Voices In the Lives of Youth

youth

Try to keep up. Youth move so fast it is like a blur, but their hearts and minds are worth chasing.

Tonight I watched a basketball game. No, it wasn’t the NBA. It was better. It was a level 3 freshman scrimmage. I whistled and cheered like no NBA game I’ve ever attended. In fact, frankly, it was better than any NBA game I’ve ever watched. Why? Because I was there to cheer for someone special. Not my daughter, or cousin, or niece, but another youth whom I adore. And might I say she was awesome! She is just one of the youth I have the privilege of leading every Sunday night.

Each of our lives take us on a journey. That journey often leads us on a mission.  If you’ve been touched by cancer, you might be dedicating your life toward support for finding a cure. If you’ve been suffering from a mental illness or an eating disorder, you might turn your extra time toward helping others in recovery. For me, I’ve come to understand it has always been about youth.

For 15+ years I’ve spent time investing in youth as a leader in scouts, or as a room mom, or as a volunteer teaching kids.  My children struggled in school for a variety of reasons and my volunteering, at first, was a necessity to help them survive and, I hoped, to thrive. I soon came to understand that it was a lot more. I was a voice–an important voice–a voice that made a big difference in every youth I encountered. I had a tremendous power to lift up and inspire with the simplest of kind words or encouragement. Not the fake kind. The kind that is based in real truth. Something that no parent can do. My kids always used to say, “Of course you think I’m great, you’re my mom. You have to love me.”  That is hard to hear as a parent, but I understood what they were saying. There is truth in it. I do love them unconditionally and they know it. Even when I speak the truth about how valued they are, it is masked by parent-child fandom. They needed other voices–adult voices they could believe.

Today, I can picture and remember every child I’ve ever worked with and helped and cared about. It causes my call to burn in me ever stronger. These days I’ve dedicated my weekends as a youth leader at my church. And, I haven’t looked back.

I’ve always liked the Search Institute’s concept of assets. There are 40 assets they have identified as key to helping a child grow up healthy, caring, and responsible.  Nine of those assets are at the core of what I focus on today. Primarily, the first one–Other Adult Relationships. I’ve seen first hand how the lack of these adult relationships or, even worse, negative adult relationships, have really hurt. I’ve dedicated my time to be a positive voice in the lives of youth because I believe so strongly in how those voices can make a difference.

Nine (of 40) Important Assets for Youth

Other Adult Relationships: Receives support from three or more nonparent adults.

Caring Neighborhood: Experiences caring neighbors.

Community Values Youth: Perceives that adults in the community value youth.

Youth as Resources: Given useful roles in the community.

Service to Others: Serves in the community one hour or more per week.

Neighborhood Boundaries: Neighbors take responsibility for monitoring young people’s behavior.

Adult Role Models: Adults model positive, responsible behavior.

High Expectations: Adults encourage the young person to do well.

Religious Community: Spends one hour or more per week in activities in a religious institution.

So, as for basketball, I can’t wait for more games…and volleyball, band, track, musicals, geology museum visits, piano recitals, science projects, and whatever else I get the privilege to attend and add my voice. Youth are amazing and they are the future. I love their energy and their questions and their honest evaluation of what life is dishing out.

The truth is that their voice speaks to me as much as I hope mine speaks to them.

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