teach obedience, not critical thinking. Curiosity never killed the cat, why do you suppose they have nine lives then? Even when a student speaks out about something they feel is not righteous, nobody is there to listen, only to remind them that's just the way things are. "It is what it is"-- No, lets change what it is. When authority figures throughout a youth's childhood, tell them what they are capable of, they tend to internalize this notion. This is detrimental in the way it limits the potential in youth, the community, and the future in general.

I emphasize with many of these stories, as I spent my childhood in timeout, being grounded, or reprimanded for doing/saying things children "aren't supposed to say". My grandmother signed me up for CCD, unwillingly I went, but by class three I was asked to leave the program. During class, mostly conservative Christian views were taught and reinforced, with no room for debate. Well, little twelve year old me just didn't agree with half of what this lady was telling me, practically forcing me to believe. For starters, where were all the powerful female role models? I think I was a feminist by the time I was five years old, before I really understood what that meant. Either way,  I questioned her teachings, over and over, I disagreed with her. Her responses always told me to just accept and not question. Wrong place for me to be. All my childhood I challenged adults and authority, I demanded explanations, I asked why. Very little positive feedback ever came from it, and in fact I actually began to resent my elders instead of respect them. School to me wasn't difficult, truly the most challenging part was sitting still in a chair for six hours. I eventually sort of just told myself, well they won't listen to you, so just memorize these facts and play their game, so you can get out of here. It's a discouraging feeling. I had so much to say, but everyone brushed me off.

As an adult, I started working in childcare and afterschool programs. I wasn't surprised to find nothing much had changed in terms of adult and youth power dynamics. Adults make the rules, and as a child you follow them without question, whether you like them or not. This is the first moment in my life where I truly saw the incredible outcome of shifting this dynamic. I worked hard to gain their trust and their respect (that wasn't easy). I treated them like equals. I gave them power and say in everything we learned. Everyone could share how they felt at anytime, as long as it wasn't harmful to a peer. By far the most important and ground shaking thing I did was LISTEN. I cannot even put into words how important that skill is in general, but especially with youth. They are brilliant little people, more so than most adults I know, they are unbiased, imaginative, innovative, insightful human beings, but this is stifled because no one is listening.

By the end of the year, the activities, games, and classroom rules I invented had been totally transformed by the students themselves and their recommendations. I was blown away, I think about the youth all over the world, sitting somewhere in a classroom being silenced, while all these brilliant thoughts are trapped inside their head, unable to take root and grow,  because their voice is not valued.

When you allow youth to shape their environments, they become owners of it, and by nature they generally feel proud in having a hand in that. They are more likely to excel and more likely to engage. We need to foster this kind of thinking and integrate it everywhere. We as youth workers need to create space where children feel they have a voice, that they are happening to things, not things are happening to them. Provide them with tools of power, responsibility, debate, and skills to communicate and think critically, so that they will continue to be powerful forces in their adult lives.

On page 53, Adeola Oredola writes, "....access my power as a leader."
These words struck me the hardest through the entire article. It explains the situation perfectly. It is not as though we are giving youth power, because they have been powerful all along, we are simply helping them access and express that personal power, to help manifest  what's already deeply rooted in their being!

It is long overdue that we integrate this youth-driven learning environment model and let go of false perceptions about youth potential.


Professional Youth Workers

Youth Work, Preparation for Practice--
Jason Wood, Sue Westwood & Gill Thompson
You can find the text here

In this text, the authors seek to define the purpose, roles, and characteristics of a professional youth worker. I think it is significant to note that defining this line of work can be difficult. This is because, a youth worker wears many different hats. I believe this is a advantage when working in this field, as the professional has an unlimited potential to apply their skills and expertise to a variety of purposes.
Everything from micro, to macro work, and usually many mediums in between. This is an a crucial element of the job, because youth are benefited in a multifaceted approach.

At its foundation youth work is a human service oriented type of work. How that service manifests itself, is diverse and dependent upon the context of each youth. Again, this is vital to effectiveness of the youth worker's contribution and effort. Being able to adapt the work that one does, in order to specifically cater to each individual, or community. There is no "one size fits all" method, and youth work recognizes that.

Education is certainly a core value of youth workers. This is mostly informal. While they may help by reinforcing academic content, they teach outside this arena, using methods of education surrounding social development. It seems the overall goal is empowerment. Educational empowerment and social empowerment of youth. I personally feel there is a large gap between what is learned through public education, and the skills youth need to function as a positive force in their own communities. You cannot put a price tag on something like this. Youth who feel empowered, are a priceless commodity.

Group Work, is believed to be the ideal environment for the youth worker. Research proves that human beings learn more when they learn together. The power of this is significant, especially among youth. Here is where you walk the delicate line between a trusted friend, and professional.

Social Justice can be viewed on a micro or macro level perspective. as mentioned above, individual empowerment of youth seeks to educate them about the society they live in. Such as, the distribution of power among communities, and the oppressed. Individual awareness of the political, social, and economic forces that are at play, will give youth the foundation necessary to become players in this game, mobilize and change their social surroundings. At the same time, I strongly believe that youth workers are advocates no matter what context you work in. Social  justice should be promoted, advocated, and fought for on the macro level. I think that is a nonnegotiable part of the job. By involving oneself in social policy, legislation, systems, and social movements, a youth worker is targeting the root issues of oppression and discrimination, from the top. This also paves the path for youth, as they look on to your example.

Young people getting involved, within the work of the professional or organization, is something I think needs to be encouraged more. First of all, volunteering their energy to a cause or project is admirable in itself. We need to focus on this, and make it more available. Communities will ONLY benefit from passionate young people, getting involved in youth work. It holds them accountable for social environment around them, while providing resources, guidance and support from a professional or organization. Talk about empowerment.

