Feeling Like a Hero: A Child and Youth Worker’s Perspective

By Annette Dawm, WorkStory Ambassador

Chayse Jackson is currently working towards becoming a Child and Youth Worker at Fanshawe College. As part of her placement, Chayse is working with children aged 6-12 at 24-hour crisis centre that supports families in London, Ontario. On a daily basis, she is there to support their needs and to provide a safe and fun environment:

“We try and make their stay the best possible and have it not like a group home, but more like camp -- like a sleepover….We play outside with them. We've done glow in the dark ring toss and science experiments. We play sports in the gym and I eat dinner with them…. I do programming every Tuesday night. [We] make crafts or do games. Then on Wednesdays, we do social skills groups. I've done one where the kids have pretend moustaches and it’s called ‘I Moustache You a Question’. They get questions and go around practicing ice breakers and work on making new friends.”

In addition, Chayse has attended many other events with the children including a rookie tournament game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Ottawa Senators, a kid-friendly Halloween party put on by Western University and a play at The Grand Theatre. Many of these activities are things that the children might not have the opportunity to experience elsewhere and Chayse is proud to be a part of their lives:

“I love my job because I get to help kids and preserve that spark they have. I get to enjoy their creativity and imaginations. I see the bad and good. I have to see and hear the worst of the worst but I see progress and am able to be their advocate and voice. I get to feel like a hero and that safe person they can talk to. I love seeing them accomplish things they never thought they could or [were] told they couldn't do…. I get to see potential and I love being able to share moments and have the kids do things they may never do outside of the organization, and I like to think I can teach them to be resilient and strong.”

Chayse adds that being in this type of setting lets kids be kids and it alleviates some of the big stressors in their lives such as the impact of their own mental illnesses or how their parents may act towards them. Within the centre, children no longer have to question whether or not they will have enough to eat, a place to sleep, a place to shower and most importantly, they no longer have to wonder if they, along with their siblings, are safe.

“They don't need to worry about big, scary issues. They can let loose, and just be a kid. They can feel relaxed and have weight lifted off their shoulders…. seeing that glow and spark in their eyes -- it’s euphoric. It gives me ‘warm fuzzies’ and makes me feel like I'm on cloud nine.

Like many of the children she has worked with, Chayse has had her own battles with mental illness over the years. Despite the hard times, she has pushed herself to keep moving forward in order to help others.

“I struggled as a kid with mental illness, and still do. I had a rough go with my family and bullying and I see a lot of myself in these kids. In high school I had a counsellor and I saw what she did for me and I want to be there for the kids. I never want anyone to feel alone like I did.” For anyone else who feels the same way and would like to be a Child and Youth Worker, Chayse offers the following advice:

“Be able to think on your feet because every kid is different. They think differently, they act differently and they test your limits to see how much it takes you to crack. They're used to people leaving and giving up on them, so be resilient and show them you're there for the long run. You have to be stable emotionally. You're going to see and hear a lot of tough things but remember, at the end of the day, any progress is something and you may be all they have. You're like a firefighter. People count on you. You're strong and smart and brave and you’re a hero to these kids. They look up to you. You need to be able to be optimistic and be able to see potential in the good and bad.”  And, for those the Grey-Bruce area, or elsewhere, Chayse and the author strongly recommend Wes for Youth Online -- a counselling service.

Although Chayse may not always work with the same organization after graduation, she would love to volunteer and then apply to it in the future. She would also like to work with those who have been impacted by eating disorders. An avid animal lover as well, Chayse says she is “really interested in doing therapeutic [horse] riding with troubled and disabled kids.” Wherever Chayse Jackson’s path takes her, her positive impact is sure to be felt by everyone she meets along the way.

In memory of Justin Hammond