Being a Youth Development Counselor in NYC
Being a Youth Development Counselor (YDC) at Marian Hall is filled with both joyful and challenging moments. The most difficult part of my job is disciplining youth, who are so close in age to me, about missing curfew, waking up on time, attending school etc. Thankfully, I also experience moments of happiness like when the youth get their first job, when they reunite with family, or when they simply attend school consistently.
Last week I had a very heartfelt conversation with one of our more defiant youth. This youth has been at Marian Hall since she was in her early teenage years and she will soon age out of the program. She constantly gives staff a hard time and she does not like to follow program rules. She took me by surprise when she entered the staff office and voluntarily shared with me an essay she wrote as she is preparing to take a high school equivalency exam soon. The essay was about the importance of primary counselors in Marian Hall. Each YDC is assigned 3-4 youth to whom they become a primary counselor. The purpose of having primary counselors is so that each youth has a point person that they can go to for any concerns they may have. The youth spoke very highly of her primary counselor and she explained that primary counselors are essential the first couple of days that youth enter the program.
After she finished reading her essay she explained that coming into a new group home is very intimidating. She recalled feeling scared on her first day at Marian Hall. She said she felt overwhelmed because all the other girls already had their own routine. She had a difficult time making friends because she did not trust anyone. She felt alone and even feared eating the food at Marian Hall. The youth then went on to talk about how hard YDC’s work, and I could not believe what I was hearing. This youth constantly undermines the efforts YDC’s put into ensuring her well-being and safety. I was pleasantly surprised that she acknowledged that being a YDC is not easy at all. She explained that she admires our ability to work under such intense circumstances. She also talked about how YDC’s are important figures at Marian Hall because we serve as role models to the youth.
As the conversation came to an end I thanked the youth for her kind words and she went about her evening. I, on the other hand, was still in shock of everything the youth had just shared with me. I was taken back because this particular youth had not shown that level of maturity ever. There was no staff-youth power dynamic, but rather just an honest conversation about vulnerability. Most youth at Marian Hall do not like to talk about their past, so I appreciated this youth’s willingness to be vulnerable as she shared how she felt her first couple of days at Marian Hall. I felt immense gratitude because she also acknowledged my humanness and what it means to be a YDC. It is easy for me to get wrapped up at work because my days are unpredictable and sometimes filled with chaos. She reminded me that my role at Marian Hall is important even though it may not always seem that way for me.
Written by Marianna Hernandez
Washington Heights Community, 16-17