A great example of this: from a book of short stories......
"How to Change the World: Social entrepreneurship and the power of new ideas" by David Bornstein


Jeroo Billimoria started an organization in India, called Childline. A 24 hour hotline for children who are in distress (homeless, abused, orphaned etc.) Not only is she a brave, inspiring and successful woman, but she credits her success to the voluntary staff of her organization, which is completely run by street kids. Youth helping youth.
(You can find this book here)

The voice and influence of youth is something that cannot be swept under the rug. In my opinion this is one of the most important jobs of a youth worker. Working with youth who feel helpless and powerless in their own society, and equipping them with the skills to feel that they have a hand in what's going on around them, and if they don't like it, they understand and can execute effective avenues of change. *critical thinking skills

Framing the work professionals do as "problem solving" is problematic in itself. First, it tends to attach itself in a negative form to an individual or community, as having something wrong with them.
In the social work practice, this is brought to light by William Ryan's theory of "blaming the victim". It is unfortunately very prevalent still, and mostly happens to human service workers unintentionally and with good intention. Nonetheless it is toxic to the social development of any community. Youth workers are not seeking out problems to solve, in fact I don't think we can actually "solve" anything. We may guide, help, provide resources, expertise (etc.), but ultimately the individual helps themselves. We are merely a tool in that process, not the solution to the problems.

Labeling --this is one of my personal pet peeves. Referring to anyone by their struggle is disregarding them as human beings. Like, "teen mom" or "the autistic kid"--when you do this, you are automatically hyper focusing on the issue and not the person. That person is not defined by their struggle, there are many other things that make them who they are and so these references drive me absolutely nuts. Eliminating this type of vocabulary in youth work will help professionals to consider the individual in their entirety, in addition to outside forces. Holistic data gathering and observation is essential and will help guide the worker to maintain a holistic perspective of youth. You cannot look at one element of a person and disregard all the rest. There are an infinite amount of variables to consider when working with youth.

Other key elements from the text:
  • The importance of a diverse skillset, using alternative methods
  • Focusing on the promotion of critical thinking
  • Self-awareness & identity > how this impacts the work you do
  • Core values & ethics
  • In depth context  knowledge of community you work within
  • Ability to asses, plan, implement, evaluate your success
  • Perspective: not merely providing a service, but helping build active participants/leaders

Monday, September 21, 2015

First things first ---Who am I?

Hello, the name is Donna--

I was born in The Netherlands, but living in the U.S. since I was three years old.
Working towards an undergraduate degree in: Youth Development/ Nonprofit Studies
& INGOS Studies Certificate. (International Nongovernmental Organizations)

You should know, I'm madly in love with words.  Like these.........................

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. We are all meant to shine, as children do. And as we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”  
--Marianne Williamson

WHAT are my interests and passions in what I study?
Absolute poverty, failed states, developing countries, MNC, IMF & World Bank's exploitation of the global south, environmental racism, INGOS, systems theories, human rights violations, children's rights, youth empowerment, pubic health, feminism, women in leadership roles, women in office, right to education, sustainable agriculture, urban agriculture, environmental policy & conservation, inequality, racism, classism, sexism, LGBT issues, white privilege, male privilege, crisis in Africa, international politics, global power dynamics, long-term socioeconomic planning, sustainable solutions, the UN as a tool to facilitate global-scale policy change, international agenda-setting, ideational power in politics, lobbying, advocacy, community organizing, constructivism theory, social entrepreneurship, utilizing visual arts to advocate for social issues.

WHAT other kinds of things do I like?
Well, I feel more at home in the ocean than I do in my own house, actually I'm pretty sure that I'm half-fish, or maybe my grandmother's ancestors are jellyfish or something. All I know is, the moment I come up for air, to catch my breath, and leave the water, it feels so wrong. I'd say on average, I'm in the ocean four hours a week minimum. Dancing makes me nearly as happy as swimming and surfing do. Spring through fall, I work on a local farm through a CSA (community shared agriculture) program. Other than that, you can find me somewhere-- hiking, running, kayaking, snorkeling, traveling, dancing, more dancing, collecting rocks (I have approximately a zillion). Did I mentioned dancing yet? What else? Oh, I bought a polypro hula hoop last year, which has now turned into a love affair of mastering tricks, spinning in circles...... and of course it's just another good excuse to dance. (I'm talking countless dance-related injuries). 

I am by nature, a passionately curious person, I will never stop seeking, questioning, learning.

 Grand Canyon bliss, before a 25 hour drive to New Orleans
My younger sister, what an extraordinary person to admire


The Redwood Forest
(one of the most humbling moments of my life)

In a hooping trance


I have a truly bizarre relationship with dragonflies. (Above; are four different instances)
But there have been so many more undocumented encounters. Sometimes they don't leave my side for 30-40 minutes, just following me wherever I go, it's completely nuts. . .


Dusk and Dawn, my favorite times of day

Rebelution tour w/ Ray,
one of my most favorite human beings, EVER!
Hiking in Greenwater, WA

Epic garlic harvest with the farm crew
Tent living for weeks in the forests of Big Sur, CA

Climbing up the Aztec Pyramids
(don't let the smile fool you-- I'm petrified)
Butterfly friends and human friends unite!

The Oregon coast, without a doubt my favorite state in the U.S.

Can climbing trees be my day job?
Skydiving 2011, an adrenaline junkie's version of heaven

Hiking Rodman's Hollow with Kellie
Absorbing that full moon magic

Julia, my sister from another life I'm sure of it
Traveling down the coast of Baja, MX, on foot!