“Youth work has been enhancing the lives of young people and adults in Ireland for more than 100 years” – National Youth Council Ireland.
I started attending youth services at age 12 following a recommendation from my Psychologist. It was hoped this would address my issues with self-esteem by engaging in my community. A Youth Café drop in was my first group, where I had a great time and started to make friends, and this got me out of the house. They ran loads of fun activities each week and there was something different on special occasions like ice skating, Halloween parties and more. As time went on, I joined Comhairle na nÓg (Youth Council) and this is where I finally felt like I found purpose.
Comhairle na nÓg
This group gave us an opportunity to work on issues that affected young people. We took our own initiative on what we would do, and the group was led by the young people in it. We ran a campaign highlighting the negatives of some fizzy drink companies. Our work on mental health involved designing a video highlighting ‘5 A Day’ for your wellbeing. During my time in the group some of the skills I developed were people skills, organisational skills and presentation skills – I got the chance to design and present a presentation to 100 – 200 young people for the Galway County Comhairle na nÓg AGM. I also presented on the work of Comhairle to members of the Children and Young Persons Services Committee (CYPSC).
My mental health journey
During this time, I started struggling with my mental health and youth work was of great help here. Everyone understood what I was going through and both staff and participants were so supportive. This is what got me through my tough time. My mental health team said that youth work had a significant positive impact on my mental health recovery which I’m so grateful for.
Youth work opened the door to Erasmus+ and gave me the opportunity to go on youth exchanges to Finland and Croatia, focus on issues of multiculturalism and climate change. I got emotional thinking back about these opportunities as I told the youth worker I felt like everyone else because they didn’t discriminate against me and my mental illness. I got to meet young people from different countries. It was a great multicultural experience and it was great to get to explore different countries.
I also participated in loads of different workshops: LGBT + Awareness, road safety, mental health, climate change, zumba, mindfulness and drama, art and cooking groups. All of which were educating me informally and giving me a taster of skills that would be valuable for everyday life.
Giving back to Youth Work Ireland
During the end of my time with Youth Work Ireland Galway, their counselling services was struggling for funding so together with some friends of mine from the County Comhairle na nÓg committee, we organised a meeting to bring together our politicians and try to gain political support. I can gladly say we were only able to do this through having so much experience and having learned so many skills with Comhairle. Over the years I would have been lost if I did not have the support of Youth Work Ireland Galway.
Of the staff I have met, there wasn’t one who wouldn’t go out of their way to make sure you were okay and listen to what’s important to you. Now, I spend a lot of my time trying to give back. For the past two years I’ve volunteered at a Christmas raffle in aid of the counselling service and have helped at two bag packs in aid of the organisation. I’ve also completed my child protection training and became a volunteer.
Invest in yourself
A lot of adults think youth work is just about the activities and fail to see the development of a young person through participation. I myself have seen first-hand how this development happened in me. I started to develop social skills and was able to start trusting people again (which I had stopped doing after the bullying). The youth worker listened to me and gave me advice on everyday issues. I also gained information and understanding of social issues that I may not have gained elsewhere, which has really influenced me.
Lastly, I could call the youth centre a second home, where I wouldn’t be judged, made fun of and be free to be who I really am. If you’re looking to try something new, learn new skills or just spend time with great and supportive people, I’d really recommend looking into a local youth group and seeing what youth services in your area have to offer.