by: Vida Adair-Matus
Jennifer Smith is one of two child youth workers in our school. Her room, known as The Hive, works to provide a safe and comfortable environment for each student who needs it. The more I talked to my peers about Jenn, the more I was about the role she takes on in our school. This article is meant to highlight Jenn’s significance and perhaps pique the interest of those who might be interested in the idea of a career in child and youth work.
What does the day in the life of a child and youth worker look like?
“A basic day for me is following up with students who are struggling, whether it’s issues with school, family or friends”. Jenn is here to provide support to students who need it. She does this by connecting with every student she can. For those who need it, she reaches out to teachers to provide them with the tools they need to support their students in a classroom setting. We as students can often feel a bit distant from the adults in our lives, we can feel like they can’t understand our problems. Jenn works to make sure that there’s a safe space where students feel comfortable reaching out for the help they need. Jenn says, “Our job is not to save you guys, it’s to give you the tools to save yourselves.”
What inspired you about this somewhat niche career choice?
At the end of the day, Jenn wants to act as the adult she could’ve used in her life when she was in high school. Jenn had a very influential child youth worker in her teenage years, who “saved her life”. All she really wants to be is the support that was provided to her during such key and formative years. I think recognizing that students need more than the bare minimum, recognizing that at this point in our lives having someone reach out and help guide us in this new and terrifying world is so very important.
What’s the most fulfilling part of your job?
Jenn finds watching the process of students grow to be the most fulfilling part of her job. That’s all Jenn really wants to see, as there’s no selfish intention within this job, she just truly wants to see everyone she can ‘get better’. She uses the words “those who come in hopeless, become someone who inspires hope.”
What is something you’d like students to know about you?
“I come with a wide variety of life experiences, there’s a good chance that I can relate to whatever you’re going through to an extent, and if I don’t I’ll never pretend like I do”. She is not here to find a solution to every problem but to provide support and find the steps to help you work through what you’re going through. G25 “The Hive” is a judgment-free zone, and Jenn understands everyone is struggling in their own ways and there is more than one side to each story. In her efforts to connect youth, Jenn works to create a space where every student can find comfort and safety. She never wants any student to feel as if she’s just another adult who relays all information to the parents, and instead wants people to know that her space is one that’s meant to be a place of comfort.
What is something you’d say to someone who’s thinking about a career as a child and youth worker?
“Don’t become a child youth worker if you’re intending to heal your own wounds through the kids, they are not your vessels to take care of your own issues. When all is said and done, your job is to be there for them and not yourself. This is not the job where you try to be a hero, it’s one where you work to create the heroes.”
What is something you learned as a child youth worker that you attempt to apply within your everyday?
“HEAR PEOPLE OUT! Not everything can be left to your intuition, don’t make assumptions about what’s going on, because at the end of the day you don’t really know all sides to every story.” This job has also challenged Jenn’s active listening skills, which she believes she’s improved on. She works on applying these newfound abilities to her everyday life, amongst her own children and even within her day-to-day social circles.
In what ways do you think you’ve grown since becoming a child youth worker?
Jenn has become more thoughtful and considerate of people’s feelings, and recognizing that everyone has issues and all of those are valid has been a giant takeaway from this career. She uses the words “When I started, it was almost like tunnel vision, whereas now, I see through a lens that is more like a kaleidoscope. People are multifaceted and must be treated that way.” This is so powerful to me because I think we all can have a narrow worldview sometimes and we should all work to view the world through a kaleidoscope.
I hope this article has really opened your view of not only child youth workers but Jenn as a human. I highly encourage all those who need it, to reach out. Taking those first steps and saying that help is needed for you to improve, while scary, can turn out to be exactly what you need. You’re encouraged to visit Jenn in G25 “The Hive” or Mr. Bell in Guidance.