Today we're exploring the day theme of Youth Work Week: Young People as Active Members of Their Communities and Society.

You only have to read the news at the moment, to hear another young person has been a victim of knife crime and wonder what young people’s role in society is at the moment, and how much they are contributing. There is no coincidence that there has been a 62% cut in Youth Services over the last decade, and the increase in issues such as knife crime. For many young people, the only community they feel part of is the sanctuary of their youth centre, where they are always met with the unconditional positive regard of experienced youth workers and can escape the challenges of life. Society tends to be less understanding of how or why a young person may engage in dangerous or criminal activity, and thus young people become outcasts of society through loss of their safe spaces and communities.

The importance of volunteering

There are various approaches to engage young people in their communities and society, but for me a golden thread that I have embedded with all my various roles with young people is volunteering. Through providing structured volunteering opportunities for young people, they have the power to overcome extreme adversity, and positively engage in their communities and society.

Through volunteering, I have had the privilege of supporting a custody leaver use his experiences in peer education workshops; having spent years in and out of the justice system, he has not returned, and since has a job in London working with young offenders. I have been astounded when a care leaver, with experience of homelessness and mental health issues gained the confidence approach the Mayor of Bristol and invite him in to meet with other young people (which he did!). I have watched in amazement as one of our Youth Ambassadors, Dannie who like 1 in 4 other young people, struggled so severely with anxiety that she could hardly speak to one person, travel to London from her very rural village and speak to a room full of people in Parliament to represent the voice of young people

“The best thing about volunteering in a youth setting is knowing that I’m helping other young people who might be going through the same hard situations that I was. Not only has volunteering helped me overcome challenges around my mental health but it also gave me a chance to meet some amazing new people as well as opening many doors to some fantastic opportunities.” – Dannie Hawkins

At Creative Youth Network, we have various volunteer roles which provide the community, and especially young people, the opportunity to contribute to the delivery of our open access youth sessions. These roles offer a vital opportunity for young people to contribute to their local community, whilst also gaining valuable skills to set them up for life.

One of our very own Youth Workers, Marcus began attending Hanham Youth Centre in year 7. With very low confidence and not many friends, the opportunity to become a Youth Volunteer has led to his journey of becoming an employed Youth Worker with us several years later.

The core of change: relationships

I often reflect on what I have learned over the years, and how it is possible these young people have overcome such barriers around mental health, leaving care or custody, homelessness, financial, confidence, family break down (to name a few!) and managed to completely turn their lives around. There is one common denominator: they had a consistent relationship with a kind, and non-judgemental youth worker. Someone who never excludes them from the community regardless of the challenges they present with. I often wonder if we lived in a society that adopted a kind, youth work approach, that chose understanding over judgement, how different the landscape may be today.

In whatever capacity you work with young people, ensuring young people become active and valued members of society is an aim we share and hope for every young person we work with. In today’s challenging climate, how else can be ensure young people are active and valued members of society?

Join in the effort to empower young people to be active and valued members of society. Donate now:

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