A collaborative approach to working with children is hugely valuable for both young people and youth workers. Hannah Woods explains why she’s excited by being a part of Viva’s Doorsteps initiative in Oxfordshire.
I vividly remember the sounds of a fight which happened many years ago. I lived near a secondary school, and regularly heard end-of-school-day celebrations – but this was different.
I remember a point where I needed to act and went outside to break it up. I remember being shocked that they listened and went away, leaving one shaky young person and her friend waiting for the crowd to go.
I told that story in an interview for a placement, and later being asked what I thought youth work was. I knew, for me, youth work was the difference between a young person feeling alone or not feeling alone.
I know how important it is not to feel alone, to have somewhere safe to ask important questions and hear important answers, and feel known and be accepted.
There is a story of two men, walking down a beach littered with starfish which are dying. Every few steps one man would stop, pick up a starfish and throw it back into the water.
Eventually his friend asked him why he was bothering; there was no way he could ever save them all. The man replied, “It makes a difference to this one.”
I can’t help all of Oxford’s young people. Most youth workers I know could use another day a week. Funding and training for youth work has been slashed repeatedly since the recession began. We try to make every minute count, but more time, funding and volunteers would mean we could support a far greater number of young people to a far greater depth.
However, I can help that one young person in front of me, and the one after her, and the one after that. I look at each young person and know there is something of the image of God in them; that they are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Psalm 139).
I try to help them identify and celebrate what they bring to the world; young people often don’t realise that what they are good at is valuable.
Knowing the other workers in the area means we can start to collaborate in supporting young people. That’s why I think Viva’s Doorsteps initiative, launched in Oxfordshire in 2015, is so crucial. By joining it, we at Oxford Youth Works are discovering new places to send young people for support.
I am beginning to learn the hearts and minds of the other service providers in the area, and the type of support they can provide, and they are learning about us.
Oxford Youth Works is a Christian schools-based youth work charity. Through Doorsteps, we recently began a partnership with a community-based youth project. I joined one of their sessions and later bumped into one of those young people in school. When that boy was having a hard time, I was able to connect someone from the school pastoral service with the community youth worker.
One way I’ve experienced the value of joined-up working was when I met a girl called May whom I worked with for several years. Sadly she had to take a year out of school due to health complications. Through our relationship, May became involved with the youth group run by my church, and one of the leaders started meeting with her to share the Christian faith.
I knew the chaplain at May’s school, who supported her in liaising with health professionals. I mentored May, walking and talking together every week after a
group and helping her get the most out of the other professionals. I knew what the chaplain, the youth pastor and the health professionals were doing – which left me free to do the mentoring, challenging and encouraging that are my strength.
Now, May is involved in delivering Christian youth work herself!
I remain convinced that when we work together, it will both be encouraging and liberating for us as practitioners and it will increasingly benefit young people. As Doorsteps becomes more active, I look forward to seeing many more of these ‘May’ stories.
Hannah Woods is Director of Youth Work for Oxford Youth Works. She is married to Jon, mum to Evangeline and Thorbern, and spends too much time knitting and reading to be cool.
Doorsteps supports Christians, churches and grassroots groups, building collaborations that respond to the needs of children, young people and families in their communities. Find out more by clicking here.
This article first appeared in Life magazine issue 4.