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Leveling anxiety in an abruptly disruptive time

By Rebecca Meyer This week while retrieving my 12-year old twin boys from their cross country running practice after a full day of school plus an early morning knowledge bowl practice, I shared, “Hey, I’m working on a writing piece this week centered around youth: what is on your mind, is there anything that is challenging or you wish could be different?” One of my boys answered, “I wish I was not at school. School is hard. There is so much work.” In my head, I thought, “Totally. I don’t always want to be at work right now either.” When I inquired more about the statement, it was clear that what was surfacing was not about being in school or at school, or even the quantity of work, but rather anxieties around performance. This stress is not uncharacteristic for youth, but it does feel magnified in the context of the pandemic. How can we adapt our programs to alleviate the elevated levels of stress that youth (and all of us) are experiencing as a result of one of the most significant pe
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How are you building your cultural competence?

By Nancy Hegland During this calendar year, I am participating in the Racial Equity Leadership Institute , which is offered by the Facilitating Racial Equity Collaborative (FREC). The Institute is designed to increase understanding about race, racial identity, bias, and being anti-racist in a cross-section of educational settings and provide a forum to discuss new learning and translate it into action to change our education system. Each monthly session includes pre-work, a featured speaker and small group discussions, all via zoom technology. This past week, we focused on social identities and systems of oppression. During our small group discussion, I listened to others, shared my thoughts, and then wondered: What is the best way to build cultural competence?   As a youth development professional, it is important to be an active listener, show empathy, and effectively engage with others. These competency behaviors help to create welcoming environments and establish an appreciation f

Trust, volunteerism and equity

By Kathryn Sharpe Photo by Ayo Ogunseinde on The Minnesota Alliance for Volunteer Advancement recently published a powerful report, Co-Creating Racial Equity in Volunteer Engagement: Learning from Listening Sessions with Black, Indigenous and People of Color . In this report, they explore volunteerism and barriers to participation from the perspective of BIPOC individuals. I will spend years unpacking the wisdom and challenges offered in this report, but I want to start here with the question of building trust. MAVA’s report lays out how members of BIPOC communities are often distrustful of engaging with organizations that aren’t BIPOC-led or based in their community because of a tendency for tokenism or what may be seen as an extractive relationship with the community. They often don’t see the organization engaging in the community in a meaningful way.   As a white, US-born woman working for a statewide, historic organization, I am on a journey to work with our volunteer

An open conversation about “special needs” [in youth development]

By Jennifer Cable “The test results have confirmed that your son does indeed have Down Syndrome.” Four days after the birth of my son Theo, these were the words I heard over the phone as my head filled with a million questions. What does this mean? What exactly is Down Syndrome? Am I equipped to be his mom? How does my husband feel right now? How does this impact our family? Will Theo need additional support as he grows? Will this diagnosis affect his development? Will he feel valued? While the only response I could articulate in that moment was “okay” and a muttered “thank you for letting me know,” I knew one thing was certain—I love Theo, as a human and as an individual. As my baby. No matter what.  Recently returning to work, I find myself merging my two worlds together to figure out how I can best advocate and support both my son and the young people in 4-H who may have a disability, whether disclosed or not, visible or not. 4-H Youth Development has communicated its goal in “stren

Youth development lessons from Ted Lasso

By Kate Walker Have you seen the streaming Apple TV series Ted Lasso ? It’s a beloved comedy about an American football coach who gets hired to lead a struggling professional soccer team in England. Mostly it’s about how Ted leads his team, on and off the field. I am a huge fan of this unexpectedly heartwarming show, and in it I find lessons for effective youth development practice and for supporting social emotional learning with young people. “Be a goldfish.” According to Ted, a goldfish is the happiest animal in the world because it has a 10-second memory. He encourages his players not to dwell on their mistakes, but to learn from them and move on. Scholars in our field call this a growth mindset . “Believe!” Ted mounted a sign with this motto in the locker room. It represents his optimistic, can-do attitude. When asked if he believes in ghosts Ted quipped, “I do. But more importantly, I believe they need to believe in themselves.” Youth programs can help young people d

How to explain the youth development profession

By Jessica Pierson Russo I’m not very fond of small talk. It’s not because I don’t like getting to know people; it’s just that it doesn’t always lend itself too well to being honest, and I’m the kind of person who, while maybe not 100% truthful, is at least honest about who I am. And there is no small talk question I hate more than, “So what do you do?” As a youth development professional, I am filled with a mild feeling of panic by this innocent question. Should I answer it honestly? Because if I do, I’ll be breaking the #1 rule of small talk: never get too long-winded or deep. Why does telling people I am a youth development professional fill me with such dread? Because they generally have no idea what I’m talking about. If I tell them I do after school programming, they smile and nod but then think I’m just playing around with kids all day. They can kind of picture it, but they have no idea why I would do it. I should, after 17 years, have my elevator pitch ready to go. It’s just th

Youth, sustainability, and decision-making

By Dylan Kelly In June of 2017, Jayathma Wickramanayake was appointed the first United Nations Envoy on Youth. She was charged with engaging young people as critical thinkers, change-makers, innovators, communicators, and leaders in the support of a more sustainable world. Through the efforts of her office, young people are contributing their ideas, energy, and leadership to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals . How can we support youth in attaining these goals? We can do this by asking young people to consider the  social, environmental, and economic impacts  of their decisions. For example, I worked with a group of 4-H youth leaders who had an important decision to make. They had to decide which fundraiser to implement for their county 4-H program. Their options included continuing with the annual cheese sale, switching to a coffee sale with a local roaster, or switching to a local company that sells gift items and boxes. Instead of asking, “Which option will make us the