Have you ever visited a new city? Teeming with life, traffic, shoppers, market sellers, commuters. And realized, that every day, whether you’re here or not, this activity is going on. And will continue to do so once you have left.
In many ways, that is youth work. Consistent. Seemingly everyday. Often hidden. Most of us only catch a fleeting glimpse.
But they are there, youth workers. Consistently. That’s why youth work works. And how it works. Not in short bursts, but throughout a lifetime.
For some of our most marginalised young people their youth workers are their only trusted adult. The youth centre their only safe space. Success comes slowly. Building trust takes time. Behind every breakthrough are hours of just being there. To listen, to advise, or simply to provide a safe presence.
It is proactive, not reactive. It is person centred. It meets each young person where they are at.
No two young people’s journeys are the same. Each has their own struggles, fears, anxieties. Their own strengths, hopes and ambitions. Youth workers are there to help young people get through those struggles, to allay fears and anxieties. Fostering a space for them to grow into their strengths, find their own solutions and to beat a path to success despite the difficulties they face.
Across the country there are thousands of young people on this journey. The obstacles they face have risen higher overnight. The solutions are within them and with the right supports it is the young people who can best help us identify these solutions to ensure they have a fair chance to achieve their full potential, despite the challenges in their way.
We’ve heard much about the last two years through charts and graphs. Behind those are real young people dealing with these obstacles. Determined to overcome the challenges in front of them.
Each of their journeys is unique. Yet they carry consistent themes, a drive and ambition inside them, unlocked with the right help.
Let’s hear from some of them.
THEY ALWAYS TELL US THAT
THE SOLUTIONS ARE INSIDE OF US. I THINK THAT’S TRUE.
BUT I KNOW MY YOUTH WORKERS HELPED ME TO UNLOCK THOSE.
Have you ever felt like an outcast?
For parts of my childhood I did. Especially in school. People often paint Travellers with the same brush. I’ve always found this frustrating. But the youth centre was different.
When we first moved to Dungarvan I started going to the Homework Club there. The centre has been part of my life ever since. I always found it difficult to do my homework at home, but at the club we got to play games and meet new people. The youth workers would give us food, help us with our schoolwork, and just be there for a chat.
When I started at the club I was treated like everyone else. The other young people didn’t even know I was a Traveller. When I told them they reacted positively. That’s the kind of environment which was fostered inside the youth club. I wasn’t used to that. It has stayed with me to this day – those friends have too.
More recently, during the pandemic, my mother became ill and had to go into hospital. For me this meant helping out more at home – cooking and cleaning and looking after my sisters. At that time I dropped out of school. It seemed like the only option.
Usually, when you leave school no one will come after you. Especially when you are a Traveller. But my youth workers did. They have always supported me – ever since I joined the club. And as soon as I dropped out they came to help.
One of them, Declan, came to me and told me about the Youth Employability Programme that they run. I wasn’t sure at first but he convinced me to give it a try.
I’d never given much thought to what I wanted to do after school. The programme helped me to focus on that. To think about the future that I want to achieve. Through it I realised I needed to complete my Leaving Cert to get there. Right now that is what I am working towards.
Now, I have big ambitions. I plan to go to WIT, and eventually, I’m determined to run my own business. To have the life and opportunities that I want. And, through doing that I want to inspire the next generation of young women from the Travelling Community.
Without the youth centre I don’t know where I would be right now. They always tell us that we, the young people, have the solutions inside of us. I think that’s true. But I know that they helped me to unlock those.
Your support of the Irish Youth Foundation means that Declan and the other youth workers have the resources needed to help run programmes like the employability programme.
That support changed my future. For that, I want to say thank you.
THERE WERE SO MANY TIMES WHEN I WANTED TO GIVE UP. BUT I KEPT GOING. I’VE HAD GOOD PEOPLE AROUND ME ENCOURAGING ME ALL THE WAY.
From the outside it may just seem like spanners, spokes and bike seats. But the bike workshop has set me on a different path.
Six months ago I wasn’t in a good place. Struggling with my mental health. Sat at home with no motivation. Refusing to go to school.
That day, Thomas, one of my youth workers, tapped on the door. My mam had called him, worried. He could see that I was struggling and was worried too. He knew me. What I’m like, and what interests me. Straight away he knew that I needed something to focus on. Something hands-on that I could put my mind to.
