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Staff insight: learning to value people with Josh Vossen

Josh Vossen heads up the Street Youth Work project in Hamilton. This month, he shares some insight of what he has learnt through the eight months piloting the programme.

Being immersed in youth development creates an environment that demands an outward focus towards others – who is this that stands before me? And how can I serve them in their journey forward? Over the last 8 months that I have been involved with Zeal Hamilton, I have rediscovered what it is to value people. 

As a teenager, and as I journeyed into young adulthood, I was an individual who surrounded myself with people who brought comfort to my life. Comfort, being those who were like-minded, respectable, shared my interests and hobbies; I’d rather have a few friends I could share my heart with instead of a thousand fans. 

I observed people who could maintain huge amounts of connections, who exuded confidence and social vibrancy; how did they do it? Why would you waste your time building fickle relationships that won’t endure the test of time? 

These were the feelings of my heart, a reflection of my nature, environment, and culture. This benefited me in many ways, as it allowed me to invest more in a few peers, cultivating loyalty in relationships – but it also hindered me. 
This reality built a critical view of people in me.
People to me were only worth investing in if it brought me benefit, if I perceived depth or value from my judgement of their exterior. Very quickly, life began to teach me how important relationships are – essential to opportunity, collaboration, and support. Zeal reinforced this immediately upon being tasked with the creation of a Street Youth Work team. 

I write this because relationships are essential to our industry that is youth development. I am overwhelmed at the success I’ve had in forming a tribe of passionate, committed youth workers who are serving the youth on the streets of Hamilton. 

Growing my team could’ve inflated my ego if I hadn’t learnt so much during this time. I’m reminded of how this ‘other’ centred process is constantly shaping who I am, and bringing about change for my good. 
Our team is made up of people I’ve known for years, somehow still journeying with me despite my weaknesses. There are people I’ve met through others, met along the way, now reunited around a cause we both love. 
But there are also people I’ve met recently, who’ve walked into my life, and despite maybe my initial judgements or whether or not I saw them as ‘valuable,’ have come to shape Street Youth Work Hamilton into the success that it is. 
It reminds me that in the interactions I have with people, both significant and insignificant encounters, that there lies the potential of a relationship that will make an impact, not only in my world, but in the lives of others. 

How often though do we judge, undervalue, or misconceive those who we come into contact with? Isn’t the heartbeat of who we are at Zeal about finding the gold within those misfits that we encounter? How essential is it then that we see with eyes that penetrate the exterior of a person, and that strive to find that which we can love and cultivate with hope?
Imagine every encounter we’ve had, and what that small relationship might one day eventuate into. The broken and “counted-out” young person you met could one day succeed you in your role. That youth worker who’s so rough around the edges could be the next Manager. That stranger you meet on the street could be applying for the job you’re desperate to fill. 

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

I am learning to value people. I am learning to see in every life there beats a heart with a tremendous capacity to love others. I am learning that my judgements are almost never correct, and instead choosing to believe that the person in front of me has potential, that things can be better than what I might see or perceive, and that most of all I’m called to love them as they are.  

What a privilege we have to work in our industry, to work under a vision that we do, and to live an ‘others’ focussed life that constantly benefits us as individuals. Don’t forget to dream for your relationships. Never get too focused on the task ahead and forget to dream for the person in front of you.
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