A Shift of Focus: COVID-19 & Youth Empowerment

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Photo by Anastasiia Chepinska on Unsplash

A Shift of Focus: COVID-19 & Youth Empowerment

In one sense COVID-19 seems to have changed everything, our lifestyle, including how we relate to family, food, friends and work all looks a little different. However, in another sense everything is the same, our values, dreams, calling, priorities and goals may have some new additions but likely they remain unaltered.

As youth workers, we share a set of values which include, voluntary participation, empowerment, informal education, equality of opportunity and incarnation. This is our shared DNA, it’s what gets us up in the morning and its what helps us to measure success. Danny Brierley writes that these values ‘reflect God’s nature and dealings with his creation’. Amazing! We have the privilege of joining in God’s work of empowering & educating others to participate in his mission of redemption for all people and we do this by journeying alongside young people. We know that God is unchanging (Heb 13:8) so these values which reflect his unchanging nature are as true in times of national crisis as they are in normal times.

This is where I have been challenged over the past week. Like many others, I have found myself rushing to produce content FOR young people and to get it online as quickly as possible. They can watch ME give a talk on YouTube or hear about MY opinions through a podcast but it suddenly hit me, where is the young person’s voice in all of this? Where are they taking the lead? How am I listening to what they actually need and want? According to the National Youth Agency, empowerment is about ‘utilising young people’s view of the world’ and ‘promoting THEIR voice’. In my initial rush to get everything online, I realised that this value slipped.

It’s easily done, isn’t it? Empowerment involves handing power over to someone else, often this takes more time and energy than if we had just done it ourself. But empowerment, even during these unprecedented and unfamiliar times is still crucial for youth work, even youth work done online. Jeff’s and Smith write that if you remove one of these values from youth work ‘it becomes obvious that what is being observed may posses a resemblance too, but is unquestionably not youth work.’ Ouch!

So how can we ensure that these values, particularly empowerment, stay front and centre as we move our work into digital spaces?

As my team and I have realigned again around this value, here are some of the ways we are working towards empowering young people online (would love to hear what others are doing as well!)…

  • Asking young people to film a talk for our YouTube Livestream sessions,
  • Getting young people to host their own midweek ZOOM small groups so they can support one another,
  • Running Instagram takeovers, this has proven really popular! We have done ours around the “5 ways to wellbeing” where each day a young person gives tips on how they are staying healthy and happy during isolation and how God has met them in this,
  • To use Instagram to ask young peoples views before we have done anything. For example, after one poll I was surprised that so many wanted a podcast! We are now prioritising this and, of course, we are using Instagram to ask them what they want to see discussed on it,
  • Including young people in interviews on the podcast so their questions and opinions are central,
  • Involving young people in the care for the elderly, we now have a small team of young people who are calling up or writing letters to the over 70’s in our church,
  • Ensuring that any online content we produce has practical outworkings which help young people to be creative and share their voice from isolation,
  • Involving young people in the whole church Sunday morning Livestream through readings, songs, sermons and prayers.

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