This field report documents my observations, feelings, insights, and questions from my recent trip to St. John’s, Newfoundland in support of Choices For Youth. My trip was framed by my work with Choices For Youth, but the contents of this report are to be taken as a reflection on my entire experience, not just the result of specific interactions with the organization.
What? A trip to St. John’s, Newfoundland to create program guides with the Momma Moments and Outreach and Youth Engagement programs at Choices for Youth.
Where? St. John’s Newfoundland
When? September 18-23, 2022
Why? Organizations and programs are more than the sum of the people who work for them. They are living organisms that require intentional care and attention in order to stay as healthy as possible. Developing program guides grows collective awareness about the contributions that each team member is making to the health of a program and how the health of the program interacts with each team member.
- Participated in meetings, conducted interviews, and observed programming at Choices For Youth .
- Drafted program guide structures for two Choices For Youth Programs.
- Attended community events, including:
- A talk at the Benevolent Irish Society by MP Michelle Gildernew of Sienn Féin.
- Opening night of the St. John’s Storytelling Festival.
- Closing night of Come From Away, the Concert at the Mary Brown’s Centre
- Ran and walked around St. John’s, visiting places like:
- Dismay: The staircase connecting Livingstone Street with Carters Hill Place, the location of many co-located services for young people, is impassible and has been demolished by municipal government neglect.
- Astonishment and Ecstasy: I received a last minute ticket for Come From Away because someone had turned in two tickets that they could no longer use. I didn’t have to pay for it.
- Amazement: My Airbnb host turned out to be a friend of my partner’s mom. I’d listened to her album this summer, without ever expecting to meet her.
- Disappointment: Some of the work that I’d done ahead of time wasn’t as well received as I’d hoped that it would be.
- Energized: The talk by Michelle Gildernew reconnected me to the part of myself that really believes in the power of the political process.
- Confidence: I had learning from previous experiences and resources to offer to various situations in my work.
- Eagerness: As Hurricane Fiona blew closer to Halifax, I had an opportunity to move my flight up so that I could get home before the storm.
Insights, Observations, and Questions:
- Much of political communication reflects leans on distorted thought patterns: all-or-nothing thinking, catastrophizing, overgeneralization, etc. These patterns of communication often reinforce our worst fears and invite us to engage in these ways of thinking in our own lives. The effect can be a loss of individual and collective agency. When politicians are willing to face their experiences of trauma and do their work own personal grounding work, they can avoid some of these thought ruts and model a better way forward. If you have a chance to hear a politician describe the way that they are processing their trauma or learning to ground themselves, like I did when speaking with Michelle Gildernew, let’s do our best to celebrate them.
- Change remains desperately difficult for most people in organizations. We know that it’s hard. There’s a whole sector of people sort of like me who work to support people to experience change. But man, when we’re in the middle of it, we sometimes can’t taste the soup we’re swimming in, let alone recognize that we’re in the soup. Many people accept that change is hard, but struggle to accept that change is calling. I wonder, “How might we improve our ability to recognize change, when we’re in the midst of it?”
- So much of the work that is happening in organizations like Choices For Youth is system repair. It often has to be framed in terms of what staff do to support individuals to achieve different outcomes in their lives, but so much of the work seems to be about patching and repairing systems that are broken or poorly designed in exactly the places where people reside. It isn’t one or the other I suppose. Everyone has individual responsibilities, but to me, if someone wants a place to live and our housing system fails, it’s more a system failure than an individual failure.
- The data that we track frames the stories that we can tell about the work that we do. The stories that we tell about the work that we do frame the way that our communities understand the people that we work with. What stories of resilience and community strength might be changed if we re-framed the things that we tracked?
- Another thing about data. So much of what we track is about protecting our systems. It’s done under the guises of accountability and liability and evidence, but how much of the data we collect is really relevant to the people that are accessing the services we’re offering? In other words, how much of the data is for them and how much is for “us?” It makes me wonder, what would it look like if we built data collection strategies that gave people access to information that supported the growth of their agency and built awareness of their efforts? How might we design more pro-justice data collection systems?
- When we write down the way that we do things we often encounter opportunities to “let go” and “name.” When we can see what we’re doing and ask ourselves why, we are often granted opportunities to release the burden of tasks that don’t feed our aspirations. On the other hand, as we name what we’re doing and gain a deeper understanding of why, we can ascribe more appropriate value to things that have been long hidden.
- Money leads to so much of the confusion in nonprofit storytelling. The knots that organizations tie themselves into in order to gather funds from various sources confuse us and others about what exactly we’re trying to do. When the framing of an initiative is changed to fit a particular funding source, it isn’t just the framing that changes, so to do the operational and management choices that the new framing implies. When a program is funded by intersecting frames we can often lose the plot.
Clear Next Actions:
- I’m looking forward to writing a follow up email to MP Michelle Gildernew of Sienn Féin to thank her for her words at the recent event.
- I have an email to write to the St. John’s Storytelling Festival, inviting them to consider educating storytellers about the very real lives of Romany Gypsies, Irish Travellers, and Roma.
- Send an email to the City of St. John’s requesting repair of the staircase behind Choices For Youth on Carters Hill.
- Follow-up with my contacts at Choices For Youth about the next steps in our program guide development work.
- Write in to the Downhome Magazine about receiving a free, last minute ticket to Come From Away.