Recent Blog Posts
Family

Family

We make fun of each other.  It is what we do in life, to show our love, to show a familiarity.  It is how Irish Catholic families pass on their traditions of storytelling and guilt at the same time.  I love sparring with my brother Michael (who alternately works for ...

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Listening

Listening

Strategy... How to make things better? How to push on one lever to impact another? How to support and sing real praises? How to listen, really listen? How to let others speak first.... How to engage smart young people? How to speak from the heart... How to engage in real discussions on real topics that people care about? How ...

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Travel

Travel

Each time we embark on something new, we open our eyes in a different way. We notice elements of the experience differently. When you land in a new place, you have to take it in differently, for guideposts, markers, unique characteristics. Each time I land in ...

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Education

Education

For all those interested in education reform, most will concede we have failed MANY our youth by giving up on them, left them with a system designed for the industrial revolution, instruction with limited to no relevancy for today's world and often encourage youth to find a ...

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What If ?

by Erica Sallander
Girls RAP and Contact Plus Coordinator
Girls Inc at the YWCA of Minneapolis

My work finally has a context.

I spent a number of years understanding that I am a good youth worker, a good counselor. I always connected with the youth I served. I enjoyed listening, supporting, understanding, playing cards, and simply being present with them. I rarely stopped to think about what I bring specifically to this work, I just “did it.” After being promoted I found myself doing a completely different job. I did as I was told without really understanding how the bigger picture tied into my work. I became a conduit of sorts between my supervisor and the youth workers I supported. I neither contributed nor supported. My heart, soul, spirit and mind were not in the work. In essence, I didn’t really understand that they could be.

At a moment when everything was becoming unbearable, when I was completely lost and confused, I met Colleen. People were talking about “quality.” My initial thought was “I don’t have time!” because I was spending all of it putting out fires that were coming from what seemed like nowhere. After a brief email coax from Colleen, I agreed to meet with her.

As simple and ridiculous as it sounds, she challenged me to use my own brain. She asked questions like “why?” that I could not answer but really wanted to be able to. Conversations with her encouraged me to leave the reality of the forest fires that I was faced with to take a look at who was setting them. As time went on, I found an entire team of passionate and strong individuals who were dedicated to serving the youth and their families. They were there all along, but they were not supported. In fact, I was entirely and unknowingly in their way. Soon, I realized that systems are in our way all the time. Systems that people structure carefully and with great intent, have an impact that is often not the one intended. Sometimes when we work so hard on what is right in front of us, we fail to see that the work we are doing is no longer relevant or even worse, find ourselves in the way of our own progress.

So the questions are:

  • What if every mind was engaged?
  • What if every experience was honored and valued?
  • What if capacity meant to truly empower the youth and families to drive our programs?
  • What if we partnered with funders and researchers and shared our knowledge?
  • Then what?

The answer is you don’t have time NOT to talk about quality, youth and community voice, or capacity building. Today is a day for relevance. For programs that lift up and support the community. It’s time for people to bring all that they are to their jobs.

Colleen, you tell me that you are searching for meaning. I have never been more alive, or more passionate about my work. I have found and will continue to find meaning in everything and everyone… and this is my reality because of the conversations that I have had with you. Imagine for a moment, all of the people you have worked with… do you think they have a story like mine? I will never be the same. But without you, I could have been. I could have burned out and left in angst. Instead, I am more passionate about my community than ever before, and no matter what I do, I will be a champion for this cause. It could have been about a job, but you helped me to see that it is SO MUCH BIGGER than that. Meaning.