youth worker
Egidijus Gricius

by: Pauline Grace

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I was curious to know why she was so keen, why she was so enthusiastic to get involved

What is your earliest memory of working with Elzbieta?

She was this young person only 13 who just insisted that she really wanted to be involved in Rietavas youth organisation Progresas and its hard to guess why she was so motivated but it was really clear and I saw that she had an intention to be active and she wants to learn and to join the organisation fully as a member. She convinced me to let her join even though she should have been 14/15 years old.

So you took a risk and you thought it was worth it?

I was curious to know why she was so keen, why she was so enthusiastic to get involved. So I thought why not let’s give it a try because the amount motivation that she had it really showed that we should give her a chance. It was really apparent that we have to make an exception for her to join at 13 she convinced us that she had to be part of the organisation. You know a full member not just someone who turns up and takes part in a few things.

Elzbieta said that you were different from her school teachers and other adults in her life, did you realise that?

Yes, even now I am still fighting with the teachers, you know they don’t really like me… I think it might have something to do with the fact that I am allergic to formal education and formal education methods, it doesn’t fit right with me.

So youth work for you is based around in-formal/ non-formal education?

Yes, I think you say absolutely – you know at the heart of my relationship in youth work is communication, there is relationship which is not based on the fact that I’m an adult and then they as young people must listen to me, which is probably why I don’t like the formal teaching relationship. For me it’s about working with the young people who live in my area, and mostly of them are involved in this very official educational process. I like to say if you’re a young person involved at a youth centre or youth NGO, you can help organise, we encourage every young person to get involved depending on their interest. I aim for a much more balanced relationship and yes as a youth worker I am still in charge but it’s a different relationship because it’s about how we approach the young people, how we think about working with young people how we support their initiatives and what we do is to motivate them and create equality.

So it’s also about being with them along the way, it is not a quick fix relationship

If you look back on your 15 years of experience as a youth worker, what are the skills you’ve used?

I think youth workers need to be really natural but it’s really important that your open it’s really important you know to be and consistent in doing the work. For me, being a good worker is not about going to a job being an approachable adult, for me ‘youth worker’ it is more like a lifestyle it’s like you’re not different at home then you are at work. You’re not just a youth worker during working hours, it is what it is, it’s what you live. It helps as a youth worker if you have interests, creativity maybe a hobby because you can use that as a way of engaging young people, but you have to be more open-minded than just what it is that you do because if you’re working with young people, okay, they are diverse and they already have their own ideas and thoughts. In my experience young people they’re thinking about you know, what it is they want to do today, and we need to recognise that these young people have a future but at the same time youth worker is for helping to create an environment and conditions that a young person would have a chance freely to experience the life as a young person today, not only with future prospective. So it’s also about being with them along the way, it is not a quick fix relationship. When you start to work with young people, you know their day-to-day lives you live with them in the day-to-day stuff you are not the expert you are not coming across as the professional or as the teacher. Of course the youth worker needs to have some knowledge about what they’re doing and why they are doing it. Youth work isn’t like to work with a gang or an accidental group, it is about working purposely, it is about creating trust, it is about enabling young people to trust you so the relationship should be mutual it should be two way and I guess the word authentic.

Authentic is a good word, I often say young people have an in-built bullshit detector….

Yes, yes that’s absolutely it they know when you’re really interested in them and you have their best interests at heart and that you want to make something creative and you want to hear about their ideas or if you’re just playing a role they will see right through you! You know for me as a youth worker it is not just about the time that I work with them, when they are young people in the project, for me it is about their entire life and so Elzbieta is 22 now and she was with us from the age of 13 to 18 and then she went off to university and she followed her life and she’s created her opportunities and I really like to think that I had a small part to play in that.

Did you feel Edigijus, that you really cared about Elzbieta?

The one thing I want to say is that I feel like having a huge responsibility because I really careful about the influence that I have with young people, that you know that influence has to be helpful. For example, we can talk about many many things with young people but as the adult I shouldn’t have all the answers I should help the young people come up with their own ideas you know, as an adult and as a youth worker I am not perfect and so I shouldn’t put myself as the expert in the relationship, it should be much more equalised than that. I hope this is how I was creating the relationship with Elzbieta and that she knows how proud I am of her now.


by Pauline Grace (2016)

Pauline Grace is a youth worker and head of the MA programme youth work at Newman University in Birmingham/UK.

Photos: Portrait © Egidijus Gricius


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