I can check another item off my bucket list: leading a workshop at a staff retreat! (Old readers may remember when my dream of leading workshops at a youth retreat came true.) And what’s even better is that I just found out that the audience will be a mixed group Read more…
As a program developer, I am putting systems in place to measure the outcomes of my work. But at the same time, the teacher in me tries to nurture a certain detachment in this very regard. In my own experience as a student, there have been certain lessons, certain relationships whose significance remained obscure to me for years. This is true in education and, arguably, truer still in youth development. If we are working to endow individuals with resources to transform their lives, we have to be ready to play the long game. We can never really know if, when, and which of the many seeds we’ve sprinkled will take root. Teaching is not unlike gardening in the sense that on top of skill, it also requires a goodly amount of confidence in that skill, patience, and faith that eventually our efforts will bear fruit. (more…)
I’ve been delaying writing this post because for a stretch I was too outraged about certain things I’d been hearing in the foster care scene. Outrage is healthy if you can articulate it well and channel it productively, but anger is not the emotion I want to lead with. So, what’s changed? So much in the last two weeks, it seems! But before I get to the good news, let’s start with the issues.
1. Housing is the number one problem facing my emerging leaders, the youngest of whom just turned 21. At the beginning of last semester, we went around the table introducing ourselves to each other. I was struck that with the exception of the two eldest, who are working professionals in child welfare, every single person at the table was facing some form of housing crisis. A couple had to get extensions for their time in care; a couple others didn’t secure formal extensions, but were able to remain in their foster homes out of the generosity of foster parents willing to house them for just a little longer; one was on the verge of losing a NYCHA apartment due to bureaucratic inefficiencies; and still another two were worried that their agencies weren’t moving quickly enough on their housing applications. (more…)
Emerging Leader Maurice came into office hours last week wearing his red power tie. Our initial plan was to unpack his “hustle” from the Work On Purpose workshop we did in our last Emerging Leaders meeting, but he announced that he wanted to share some “good news” and a “dilemma,” which were in fact related. It turned out that Maurice needed to choose between two very different housing options that each appealed to conflicting values, and the decision was overwhelming him. With his permission, I’m sharing some of the details of our meeting because it contains an exercise that might prove useful to the young people you work with (or to you yourself, if you’re in the market for a decision-making tool).
While I agree with the significance of taking small steps towards a large goal, I wonder how we can lay out a larger map for our young adults to understand the short and long term processes of pursuing passions and earning a living.
For those of you who have been looking forward to Steph’s post (I know I have!) I wanted to reassure you that it’s in the hopper. It’s taking a bit longer because she has a lot to say, and I recommended that she break her piece into installments. I was Read more…
I met with one of my young people today to talk about a business idea he had and to design business cards. When the words “network marketing” came out of his mouth, however, I admit to having to restrain myself from reacting strongly. He said a lot of people had already advised him to be wary of scams and pyramid schemes, but he had friends and family members who were making a tidy amount of residual income through a certain program. I asked him what the root of his interest was, and he said that he wanted a fulfilling career. He didn’t want to be stuck behind a desk for forty years in a job he hated. Whenever this phrase comes up (and it often does) it’s really important to dig into what a person means by “desk job.” As a child I hadn’t the foggiest idea what my parents actually did in the office, and that honestly didn’t change much when I was a college student and still had a very limited notion of the range of work that people did in the world. Sure enough, what my youth had in mind were clerical jobs—”being someone’s secretary.” When I asked him where he got his ideas about work, he said it was mostly from movies and TV, where people push paper around in tiny cubicles. Who wouldn’t be despirited by such a vision of work life?
We were having this conversation at AlleyNYC, so I took the opportunity to point out that everyone here pretty much has a “desk job,” but that most of us were working for ourselves. That gave him pause. I took the opportunity to return to the word “fulfillment” and asked him what exactly he meant by that. He said to him it meant not having to wake up and go to a job that he disliked. So I gave him a scenario: What would you do if money were not a concern? (more…)
I am very excited for my next guest blogger, who promises to post her thoughts within the next couple of days on work development programs for young people. Steph Cowling is a very dear friend who goes about program design in a thoughtful manner. A strong moral compass guides her Read more…
One of the higher compliments anyone can pay me for my work is something along the lines of “I would love to take that workshop myself!” or “My high school- / college-aged kid could use that program!” or better yet, “Everyone could use a program like that.” Technically, I design programs for so-called “at-risk” youth, but all that really means is being sensitive to certain needs and understanding the institutional context of their lives. What I am actually striving to create are programs with a much wider appeal—wider because in the end they aren’t aimed at “troubled youth,” but at our shared humanity.
As human beings we all unfold in our own time, and that process is never smooth or evenly-paced. Some of us encounter great challenges very early on. This may appear to “set us back,” but only if we succumb to the bad habit of measuring ourselves against others, or—more accurately—against some kind of social norm that demands we be self-sufficient and clearly on our way to some narrow, preconceived notion of success by our mid-twenties. Another view is to approach these challenges as tests. And if we have the tools and the space to reflect on those significant life experiences, we can use them as learning opportunities and even a source of strength.
Note that this is a very individualized and forgiving view of human development, and one that can resonate throughout a lifetime if we continue to sit with it. Within this framework, I am creating a support system for young people during the critical, early years of emerging adulthood, when many of them exit care with the scantest of resources. The outcomes I shoot for are nothing less than what many people wish for their own children: personal well-being and professional fulfillment. We want to give them the very best so they can be their very best. But how can this happen if we push them through programs that are designed according to preconceived and misguided notions of their capabilities?
The best part of work is figuring out how I am able to serve the individual needs of my young people. Today Nahjee asked me for some cooking tips (e.g., the different ways of thickening soup) and sources for good recipes (not from any packaged food website). She’s talked about being pescatarian and how she prefers simple food such as pizza and fries to fancy meals, but this afternoon I learned that her favorite cuisines are Indian and Thai. She also loves thick soups, bean chilis, and lentils. She would like to be able to make a soup that has lots of veggies in it, such as corn, carrots, and broccoli. Nahjee also likes spice. I figured that finding a mulligatawny recipe might be a good place to start, since it would satisfy many of her cravings.
The plan is to take a Friday afternoon to head to Curry Hill, enjoy a veggie lunch buffet at Chennai Garden or maybe a mujadara sandwich from Kalustyan’s (I like mine specially topped with pickles or spicy olives and their awesome hot sauce), and then go shopping for some basic spices and a variety of pulses for her pantry.
Looking up different mulligatawny recipes reminded me of a cookbook that my sister helped me start. During one of the many summers I spent with her in high school and college, she gave me a hardcover journal and I started writing in the simple, reliable recipes that she herself used for her family. After awhile I started collecting recipes on my own from magazines, cookbooks, and friends. But my favorite recipes in the book are family recipes—not just old Filipino standbys, but also special family dishes that bring back good memories.