Youth Workers Share Stories, Build Professional Networks
In a classroom at UMASS Boston, Clark University professor Laurie Ross's workshop, "Dilemmas of Youth Work in Everyday Practice," had reached a high point. About 25 adults were turned toward one another in small groups analyzing case studies that illustrated conflicts they realized they had encountered in their own practice.
"This was me," Jillian Mordarski said, opening discussion about a case dealing with the challenges faced by a youth worker who came from a different culture than the young people she served.
"Once they get to know you it changes, but overcoming that takes a while," said Mordarski, who coordinates health education at Girls, Inc. of Lynn.
"But there's always something that you can bring to the table, no matter your experience," another member of the group added.
Using case studies to get youth workers to exchange stories and best practices was just one method of professional development at the 11th Youth Work Initiative, sponsored by Health Resources in Action. The event, held March 13 and 14, brought together over 200 youth workers from across New England. Both novices and veterans gained knowledge from experts and one another through some 40 seminars like "Supporting Newly Immigrated Youth and Families" or "The Mirror: How We Influence Behavior."
Participants also had several opportunities, whether in workshops, at breakfast or lunch or during a special session, to network.
"These conferences are not only great for what you learn," said Laurie Jo Wallace, HRiA's director of training and capacity building, "but also for who you meet."
Bo Nicholson, a 25-year-old youth worker with Catholic Charities, South Boston T.E.A.M. (Together Engaging Adults through Mentoring), said she was grateful to have learned about the conference through Boston's Young Nonprofit Professionals Network.
"Youth work is both my passion and purpose," she said, "so I'm always looking for youth worker professional development opportunities to make my job easier and to make sure I'm serving youth in the best way that I can."
She came to the "Dilemmas" workshop eager to hear from her peers how they had dealt with stressful situations.
"Knowing that other youth workers are going through the same things helps make me feel that I'm a confident and effective leader," she said.
At lunch on Tuesday, Mo Barbosa, the assistant director of training and capacity building at HRiA, asked participants to stand up and say whom they had met at the morning's workshops or at their table.
Several people spoke enthusiastically about their new contacts and planned partnerships, and Barbosa encouraged everyone to "build deep, lasting relationships" that would nurture them and the youth that they work with.
The youth workers also recognized excellence in their field with the Youthie awards. Scott Lapham, photography coordinator at AS220 Youth in Providence, Rhode Island, was named Innovator of the Year for his work. Sandra Canas, program director at City Links in Cambridge was named Youth Worker of the Year for her over 20 years of service.
New to the conference this year was a 90 minute series of themed networking sessions on topics such as youth and the arts and youth employment.
Looking forward, Wallace said there may be a fall conference providing the opportunity for participants to gain new skills, develop their professional networks, and be energized about the critical work they do.