Working with at-risk youth is both a demanding and rewarding experience, but it is a labor of love that can sometimes feel like it comes with more demands than rewards. That is why for 15 years, the Essex County Community Foundation has hosted the Youth at Risk Conference, a day for professionals in the youth services field to inspire and be inspired, rejuvenate and reflect, and come together to reaffirm their important work.
On June 3, ECCF held the 15th Annual Youth at Risk Conference – the largest regional conference of its kind – at Endicott College in Beverly, which has hosted YAR since its inception. Over 750 people attended to connect with peers, listen to keynote speaker, Jeanine Fitzgerald, visit a wide variety of program exhibitions and participate in over 25 educational workshops.
“When we started this 15 years ago, we were hoping for 350 people, and I understand there are over 750 people here today,” said Reverend Mike Duda, who co-founded YAR with ECCF’s Kathy Moriconi. “Today, we don’t want you to serve, we want you to be served.”
Duda addressed the sold-out crowd at Endicott College’s Post Center, and made the presentation of the Diruhi Mattian Award, an honor named after a social worker tragically killed in 2008 while doing the work that meant so much to her.
“We created this award to honor her memory and also say, ‘Thank You’ to people who give of themselves every day,” said Duda.
Because of the overwhelming feedback from the community, the 2015 Award was given to two dedicated youth service providers: Patrick Foley, who serves as program director for the Adolescent STARR program in Salem and a group facilitator for fathers of DCF-involved youth, and Lynn native, Fred Mathieu, a recent Umass Dartmouth football player who directs the Kids Club program at the Washington Street Baptist Church in Lynn and serves on the board of Lynn’s REAL program, which provides education, enrichment opportunities and recreation to kids.
Duda called Foley the “epitome of the quiet and compassionate volunteer.” Of Mathieu he said, “He works tirelessly to provide opportunities for inner-city children.”
Keynote speaker Jeanine Fitzgerald, a human behavior consultant and founder of the Fitzgerald Institute of Lifelong Learning, then took the stage, and with a huge dose of humor and honesty, she addressed Conference attendees on the importance of “nurturing the nurturer.”
Fitzgerald has worked with thousands of families and professionals across the country to assist them in helping their kids meet their maximum potential.
Fitzgerald had the crowd roaring with laughter at her personal stories of stress on the job, stories that Conference attendees clearly identified with, and she reflected on the burnout that is common to the work. But she also discussed ways to minimize it.
“Today we are challenged to do more with less,” Fitzgerald said. She added that self-care is perceived as selfishness and so people don’t do it. “You have to take care of yourself,”I think we need to find this thing called balance.”
Fitzgerald suggested that instead of becoming Superman or Superwoman, we should ask ourselves what drains our energy and what restores it.
“Sometimes success is not being productive,” she said. “Sometimes success is doing something restorative.”
Pursuing physical, emotional, cognitive, social and spiritual wellness, she advised, is imperative to living a vibrant life. “Live a life of joy,” she said.
People got the message, and as the crowd filed out of the room to attend workshops - which covered topics such as early intervention, home-school integration, domestic violence, technology and LGBTQ Youth – they spoke excitedly about Fitzgerald’s talk.
“She was terrific, powerful and engaging,” said Carol Bonner, Salem State University’s Associate Dean of the School of Social Work.
Attendees also spoke highly of the Conference as a whole.
“We have been here every single year,” said Aine Greaney Ellrott of Lahey Health Behavioral Services. “It’s our audience. It’s just a good way to meet colleagues.”
“I love the resource book,” said Ashley Huntington of Beckett Family Services. “I also love to get to know the different organizations.”
“This is the best conference I go to every year,” said Jennifer Mack of Youth Villages, which offers in-home and residential treatment programs for troubled youth. Mack added that the breakout sessions are always above everybody else’s. “We get a lot of mileage out of this.”
For Jane Truesdell Ellis, chair of the Youth at Risk Conference Committee, this type of feedback helps to validate the importance of the Conference and demonstrates that YAR continues to make its mark on attendees.
"The goals of the Youth at Risk Conference are to provide training and networking opportunities to the participants,” she said. “But most importantly we want all of these dedicated youth service providers to know that we truly appreciate the hard work they do day in and day out with our local youth.”
“By all reports, we hit it out of the park this year,” Truesdell Ellis added.
Learn more about the Youth at Risk Conference.