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Partnerships and Building Relationships / Storytellers

Cheers to You, Youth Workers

youth workers

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.

Where Everybody Knows Your Name Lyrics by Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo

As someone who grew up in the ’80s, these lyrics had a special meaning for me – they meant it was time to go to bed.

But this summer, that meaning changed. This summer I got to witness, from the sidelines, the true value in someone knowing your name.

A little backstory – I am the mother of two school age children. My oldest daughter is a typical 6th grade girl. My youngest son, who just started 4th grade, has been going through the process of being diagnosed with Dyslexia. This story is about him. Even with positive teachers, lots of family support, and accommodations – the school year takes a toll on his self-esteem. After a year of watching everybody else’s reading star (or balloon, or whatever icon the teacher of the year decides to use) soar upward on the chart while his hovers in the same spot, you can’t blame him for being a bit down. We have always tried to find other ways for him to feel successful. We see it like a battery or power grid on a video game.

  • Feeling defeated after a language arts unit test = battery goes down two bars
  • Feeling awesome after painting a picture, playing a game of Munchkin, or creating something out of old boxes = battery goes up a bar

So it is a constant effort to keep his battery bar full or close to full. But by the end of the school year, after testing, report cards, and all the other hoopla- it never fails- his battery is low.

And this is the part where amazing youth workers come in and do what they do best.

My children have been going to the same residential camp for the past three years. To say it is a great camp is an understatement. Self-esteem batteries always come home fully charged. During my son’s first year of camp, he made a connection with his program director – Duck, Duck, Derek (or Triple D as he is known at our house). We spent that entire following year hearing story after story about DDD. So when we returned to camp the second year and DDD was his program director AGAIN, he was through the moon. We had a big decision to make this year, continue for the last year in the younger campers program or move up. He chose to move up, knowing that DDD may or may not be there.

This past June, I dropped my two children off at residential summer camp. When we arrived we were tired. We just spent 3+ hours in the car on windy backroads that included more than a few stops for car sickness. As we were dragging ourselves up to camp registration from the parking lot we heard this huge cry “LEX! Lex is here. Welcome to camp Lex!” It was Duck, Duck, Derek. When Lex realized who it was that said his name, it was like the scene from How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Instead of his heart growing three sizes, I think he gained a few inches as he started strutting up the hill to give him a High Five. That just started a theme for the next hour.

As he checked in, “Lex, we are so glad you are back at camp!”

As we met his program director, JR-assic Park, “Lex, I was so happy to see you were in my group this year.” As we met his cabin counselor, “Lex, I remember you from last year. We are going to have a great week.” I think we were both a bit stunned by how many people knew his name. In that one hour, they added a million bars to my kid’s battery and made him feel like a rock star.

It was on the ride home from camp that night, when the song from Cheers started creeping into my mind. I just witnessed what it feels like to go somewhere everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came. I started thinking about the power of positive adult relationships with children and youth. The people in my life: my camp counselor, my coach, and my church pastor who always knew my name and the positive impact they had on me during my younger years.

Sometimes it is easy in our field to get caught up in other parts of the job-paperwork, budgets, staffing, etc., but when it comes down to it, the goal is simple. Youth development work is about creating opportunities for charging self-esteem batteries and keeping them full. One of the easiest ways to do that is by knowing the kids’ names and letting them know you are glad they came.

Lex started school last week, and I can say he started with a full battery and some backups that were charged by the amazing youth workers, family, and friends he spent time with this summer. For all of you out there who have been doing the same all summer for other versions of my son, thank you for the work you do.


Lex and Duck, Duck, Derek at camp (photo courtesy of Westminster Woods)

For breakfast I had scrambled egg tacos and iced tea.

Author Profile: @eppispeppy

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