What is your current role?
I work as the Youth Programs Director at Saint Paul Neighborhood Network (SPNN). My role is to coordinate our afterschool and summer youth media programs. We have two main programs working with middle school and high school aged youth in Saint Paul, as well as a variety of short-term classes. I also help run the Youth Action Committee, which is a space for youth to take leadership at SPNN.
What is your favorite memory from your youth?
My teenage years were a time when I came to a lot of realizations about the many inequities that exist in our society. I wanted to radically change the institutions that were in power - from schools, to the government, etc, etc. I got involved in a number of local organizing efforts working collaboratively with adults, and with other youth. It was one of the most exciting times in my life, where I realized that I had the ability to speak up and make change.
What inspired you to get into the field of youth work/development?
In college I went to school for video production and was trying to find a way to mesh my interest in media and technology with my passion for social change. I had the opportunity to help with a video class for Hmong girls, and I knew immediately that this was the perfect fit. I really enjoyed mentoring the youth and helping them use media to express themselves. After that class ended, I was hired to teach another class at SPNN and here I am today!
Describe a youth worker through your eyes.
A youth worker listens, mentors, challenges, inspires, encourages, collaborates, and learns from youth.
Describe a resource that supports you in your work.
We use an online database program called Dabble. It has totally revamped our department's organizational capacity. We used to store data in separate Access files and word documents; now we have an integrated database that keeps track of the youth we work with, the media they have created, the teachers we contract with, and the curriculum we use in our classes. It's infinitely more useful!
What is one challenge that you are facing in the youth development field right now?
Besides the day-to-day challenges of equipment, staffing, funding, accessibility, and never enough time to do everything that needs to get done, the challenge I always come back to is making sure there are enough opportunities for youth to have authentic leadership in each of our programs. I am currently working on organizing our first youth/staff retreat and am open to suggestions!
What is one piece of advice you would give to a youth worker?
There is no "one way" to be a youth worker. Listen to yourself and do what works best for you; strive to be awesome, while being okay with making mistakes.