No such thing as a 'typical week'!

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I'm Ruth and I'm a Key Worker at Start360's YES Youth Engagement Service.

I started out wanting to write about a typical week in the life of YES, Ballymena… I already knew that there was no such thing. No week is the same.

I listed all the activities, groups, outside agency support, internal supports, school groups – both in terms of outreach and schools coming in to use the space at YES and anything else that happens in a week and I submitted it for this blog. However, the more I thought about it, it just didn’t sit right with me. A list of events didn’t cover what YES means, it didn’t explain the depth, warmth, value and amazingness of what happens.

I have never worked in an atmosphere like it. It challenges people continually, both service users and staff, and it rewards people in the same way. It doesn’t matter who you are; age, gender, race, religion – all are welcome. Some people wander through the door simply to ask, ‘what is here?’ They get a warm welcome, an answer, a chat and they often come back. Some people come in because they are in crisis and don’t know where else to go, they get the same welcome and they get support, it might be a cup of tea and a chat, it could be a more in-depth conversation - and they can also get signposted to services that can help them with whatever issue they are facing. Some come in because they are registered with C Card and want advice and to access free condoms. Some people come in for individual sessions with other agencies that use our rooms. These people often come back too, in fact I have noticed that if you happen to come through the door for whatever reason, it’s likely that you’ll come back.

We have our wonderful visitors from Castle Tower School, 3 different classes on 3 different mornings and they are utterly amazing, they chill out, they talk and they sing. To be very honest I’m not sure who benefits more from their time, the pupils of Castle Tower or the staff at YES and anyone else who happens to be in the building when they are in. They are uplifting, honest, brilliant young people who make us laugh and cry in equal measure, and of course it’s ok to cry – in fact it’s good and if spend time here, you’ll see the openness of emotions - real, honest emotions.

We go out to schools and hold lunch time Chill n Chat. We hear what is happening in young people’s lives and provide support when times are tough for them or we have conversations about topics that they want to talk about.

We also have a large group of young people who regularly use the drop in service and participate in activities like craft club, Yu-Gi-Oh, chill n chat, football etc. They are a close group who support each other, but they also challenge each other and they are welcoming to new faces. They are creative, intelligent, inspiring. The conversations that happen at YES can be mind opening. Tough topics are not avoided, they are raised regularly, sometimes in Chill n Chat, sometimes in a general conversation. People are honest; ‘How are you today?’ isn’t always answered with ‘fine’, it gets a real answer, even though it can be hard to say and hard to hear.

If someone says something that isn’t appropriate, it’s challenged, but not in a negative way. It’s discussed and opinions are voiced and shared.

YES is by no means perfect, nowhere is.

But it’s a good place to be and if outside the walls were as kind, supportive, challenging and as real as inside the walls I have no doubt that the world would be a better place.

I’ll leave the list of things that happen in YES in a ‘typical week’, but please know, there is so much more that goes on here. It’s just hard to put into words.