Dear FPYN, frontline workers, spiritual warriors, allies, and survivors of non-profit world:
In the spring of 2014 FPYN sent out a letter to the network called “We Are Sorry” (http://fpyn.ca/fpyn-stuff/we-are-sorry). The letter said that FPYN had gotten off track and that a part of FPYN was dying and that the institutional parts of the network (staff, office space, funding) were all ending. FPYN went into a quiet time of reflection.
Since then, members of FPYN have been digging into and exploring what happened for FPYN to have lost hold of its vision. We have been wondering if the disappointment and hurt that was caused can be repaired, and how things could be done differently in the future.
When FPYN Started
When FPYN formed, it was different than other groups in the non-profit/social service world. It was about deep listening, recognizing the brilliance and resourceful skills of youth workers – especially those doing things outside the standard practices of community work. It was about getting together, as our full selves, to talk about how the work impacted us; to say things we weren’t able to say in our organizations.
FPYN recognized that youth work happened across many sectors, and included anyone who works directly with youth as a “frontline youth worker”. This could be program facilitators, social workers, youth workers, community workers, housing workers, social service workers, teachers, community service workers, community arts workers, counsellors, etc.
Many of us heard the words compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, and burnout for the first time. Many of us talked about how the expectations of management and funders got in the way of doing effective work with youth.
FPYN helped us connect the recreational, advocacy, support, and programming work we did to the root causes of injustice and to movements for social change.
FPYN Grew … and Changed
As FPYN grew larger and secured more funding, outside pressures also grew stronger. This growth allowed FPYN to hire staff, to be taken seriously by people with power (politicians, policy makers, etc.), to get into spaces we’d previously been excluded from, and to influence decisions being made about the youth-serving sector. However, this recognition also meant FPYN sometimes had to appear to be more professional. Although the essence of what FPYN was about never changed, we began to explain it differently externally. A lot of community organizations do this kind of “double-speak” to fit into the boxes of grant applications and funding trends, but it takes a lot of intention and effort to do this and remain grounded in your actual beliefs and purpose.
FPYN had to become part of a larger extensive administrative platform to qualify for funding, which took up large amounts of time from the paid staff team and was a major energy drain.
Looking Back and Moving Forward
Looking back there are many, many, many lessons to learn from the FPYN journey. Having let go of most of the infrastructure (and therefore expectations and pressures), there is now an exciting opportunity to rebuild using these lessons learned. To have conversations about what a new structure could look like for FPYN. We don’t know what exactly the structure will be, but we do know there are certain principles we want to centre it on. We want a group that works collectively, that is non-hierarchical, transparent, and accountable to each other & to the community. That compassionately addresses power imbalances within the group, that learns and grows together, that takes care of each other, and that doesn’t expect each other to be always working at breakneck speeds (maybe even encourages each other to slow down sometimes!). We believe that the relationships we foster, the conversations we have, and the structures we build must reflect what we are working towards externally. So if we are working to heal youth workers and to challenge oppression, we also have to do that within our group.
The youth-serving sector is very different than it was in 2005 when FPYN started. Similar to FPYN, the sector has gone through its own ballooning with millions of dollars invested in youth programs and collapse when that funding dried up. There are a lot more professionals talking about what youth workers should and shouldn’t do; what approach is most effective, what boundaries should be held, what constitutes success of a youth program. This means there are a lot of people who aren’t from or connected to our communities determining what our work and our relationships with youth should look like. Too many amazing youth workers are being pushed out of their organizations because of credentialization, professionalization, accreditation, licensing, and “risk-management”; but none of this has to do with caring for young people. In fact, it often separates workers from the people we work with and moves us to a charity model that values the knowledge and ideas of “professionals” over people’s lived experience. The more organizations are worried about how things look, the less that workers can be genuine and responsive in our work with youth
We know that sometimes we have to play the game to pay the bills, but we want to see if it is possible to do that and not compromise our values or our work. We want to keep FPYN’s magic grounded in anti-colonial, anti-racist, feminist, anti-capitalist politics. And we want our day-to-day work to be connected to our vision of a better world. We want FPYN to be a place that youth and youth workers can put our hope, instead of in organizations that constantly disappoint and hurt us.
Where FPYN’s At Right Now
Based on the skills and interests of who is currently active in FPYN, some activities we are talking about doing are offering trainings/programs for youth workers, working to hold organizations accountable when they hurt workers and youth, providing a critical view of the not-for-profit sector, and (of course) continuing to hold healing spaces for youth workers. We also want FPYN to be involved in community campaigns for justice about issues like police brutality, youth justice, gender-based violence, affordable housing, and keeping families together.
We know that FPYN also needs to catch up with technology and strategically use our website, the Mish Mash, and social media to better connect youth workers. (anyone got any ideas??)
The Invitation to Get Involved
Before we decide what activities/directions FPYN will focus on, we need to reconnect with the sector. We want to hear from frontline workers what they need from FPYN; we want to know how FPYN can best support them to heal from grief and trauma they experience & witness, as well as to develop their skills as youth workers. We want to have checks and balances put in place so that if FPYN gets lost again, frontline workers can call it out and bring it back on-track.
Right now we are moving slowly. We want to be incredibly intentional about how FPYN grows and develops a new structure. We are so excited to have conversations about these things (structure, accountability, funding, future FPYN activities, changing the world) and we want to have them with more people. We aren’t going formal yet, so if you are also interested in these topics and want to share your thoughts and/or be a part of developing a group structure for FPYN, please be in touch! We’d love to meet for coffee/tea/chocolate/etc. and dream together.
You can reach us at email@example.com
with love and solidarity,
Keli, FPYN dreamer