Transforming lives through youth work
Published: 24 March 2020
Lance Fa'afoi transforms lives, including his own, through Youth Work.
Lance Fa'afoi, was a Vibe Senior Youth Worker. He talks about the positive difference a youth worker can have in the life of a child or young person.
Lance worked at Vibe for five and a half years as a Senior Youth Worker, where he supported young people one on one.
What it’s like working at Vibe
Before starting at Vibe, Lance worked in Corrections supporting young people aged 17-19 years old, but felt he needed to make a change. He knew he should get into the youth sector so he could use his skills and experience to make the most positive impact on the lives of young people.
Working at Vibe isn’t like a regular day job – it’s not hard to get up in the morning to come to work. For Lance, it’s the young people he worked with that made it a job he looked forward to every day. “An important part of my role was taking the time to build relationships with young people and their whānau. When my work supporting a young person comes to an end, it’s really important to me that they are open to having a relationship with their parents or caregivers, and that their parents or caregivers are in a position to support them. That’s where the magic happens.”
The way Lance plans his day is an important part of how he works. “My ethos was to get my documentation and paperwork out of the way in the morning so I could get out with my young people in the afternoon and really get to know them.” You can’t do a job like Lance’s from behind a desk. He had to spend time in the community, working with young people in their own environments.
As a Vibe Youth Worker, Lance had the support he needed to do his job the best he could. “Everyone at Vibe can get involved in supporting a young person on their journey, whether it’s me as their youth worker, one of the nurses checking up on their health, or through someone running a group session.”
"Everyone has a unique story."
Working as a Youth Worker taught Lance that there’s no magic fix for everyone. “Every young person I work with has a different history which influences who they are and what they need from me.” Each time he started working with a new young person, Lance would take the time to get to know them. He then lets this information inform and influence how he works with them.
“With my NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) young people, when they first get called up to come and see me, they think they're in trouble, but they're not.” A vital part of Lance’s role is being a point of difference. He’s not a teacher, and he’s not a parent. “I’m an ear to listen to them and a voice to communicate with them on their terms.”
For Lance, it doesn’t matter what it was that made someone come to him for support. All he wants is for them to know that he’s a safe space and that he’s there for them. Confidentiality is one of the most important things at Vibe. There are only three instances where Youth Workers like Lance would share a young person’s information:
- if it relates to harm to self;
- if it relates to harm to others; or,
- if someone is going to hurt them.
Even when these topics do come up and Lance has to share this information with someone, he makes sure the young person involved is part of the conversation. “There are no surprises. We don’t go off and do things behind their back. They’re with us every step of the way.”
"Showing youth how to fill up their kete."
Another important part of Lance’s work teaching young people to take ownership of their lives. Part of this means taking the time to ask them what their dreams are. “Asking them to dream, broaden their vision, and set some goals for their future is an important first step in their journey. Once that happens and they start to dream, I can help them come up with a pathway for their life, coming up with steps to help them achieve these dreams.” Giving them options, making connections, and supporting them on their journey is a big part of Lance’s role. The youth he works with don’t have to take the pathway he sets up for them, but the point is to show them their dreams are achievable.
Lance admits he also dreams big on their behalf. His eyes are wide open, watching for that lightbulb moment where they realise that they can achieve any dream that previously seemed so far away, or impossible. “Their dream can be anything like getting a job, getting their driver's licence, or reconnecting with mum and dad. No dream is too small or too big, and each dream is unique to the young person.”
Lance believes that once young people have started their journey, it's important for them to know they've got more in their kete, and they can continue to dream and dream bigger. “Watching a young person realise their kete is full is another moment of magic for me.”
"Being a Youth Worker is the most rewarding job ever."
Lance’s biggest Vibe highlight was when he became a Vibe-Grandad. One of the boys he supported for close to four years was having a baby. On the day of the birth, Lance worked with him from midday to 11pm that night, helping convince the youth’s mother to come to the birth, and just being there for him and coaching him through the experience. “After the birth he said 'I love you' to me. That was a real humbling moment." Now, every Father’s Day, they catch up.
“Once you’ve been working with a young person for a few years, you become family.” It’s this bond that supports them on their journey. For some young people, working with Lance is the first time they’ve been able to open up to an adult, and it can open the door to so many other things, like reconnect with their family, or help them become better parents themselves.
“As I walk alongside every young person I support, I help them realise their potential.” And it’s a two-way street. Seeing a young person’s journey up close like this is life changing for Lance too. He feels privileged to be able to support young people. “Turning around a young person’s life and helping them find the support they need is truly transformative. These moments are what I live for.”