September goes by in such a rush. Summer is over and everything begins again: school, conferences, and fall program activities. Maybe that is why September is Workforce Development Month; it feels like we are all going “back to work.” As September began, I must admit, I was feeling a little tired and sad—not ready to let the summer laze go and certainly not excited to jump back in to the whirl of workforce development yet again.
But then I watched my foster child, who has been through too much already for such a young person, march bravely off to the first day of kindergarten. I heard the plenary speaker at the Nevada Transition Conference talk about growing up with a learning disability and ADHD as the child of two parents with mental health needs. I listened to the youth panel at the National Association of Workforce Development Professionals (NAWDP) Youth Symposium share their educational, workplace, and personal successes in spite of homelessness, court-involvement, and teen pregnancy.
Slowly, a theme emerged: resilience and renewal! If these youth can keep coming back, tough day after tough day, work week after work week, school year after school year, how can we, the youth service professionals, teachers, transition specialists, parents, family members, and other caring adults, do any less? As my foster child said to me recently, “You always come back – I like that about you.”
The Nevada Transition Conference plenary speaker, Christian Moore, shared a story about his friend’s parent, who found him out in the streets late at night, fed him many meals, and made sure he got to school each day. Similarly, the youth panel talked about teachers who stayed late to show them the same math problem one more time, program staff who really listened to them, and family members who always encouraged them. When asked what advice they had for the youth service professionals in the room, a youth on the panel replied, “Don’t give up on us. You never know how much influence you have – just one thing you say or one thing you do can change a kid’s life.”
That response struck a chord with me and brought the whole month together. We youth service professionals can often feel so frustrated and exhausted that we just want to give up. How many times can we talk about continuing education, interviews, resumes, career exploration, soft skills, and work-based learning before it feels like a continuous sound loop in our heads? We start to wonder if anyone is listening – our colleagues, families, youth? But then it happens: you bump into a youth from your old college prep class who is now attending community college, you hear from the youth with a learning disability you tutored who has now graduated from a four-year university, a parent from your career-focused mentoring program says they can envision their child having a job someday, or your foster child says, “I love you.” You realize that you are making a difference and you can go on. Just like all the youth who come through your home, office, classroom, or program, you have that resilience and you can feel that renewal. Every day is a new day and every interaction is another chance for another change. How can we give up when they never do?
Resilience comes from past successes and future ones that are developing right now. It comes from having the real strategies and resources for youth in the foster care system, youth in the juvenile justice system, youth with learning disabilities, and youth with mental health needs. The resilience comes from having the knowledge, skills, and abilities to work with all youth and connect them to opportunities for that same success. That resilience comes from taking these resources and skills to make an intentional and individualized plan for youth that connects them to their developmental and career goals. Finally, that resilience comes from the understanding that the one resource you share, the one encouraging thing you say, or the extra few minutes you take could be just enough for someone to change their life!
- Youth Service Professionals’ Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities Professional Development Demonstration and Evaluation (YSP/KSA Demo)—NCWD/Youth
- “Core Competencies for Youth Services Professionals: Guiding Youth Toward Employment”—NCWD/Youth
- “Developing a Professional Development System for Youth Service Professionals”—NCWD/Youth
By Patricia D. Gill, Senior Program Associate, National Collaborative on Workforce & Disability for Youth at the Institute for Educational Leadership’s Center for Workforce Development