I wouldn’t have chosen the workshop – I’d still have rathered to stay at home. Trying something new made me anxious. But I trusted Thomas enough to try it. He’s persistent too.
So I went up. From day one I knew I liked it. There was a good buzz and the group got on well together.
Most importantly for me it wasn’t like school. It was more hands on, less formal. There wasn’t one person telling you what to do all the time. It was less pressure. And I could do my own thinking. Make my own mistakes without worrying. Go at my own pace. That’s how I needed to learn.
From there I got a placement in a bike shop. Again, my youth workers
encouraged me to do it. Again, to be honest, I wasn’t keen. The first day going down I wondered what I had gotten myself into. At the start it was tough. Going into somewhere I didn’t know anyone, taking on new tasks. I was completely out of my comfort zone.
But it got better. Slowly, I learned how to communicate with the other lads there. I realized they were able to understand my situation. They’d all had their own difficulties with mental health – I could relate to them. Many were recovering from drug problems.
Slowly I found my way. Built my confidence, and skill set. Now, my manager and Thomas both say I’m an excellent bike mechanic. I’ve achieved my City & Guilds Bike Maintenance qualification too. The youth centre plans to do a graduation ceremony for us, it will be a proud moment.
The difference from six months ago is amazing. My head is in a better place. I feel like I’ve matured and I’ve enjoyed having responsibility. I have a skill and a qualification. I’ve seen a side of myself that I didn’t know was there.
I think my youth workers saw it before I did.
It’s been tough and there were so many times when I wanted to give up. But I kept going. I’ve had good people around me encouraging me all the way.
It feels like it all stems back to that tap on the door. But really, it goes back years. I knew the club and Thomas enough to trust them to give it a go – even when I really didn’t want to. My mam trusted them enough to turn to them when she was worried.
Having that qualification is so important to me. But the experience has been more than that. I’ve learnt a lot about myself and grown in confidence. I know what I’m good at. I know that I can go into new situations and learn.
The youth club was central to that. They were there to check in on me when I was not feeling myself, to see my potential before I could, to give me the training and experience that can put me on the right path.
That bike project was directly supported by the Irish Youth Foundation. They exist because of the generosity of people like you.I’m grateful for that.
THEY DIDN’T JUDGE US – ONLY SUPPORTED US. THEY GAVE US PRACTICAL INFORMATION ABOUT BEING YOUNG PARENTS.
I didn’t have an easy upbringing – neither did my partner. My Dad passed away when I was young and recently I had to move out of home because of difficulties there with my mam. My partner grew up in the care system. Between us we don’t have many people to turn to.
Right now we’re living in homeless accommodation with our son Tom*. He’s three.
But we’re determined to give our son a better start in life. It won’t be easy, but we have found support. That’s where Doras Buí stepped in [an organisation supported by the Irish Youth Foundation]. They provide information, and counselling to young parents like us. They didn’t judge us – only supported us. They gave us practical information about being parents. I feel so much more confident as a young mam now I have this support.
Our son has additional needs. Doras Buí have helped with this, too.
Recently he got to experience the zoo for the first time which he loved. Small things like that make such a difference. Nothing can beat seeing that smile on his face.
They’ve also helped me to set my eyes on the future. I got help with interview preparation and I worked with them to put together my CV. That all paid off and I’ve now secured a hairdressing apprenticeship. This has given me such a lift in confidence. It has given us a future to work for. A future for us, as a family.
At times I have struggled with my mental health. It’s a difficult thing to talk about. But Doras Buí were there to support me and I got to take part in a course in Wicklow to help with this. Just having somewhere to turn, and a place to open up is such a help.
Knowing that support is there makes all the difference. And they wouldn’t be possible without the kindness of people like you. So, thank you.
CREATING AN IMPACT
LIFTING THE LID
Do you have what it takes to become an Irish Youth Foundation Gladiator?
We’re looking for 50 Gladiators to cycle from Milan to Rome in aid of The Irish Youth Foundation. Join our peloton and cycle from Milan to Rome while raising funds for The Irish Youth Foundation. We will be passing through the iconic cities of Parma, Pisa, Florence and Sienna en route. Saturday 24th September to Saturday 1st October 2022. More details available in January from our website. If you would like more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Join our Fellowship programme for targeted backing of brilliant young people.
Details to be released in January.