The connections youth workers and school chaplains make in the community enhance their support of young people. Forming these connections is all about networking.
Networking is an important skill for youth workers to master. It enables you to extend your work with young people by tapping into the gifts and resources of others. And the heart of networking is building connections.
I’ve written another article about how to network. This one looks at who you should do that networking with. There are 21 relationships worth cultivating.
Creating the right connections in youth work
If you’re sold on the idea of building connections to benefit both you and the young people you work with, here’s 21 to chase after:
- Another youth worker. Everyone needs a friend. It’s good to have a buddy on the journey, who knows what it’s like and can offer suggestions when you get stuck.
- A group of young people. Gather an advisory council or focus group, to make sure your programs and services meet real needs in meaningful ways.
- A mental health service. Depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and self harm are major issues for young people. Know where young people can go for specialist support, and how that organisation works is a must.
- An interagency network. Most communities have a monthly meeting for community organisations to connect. This is a great way to find other services but also let people know what you’re doing with young people. I’ve got an article about how to make the most of network meetings if they sound a tad scary to you.
- A parent. Just like young people can provide, having a parent will give you a different perspective. They can also be a great volunteer to help with the running of programs.
- A community centre or community development worker. Most youth work just scratches the surface and deals with the most needy kids. Linking in with a community centre enables you to address broader issues within the community. It also helps mobilise support for social change.
- An activity centre that young people enjoy. Rock climbing, skating, ten pin bowling or indoor sports. Whatever you have available, pick one to build a great relationship with. Then use it in programs and for end of year celebrations.
- A nurse or community health worker. Having someone who can provide information about puberty, safe relationships and other health issues is a great resource.
- A past participant or student. Young people are looking for mentors. If the adult world doesn’t provide them, they’ll make their own. So have some model students or graduates return to your programs to fill that need.
- The local radio station. Advertising is expensive, but not if people buy into what your doing. Get to know people within your local station. Find out how you could help build their audience while letting people know about what you do.
- Your child protection authority. Knowing someone within the local office will help you understand the process when children enter foster care or are part of an investigation of abuse. These offices can have high rates of turnover, so you have to work hard on to maintain this relationship.
- A church. Churches do great work in their communities and have lots of people who are happy to volunteer. They also represent the broader community, so those volunteers will often come with a variety of talents to complement your own.
- A lawyer or legal service. Being able to ask questions about the law or support a young person who finds themselves on the wrong side is always handy.
- A service club. Just like churches, service clubs have a willing army of workers. They often provide financial support to activities within the community too. Connecting young people to older members of your community creates good mentoring relationships.
- Your local school. Young people spend a lot of time at school and most of their friends will be there too. You’ll gain from making connections with the local school and helping with some of their social programs.
- A counsellor who works with young people and families. The issues teens and children face can be complex. So if you’re not a trained therapist, it’s good to know some options in the local area. I suggest having a few on hand: one or two who are free, someone who is affordable and an emergency contact that will help people in trouble.
- A cafe. Meetings are the backbone of youth work, so it’s great to have a venue to meet at. Coffee shops are often keen to give back to their community, so having a good relationship with one can be mutually beneficial.
- A sporting club in your area. Exercise is a cheap form of therapy for many issues young people face. Connect with a sports club that has a few program, like a YMCA or PCYC. It can be a fabulous way to help young people build relationships.
- Your local member of parliament. Whether their party is in power or not, members of parliament are in the business of networking.
- A local grocery store. Just like a cafe will give back to the community, so too do many independent stores. If you run any programs around food, then having someone who’ll provide goods at cost price or donate them is great.
- A professional supervisor. If you’ve been reading my articles for a while you would have expected this one! Professional supervision is a great way to stay on top of your game. I’ve got another article that looks at the benefits of supervision.
It’s not likely that one person can maintain all 21 of these connections and still have time for their youth work. So start with a few and then develop a network out from there. You don’t need to be the one who connects to all these people. Just have people within your network who are.
Don’t forget, if you’re wanting to know more about how to connect, read my articles on what networking looks like and how to make the most of network meetings. This article is part of my 10 week program for new school chaplains. Have you heard about it? If you’re just starting out, grab a copy of my Gettting Started workbook, and join in today.
Are there some other organisations or people you think a youth worker should connect with? I’d love you to share your ideas!