As the Irish blessing goes, “May the road rise up to meet you. . .” and that it did. Forty-nine Youth Workers who had all earned Journey Fellowships traveled to Northern Ireland and Ireland to exchange ideas, practices, programs and the profession of youth work. The Journey Fellowship is a professional development renewal program that targets current and perspective youth workers to bring the highest quality of youth services to our Hoosier young people by the highest quality of grounded and vibrant youth workers. As a part of the Journey Fellowship, the International Youth Worker Exchange started in 2005 and 7 countries have participated in the Exchange: UK, Canada, Mexico, Kenya, Australia, New Zealand and Austria.
In Ireland the first stop in Belfast was to walk the peace wall that divides this beautiful city to understand the issues that still divide these people today.
Then a day spent engaged with Irish Youth Workers in partnership with YMCA George William College, Youth Action Northern Ireland and Ulster University.
Site visits in the Belfast area to see programs in action: Derry YMCA, Derry Rainbow GLBTQ+ Project, West and East Northern Ireland Alternatives, working to bridge the divide through youth leadership and community engagement programs; and the Surf Project in Port Rush, a faith-based youth outreach program.
Second stop in Dublin where the Hoosiers were hosted by the Minister of Children and Youth Affairs for dialogue on growing the profession of youth work to meet the ever-increasing needs of young people.
A wide variety of site visits to Fighting Words youth writing program, Cherry Orchard Integrated Youth Services, Talk About Youth program, Cross Care, Swords Youth Service Community Center, BelonG to Youth Services, RICCY’s Youth Café – a youth initiated and managed program , Wellington Center & PALS Peer program, School Firhouse Educate Together National School, North Dublin National School Project; and the Fettercairn Youth Horse Project.
The true value of this global experience is the understanding of different cultures and where we as Americans connect with these different cultures. And the lifelong friends that make as we continue to strive to meet the needs of young people from wherever they live.
As one of the Journey Fellows put it “Youth workers have to move beyond their own borders and move between the context of peacekeeping and peacemaking.” Or as it was shared at the Belfast conference, “Youth work lies among two planes: The Highground (research, policy, standards, theory and rigor) and The Swamp (messy, unpredictable, flexible with conflict).