Thirteen years old– do you remember what it felt like? Imagine, for a moment, if you will. You there?
Now, let’s go to Youth Street.
I twiddled my fingers nervously. Blonde, freckled, barely out of eighth grade– after a long plane ride I had found myself in Newcastle, Australia. It was Saturday afternoon and I had been invited to come to Youth Street Teams. “What do you love to do?” a staff in a black “Team” shirt asked. I glanced at some of the options– skate, surf, music, sports– and yes, art team! I signed up at “rego” (Australian for “registration”), said goodbye to my parents for the afternoon, and plonked down in the Youth Street cafe.
Although it was eight years ago, I still remember that day– mentors championed me to be creative (stencil-and-spray-paint shirts!), I belonged even though I was the “new girl”, and I met life-long friends. I was only visiting my family in Australia for two weeks, then going back home.
But as a thirteen-year-old, one day being “Crew” at Youth Street impacted me for years to come.
Fast forward, and I found myself twiddling my fingers nervously again on a Saturday afternoon. Yet this time, I was the one with the black Youth Street Team shirt on.
In the next hour, youth from ages 10 to 17 would be coming through our Warehouse doors– and it was my turn to mentor, to provide a space to belong, and connect new friends. I was no longer just a DTS student– we were encouraged that we were staff now, too– and it was time to dive in.
It’s then I noticed shy eyes and freckles that matched my own. Our team’s name-memory game had started, names bouncing around the room like a ping-pong match. Many of the other crew knew each other well, chattering and joking. Yet this young one hesitated joining the game’s circle. It’s there I flash-backed to my own “new girl” feeling long ago.
“It’s my first day, too,” I whispered to her. Instantly, she smiled– and stepped in.
Eighteen, twenty-five, thirty years old– do you know what that feels like? Picture it, for a moment, if you will. Then– imagine being able to champion teenagers, providing a space for them to belong, and finally building relationships that last longer than just one Saturday.
That’s Youth Street for me.