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karen vander ven: From the soapbox

Wisconsin, West Virginia and Wow!

No, this Soapbox is not a travelogue extolling the natural beauty of these states. Rather, it gives your Soapbox columnist the opportunity to make some comments about some of the distinctive aspects of child and youth work. While often I have to leap on my Soapbox to comment on upsetting things, it is also possible to use my bully pulpit to point out exciting advances or simple observations.

For starters, I just returned from Wisconsin where I attended the Annual Conference of the Wisconsin Child and Youth Care Association. Andy Schneider-Munoz gave the keynote speech in which he reminded us that child and youth work is done everywhere - in a stairwell, on the street, in an office (but not just in an office). It hit me what a powerful notion this is, and one perhaps not shared by any other human service profession. We can practice our craft anywhere and everywhere as the occasions arise.

Frank Eckles gave the closing exercise in which he had us all make a circle, hold hands and talk with the people next to us about what we got out of the day. We chit chatted and a woman thanked me for my workshop. This was “Programming Without Points and Levels - Now What”? What differentiated this one from others I’ve done in the past along these lines was that I was “preaching to the converted”. These participants were already convinced that point and level systems did not work well and were very open to considering alternative approaches. In fact, they came up with wonderful suggestions themselves.

So where does West Virginia come in ? We were all following the NCAA basketball “March Madness”, rooting of course for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. When they did lose, following a wonderful trip to the Elite 8, everybody’s allegiance prior to the next game, changed quickly. West Virginia! West Virginia, another sleeper team, also made it to the final rounds of the tournament. We all wanted it to win against its higher ranked opponent.

So what is the Soapbox aspect of this little account ? It ‘s that we can do our work everywhere, everyday; that we’re strengthened if we connect and do it together, that we really don’t need artificial ways of handling children and youth when we have ourselves, our relationships, and activities to use-and know it, and that we just naturally identify with underdogs and get behind them. What a wonderful field. Wow !

From the Soapbox,