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Local opinion columnists

The harsh reality of youth work

By From page A8 | January 26, 2013

I have often ask young people what they think is the greatest resource in the world. The most common responses I get are money, oil, gold and land.

I believe the greatest resource is people.

You can obtain, sustain and maintain any other resource in the world through human beings. So if human beings are the greatest resources, then the cultivation of human beings should be of great value to the world. That means parents, teachers, ministers, counselors and youth coaches should be the most valued and prestigious occupations in our society, right? Wrong.

Unfortunately a youth worker does not nearly receive the same measure of respect or appreciation as an athlete or entertainer.

During my journey as a youth worker, I have learned the valuable lesson of humility by investing my heart and soul into improving the quality of life for youth in the community. This line of work is tiring and emotionally taxing. You will experience more failure than success in this business.

Most of your target group will be influenced by their environment than the wisdom of their parents, teacher, pastor, coach or you. Most youth will not choose the road less traveled. They will blindly follow the crowd or trends that will lead them to trouble. This means we need to be their eyes, ears and compass to navigate them through the troubled terrain.

I have made a passionate attempt to encourage young people to make every effort to endure their environment regardless of the conditions. Having said that, I also understand the need to separate from an environment under extreme circumstances.

We have absolutely no control over what type of environment we are born into. We don’t get to choose our family, the geographic location or the socio-economic conditions. We simply have to play with the hand that is dealt to us. You may not be able to control the environment but you can control how the environment affects you.

Nature teaches us a valuable lesson of the need to adjust to a changing environment. When the seasons change and the weather is freezing, we wisely adjust by wearing the proper clothing to adapt to that environment. Within a few months, if the environment changes to near 100-degree heat, we wisely reduce clothing to adjust. In some locations, if you are wearing the wrong color in the wrong neighborhood you could become a casualty of that environment as well. The point is, that we need to constantly make adjustments to adapt to a changing environment.

If you have aspirations of becoming a youth worker in a high-risk environment, you may find yourself attending more funerals than graduations. Many of the youth you have worked with will move on to correctional institutions than educational institutions.

We make the effort to encourage youth to be as competitive academically as they are athletically, or as passionate about education as they are about art. Be mindful that this work is not for the faint of heart. You will see hear and experience things that you may not want to share or bring home to your family. You cannot do this work halfhearted. You may not be rewarded or even appreciated for your efforts or the lives you save at times.

You are the unsung hero. You’re the true underdog. You must embrace the roll of David versus Goliath. Similar to the game of baseball, if you succeed four out of 10 times you are a superstar. That means that six out of 10 of your target group may end up on the negative end of a statistic. However, if you become complacent with these odds then you are in the wrong business. You must challenge yourself to never accept the unhealthy conditions of the environment.

This is the harsh reality of a youth worker.

Deon Price is a freelance writer and youth life skills coach who lives in Fairfield. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/youthgeneration.

Deon Price


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