Embark | Fifty-two Weeks of Adventure


e2Dear Friends and Readers,

It has been a pleasure writing about youth work over the past few years.

In response to a growing awareness of just how burned out I had become (see my last year of blog posts), I have made a new years resolution to go on a new adventure each week. I have started a project that I am calling Embark, in which I strive to live more intentionally, wholly, creatively and boldly. Join me at embark52.wordpress.com.

I may continue writing here as I feel inspired (It would be tough to write any less than I did in 2014!), but I will be posting at least weekly at Embark | Fifty-two Weeks of Adventure.

~Miss Brenda

The Very Tired Youth Worker

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In the light of the moon lay a little youth-worker in her cozy bed.

One Monday morning the warm sun came up and POP our of the covers came a very tired youth worker.

On Monday, she drank one pot of coffee, but she was still tired.

On Tuesday, she took two hours off, but she was still burned out.

On Wednesday, she had three reminders that the work she does is important, but she was still defeated.

On Thursday, she spent four hours answering emails, but she was still not finished.

On Friday, she organized her office, completed two grants, de-escalated three violent children, debriefed with four emotionally exhausted staff, wrote five reports for supervisors, answered six parent emails, called seven donors and forgot to eat lunch until 10:00 pm.

And on Saturday, she called her closest friends and families and told them she was going to quit her job.

And the next day was Sunday again. The youth-worker ate through one nice green leaf, and after that, she felt much better again.


I once had a staff who told me that working at the Boys & Girls Club reminded him why he had become a teacher. It was fresh and new and kid-focused. There was energy and room for creativity and the staff were a family. Find a place that feels like that, because this work is too important and too difficult  if you don’t feel that way about where you are.

Sad Endings and New Beginings

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Dear Friends and Readers,

Let me tell a story all about how my life got flipped turned upside down.

Let me take a minute just sit right there, I’ll tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bell Air.

Okay, so I’m definitely not the right gender to be a prince, but I do like the song Purple Rain (my favorite band in college did a cover of it and I’ve loved it ever since).

In recent months, my life has been turned upside down. Just substitute Northern Wisconsin for Bell Air.

In March, I made the hardest decision of my life. It is a decision that has proven to be excruciatingly painful.

I decided to leave.

I left my first adult hometown. I left friends and a church I loved. I left a job that I thought I would retire from.

In the years I lived in Indiana, I spent more I my waking life at that Boys & Girls Club than I did outside of it. I poured all of my time, energy and devotion into that place, those kids, that town. Leaving that place felt like splitting myself in half.

I still feel like I left my heart in the hands of those angel babies whom I will always think of as my own.

I moved to another Boys & Girls Club, in my home state, far closer to family. My new organization is a more positive environment, and my new hometown quite wonderful. I have a better work-life balance, and the health problems I experienced in Indiana seem to be subsiding.

I find myself loving new kids and families and staff. I find myself feeling a little bit more whole again with each passing day.

That terrible ache that began when I first applied for my new job is still there, along with the guilt of knowing not all of my kids and staff have transitioned well. But right alongside that pain is a growing feeling of hope, and a slow restoration of joy.

If you need to leave to be healthier, if you need to leave for the sake of you family, if you need to leave to be in a more positive environment, you can.

If the decision to leave is truly the right decision, it will be right for you, for everyone in your life and at your workplace, and for the greater community.

The world needs more whole, qualified, dedicated youth workers who are in it for the long haul. The world does not need more burned out, lonely, in-it-because-they-feel-too-guilty-to-leave youth workers.

If you are where you are supposed to be, stay. Continue to dedicate yourself to your family, your community and your work.

If you are not where you are supposed to be, give yourself permission to leave.

Will Smith started over in SoCal, and it worked out okay for him. I think moving on could work out okay for you and me too.

Buccaneers and Pirates

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Dear Friends and Readers, 

We are snowed/iced in today again, and so on goes the television. Flipping through the channels, my roommate found Peter Pan (the Disney version). Naturally, we both put down our work and watched. 

Just before leaving for Neverland, the Darling children talk in their room about what could be. John says that he wants to “cross swords with some real buccaneers.” Micheal chimes in to say that he wants to fight pirates. 

Crossing swords with buccaneers and fighting pirates. 

Sometimes we are trying to say the same thing, but are using different language. 

~Miss Brenda

Children are more than a test score.

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Dear Friends and Readers,

Today, a child I know spent over 20 minutes curled up on a set of stairs sobbing.

She wasn’t sick or injured. She wasn’t being bullied or abused. She wasn’t in a fight with her friends, or worried about her grades, or angry with Club staff, or throwing a tantrum.

She was stressed beyond belief about her standardized test, stressed to the point of not being able to eat.

No matter how hard caring adults tried to comfort her, no one could convince her that her worth was not determined by the score she received. No one could convince her that she wasn’t responsible for whether or not her teacher could keep her job. No one could convince her that she was valuable.

Testing doesn’t just restrict teachers. It doesn’t just steal valuable time that could be spent learning. It destroys the confidence of our children. It teaches them that what they produce is more important than who they are. And that, my friends, that idea of worth being determined by action rather than by existence, that is a lie.



Children are more than a test score. 


~Miss Brenda

Last One Standing

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Dear Friends and Readers,

“Last One Standing” is one of my favorite free time supplements.

When some youth hear “free time” they are thrilled. They want nothing more than to find their friends and play, play, play. They crave the choices and social setting that unstructured opportunities provide.

Other youth, however, youth like Little Miss Brenda, are chilled to the bone at that phrase. There is nothing more terrifying for some than the idea of having to walk up to someone who isn’t well known to start a conversation. There is nothing more lonely than being in a group without a clear and firm role. To this day, mix-and-mingle style parties are my worst nightmare.

For youth like me, offering semi-structured options during free time is an essential part of creating safe and positive space.

Last One Standing

  • Chose a challenge of perseverance. Here are some ideas:
    • Who can hula hoop the longest?
    • Who can balance a bowl of paperclips on their head the longest?
    • Who can do jumping jacks the longest?
    • Who can sit with perfect posture the longest?
    • Who can do a wall sit for the longest?
    • Who can jump rope the longest?
    • Who can pass a volleyball back and forth with a partner the longest?
  • Have youth all start at the same time.
  • When youth stop, they can sit down where they are, move to a different space and try again not-for-credit, or move on to a free activity.

~Miss Brenda

Acting Out Madlibs

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Dear Friends and Readers,

Once upon a time,  ___________________ (staff name) went on an adventure. He/she ___________________ (past tense verb) to ___________________ (noun – location). When he/she arrived, he/she learned to ___________________ (present tense verb) and ___________________ (present tense verb). He/she immediately call ___________________ (staff name) to tell him/her all about it. The only thing left to do was to ___________________ (adverb) ___________________ (present tense verb) until his/her ___________________ (noun) ___________________ (past tense verb). 


  • Prepare mad-libs worksheets (these can be found on many websites including Teach-nology)
  • Youth fill out mad lib worksheets individually or in teams using “action” verbs like jump, run, bounce, gallop, etc, or object/animal nouns like dog, moon, spaghetti, hair, etc.
  • Youth read aloud their mad lib stories to the group. The whole group acts them out. For younger children, staff can read aloud the stories.
  • When the stories say jump kids have to jump, when the stories say run, kids have to run in place, etc. 

Variations and Tips:

  • For younger children: Try having a list of pre-made words for them to insert.
  • For older children: Have them act out the whole story rather than just the verbs.

~Miss Brenda

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