Guest Blog by Kelly Harris – Youth Engagement Officer
My job, in a nutshell, is to work with young people from across Wales to inform and engage them about the work of the National Assembly for Wales and how they can get involved. I absolutely love it.
This week is Youth Work Week in Wales and it’s so important to celebrate the amazing work being achieved by young people, youth workers and volunteers across Wales. The theme this year is ‘Love Youth Work’ (#LoveYWW), and I thought it would be a great opportunity to talk about how youth work made a difference to my life. My own personal youth work journey has given me some of the best experiences and opportunities and has made me the person I am today. It’s given me a career that I love, allowed me to travel the world and meet inspiring people.
When I was 14, Neath Port Talbot Youth Service contacted my school to see if there were any young people interested in taking part in a media project. At that point, my dream was to become a world famous journalist (that soon changed!), so I jumped at the opportunity. Along with a group of school friends I created a youth newspaper called ‘Teen Voice’ which was circulated in a local area paper for 6 editions.
We had two fantastic youth workers supporting our project and they encouraged us to get involved with other areas of the youth service. This included being part of Neath Port Talbot Youth Council when it was first established, going to Germany as part of a youth exchange, joining an advisory board for the creation of a youth drop in centre and becoming my Local Authority’s representative on Funky Dragon, the former Children and Young People’s Assembly for Wales.
The skills and experiences I gained from this helped me get a part time role working in the Special Needs Activity Centre (S.N.A.C) in Port Talbot with children and young people with varying disabilities when I was aged 16. An inspiring place to work.
At just 18 I was privileged to take part in a trip to Chernobyl (where the nuclear explosion happened in 1986) with young people who had been in the youth justice system. We delivered medical supplies and clothing for local communities in Belarus, and we stayed at an orphanage for children with abnormalities who had been abandoned by their parents. It was a heart-breaking but eye opening experience, and it made me very grateful for everything I would be going home to.
I then worked at Funky Dragon, the former Children and Young People’s Assembly for Wales for nearly 10 years. This was my transition from being a young person into becoming a youth worker whose job was to help and support young people develop their talents and gain new skills. Full circle! Without a doubt, it was some of the most rewarding work I have ever done – even if it did involve being awake at 3am on residentials across Wales!
Outside of my job, I stayed fully committed to young people’s issues and in 2005 I was selected to attend the 4th Commonwealth Youth Parliament in Brisbane, Australia. Meeting inspiring young people from across the Commonwealth taught me so much, and getting to act out the work of Parliament was a brilliant, once in a lifetime experience.
The opportunities youth work opened for me didn’t end there. In 2008 I attended the World Youth Congress in Quebec City, Canada. I was part of the team of young journalists who documented the amazing work of the Congress and the 300 participants from around the world. I was also given the opportunity to spend time in a local primary school in a disadvantaged suburb of Quebec City to help renovate the school. We had so much fun painting the school and the kids were brilliant!
Youth work also allowed me to give back to my community in Port Talbot. I worked with a friend to help create a local community radio station called Afan FM/XS. Our dreams became a reality and we were granted a full time community radio license in 2005 by Ofcom. The idea behind the station was to give local young people the opportunity to learn about radio – broadcasting, editing, production etc. We spent hours writing business plans and filling in funding bids, and eventually we gained funding from Welsh Government and the Big Lottery Fund. The station sadly came to an end in 2010 but I still keep the motto of the station close to heart – ‘If you believe in something so much and if you work hard, you can make it come true!’
One thing has been constant throughout all of this – I have had the most supportive youth workers to encourage me and enable me to grow as a professional and as a person. They helped me transform from a really quiet and shy young person who had experienced bullying, into someone who realised I had potential. In my view, a job description for a youth worker should read “miracle worker” as they do everything – provide career advice, drive you everywhere, always make sure you have food/drink, find the best opportunities for you, a supportive listener when things might be going a bit wrong, talent finder and your biggest believers and positive support team.
Without all of the support from my youth workers growing up, I truly believe I would not be here in my role as Youth Engagement Officer for the National Assembly for Wales. I feel honoured and privileged to have this role and feel a big responsibility to give young people the opportunities I was once given.
We should always encourage young people, and as Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) states, giving young people the opportunity to say what they think should happen when decisions are being made about them.
Young people truly matter. Youth work truly matters. And that is why I love Youth Work!