Joe Li at Hemlington Linx
It was a cold day when I arrived at Hemlington, a fact compounded by my recent trip to sunny Malaysia. However, nothing could have been warmer than the welcome given to me by the team and the Linx Project. The team was made up of seven full-time youth workers, and the convivial and jocular atmosphere that pervaded the workplace was testament to their chemistry as a team. I am hugely touched and warmed by their acceptance of me in their daily life; I take a break from writing this report to prank call a member of the team who is on sick leave at the behest of the others.
The Linx Project was established with the aim of bringing young people from the local neighbourhood together and off the streets. The Linx Project aimed to assist in all areas of life of their young charges from job-seeking to sexual and physical health to drug awareness. Most of the time, kids came into the Linx centre simply to hang out or play computer games. Noteworthy amongst its activities was the evening "Street SessionsÃ‚Â in which youth workers would roam the streets in the evenings and engage with and talk to the local kids. The kids were also given a large amount of input in the running of the Project; three youths sat in on all the meetings of the board of management. Furthermore, the "You're Welcome" program, designed to allow teenagers to "auditÃ‚Â sexual health clinics, encouraged the kids to formulate their own views and develop their self-confidence. The success of these measures was evidence in the respect and confidence in the youth workers that the kids displayed in return.
The Linx Project also held more organised and structured events, such as forestry skills, canoeing and mini golf. During my time there, I took part in many activities such as assisting local kids with the forestry skills courses and a trip to the local theme park. Patrick, my project manager, was equally keen that I got to experience different voluntary and social work throughout the community and not just in Hemlington. I assisted in feeding the homeless at a nearby church. My conversations with people living in the direst straits of life revealed an omnipresent sense of alacrity of spirit and perseverance that was so heart-warming and encouraging to me.
Perhaps the most eye-opening experience for me was interacting with the children and staff of UTASS, a youth group set up to facilitate interaction between children from rural backgrounds. Having lived in cities all my life, I never truly understood the possible solitude of the countryside and the sense of resentment that this could arouse in local kids. For example, a local farmer explained to me the difficulties faced by his teenage daughter in socialising with town-dwelling friends from her secondary school and the change in her formerly idyllic view of country life that this has aroused. This is beginning to cause a generation of rural teenagers to leave the countryside and threaten the agrarian lifestyle that, as evidenced by the opening ceremony of the London Olympic Games, is still at the heart of the British psyche. I silently reflected on the success of UTASS to address this issue as I listened to a nine-year old boy, who had driven an hour to be there, proudly declare that he wanted to become a farmer like his father and explain to me between rallies of table tennis that cows couldn't get up on their own after being tipped.
As this was my second CAP, I went in with a greater sense of confidence and purpose than into my first. This increased confidence exposed itself when I took charge and supervise a group of pre-teens during a drop-in. However, I realise that I still had a lot to learn about nature of this vocation. The Linx summer program was plagued by cancellation and absenteeism from the kids. The Project itself teetered on the edge of bankruptcy barely a year before my arrival. All this revealed to me the difficult and often unpredictable nature of youth work.
My project manager, Patrick, has a picture of St. Pio of Pietrelcina as his desktop background. Like Padre Pio, Patrick has an uncanny ability to grasp people's true characters and thoughts. Together with Garry, a prison guard turned youth worker with a golden heart, we had many discussions and conversations throughout my placement. It was a hugely humbling experience to hear their views on youth work and ethics, and through our conversations I began to understand more and more the motivations of the youth workers and the kids that they worked with. I finally understood that youth work, far from being some lofty ideal about equality of opportunities and improving quality of life, is simply about providing a stable, supportive home environment to those who lack one naturally.
As my final placement comes to an end, I feel that I have matured noticeably since the previous one. I've become far more confident in relating to people from different backgrounds and handling myself more effectively as part of a team. As I look towards university and beyond, I'm confident that the skills and the insights that I've gained will serve me invaluably. I thank the team at Linx for providing me with a warm and conducive environment in which to work and learn. And I offer my deepest thanks to Patrick and his wife Deirdre for making my stay hugely comfortable and enjoyable and treating me almost as their own grandson.