How strong is your passion for youth work? It’s an important question because your work with young people creates social change to ensure a future that is equal, just, and sustainable.
Personal growth and self-reflection are the source of passion and the foundation of good youth work. Be yourself! Lean into your unique life experiences and be your most authentic self.
The Passionate Youth Worker podcast reveals how youth workers turn their life stories into a passion for service. Listen to be inspired and consider how your life experiences influence your youth work.
The Passionate Youth Worker podcast is your invitation to explore your own life experiences by listening to other’s personal stories. Join me, Paul Meunier, the executive director of the Youth Intervention Programs Association, as I interview youth workers from around the globe to reveal how their unique life experiences impact their work. Tune in and be inspired to consider how your story uniquely impacts your youth work.
January 10, 2022 Season 2 Episode 17
Washington, United States: Linsay Hill tells a too familiar story of a childhood immersed in trauma, violence, and abuse. Early exposure to trauma and unhealthy behaviors created challenges into her adult life. But that also drew her to helping others. To break the cycle of generational trauma, she began therapy. Through therapy, she learned to honor her authentic self. She found a way of speaking life into those young people around her, sharing her true story to help them move forward, too.
January 3, 2022 Season 2 Episode 16
Minnesota, United States: Andrew “Dhop” Hopkins used critical thinking skills to avoid the pitfalls of life-altering decisions as a young person. Growing up in a family of 10 kids, he developed the skills to relate with different personalities. He’s grateful for the people that poured themselves into him, and he’s fully comfortable doing the same for young people now. Dhop helps us remember that it is you that makes the difference in the lives of young people, not your program.
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December 20, 2021 Season 2 Episode 15
Maryland, United States: Ciara Huff didn’t always know she wanted to work with young people. But that changed in college when she took a class on Criminology. She learned African American children are more likely to commit crimes and realized she needed to work with young people if she wanted to make a difference in the future. She says this is her earthly assignment. Her story reminds us our uniqueness is needed. There are people waiting and depending on you.
December 6, 2021 Season 2 Episode 14
Minnesota, United States: Wendy Lorenz-Walraven has nurtured a deep passion and commitment to genuinely create space where people can be seen and heard in ways that society doesn’t often give the time and space for. Accepting her own queer identity helps her show up fully now. She knows that being able to create space for all the ways in which young people identify whether you understand those identities or not, those are the access points that are really going to make a difference for a young person.
November 22, 2021 Season2 Episode 13
Washington, United States: Jose “Neaners” Garcia was the youngest gang member in his community. He had shot someone by the time he was 10 years old, had a child at age 12, got shot himself at age 13. Traumatized by both parents and his surroundings, he felt his life was limited to what he saw in front of him. But a 5-year stint in solitary confinement helped him see a purpose to it all. His vision, Hope for Homies, became his calling to show young people something better.
November 8, 2021 Season 2 Episode 12
Minnesota, United States: Essence Blakemore is a fierce champion for social justice. From an early age, she could see injustice in front of her. Challenging that often got her in trouble. But with the help of an AmeriCorps mentor, she learned to use her voice and passion more effectively. Having the benefit of a kindred spirit to guide her taught her that everybody deserves to have someone in their corner because being young is hard.
October 25, 2021 Season 2 Episode 11
Monrovia, Liberia: George King has a life story that could have stopped him in his tracks. He lost his father at age 3 to the civil war in Liberia. His mother could not raise him so his aunt put him in an orphanage. But somehow George saw the blessing in this as it gave him the chance to get an education. He now gives that chance to other young children through his own foundation, Kid Care Liberia.
October 11, 2021 Season 2 Episode 10
Wisconsin, United States: Ashley Stoll’s happy, sheltered life took an unexpected turn when she entered middle school. Her parents divorced, and she and her siblings had to leave their private school and attend public school. It was a culture shock. And it was a season of losing her way trying to fit in. She’s learned through pain and loss how her deep faith sustains her. She shares that journey and faith to help young people in her own program now.
September 27, 2021 Season 2 Episode 9
Melbourne, Australia: Aaron Garth had a lightbulb moment in his 20s that set him on the path to turn his life around for good. His childhood was marked by family conflict and the trauma of losing a baby sibling. His teenage years were a time of acting out and getting in trouble with the law. He credits the persistent care and encouragement of a youth worker and a pastor to help him see that he could be more.
September 13, 2021 Season 2 Episode 8
Minnesota, United States: Christina McCoy embraced the challenges of her early years to build a resilience that continues to give her strength. Her struggles gave her opportunities to learn how she wants to be in the world and in her work. She knows she is right where she needs to be, doing the work that is meaningful to her, and having a positive impact. She shares the value of kindness and grace, especially working with young people.
August 30, 2021 Season 2 Episode 7
Kaduna, Nigeria: Maryam Aliko Mohammed is a polymath; a person with vast knowledge in many different subjects. She credits her fearless, successful parents for enabling her curiosity. Maryam shares a story of a personally humbling experience that taught her to not assume others are like her. That insight opened her eyes to the importance of youth work; to support young people as they transition from youth to adults, able to advocate for themselves and pursue their dreams.
August 16, 2021 Season 2 Episode 6
Minnesota, United States: Moriah Peterson learned to relate to others with a kind and caring heart through the experience of moving to new places throughout her childhood. She found herself drawn to befriend the kids that seemed to have less, or need more. She carried life lessons of being helped by mentors herself and helping others. Grace was extended to her when she messed up and she reminds her we can all do the same.
August 2, 2021 Season 2 Episode 5
Minnesota, United States: Carley Kammerer was only a teenager when she had to live through the experience of her mother dying. But because her mother had taught her the value of helping others, she transformed that pain and stress into a life and legacy of service. She saw a need and had the courage, grit, and faith to just start. She founded a nonprofit that provides sustainable employment for youth experiencing homelessness. Carley invites you to follow your dreams, too.
July 19, 2021 Season 2 Episode 4
Ohio, United States: Dr. Charisse Penn persevered through many ebbs and flows on her way to finding her passion. She credits her distinctly non-linear course with discovering that she could make an impact and be successful helping others be successful. While working on her doctorate, she walked away from a good paying job and began her youth work career. Speaking from her heart, she says it’s about legacy. And her legacy is about helping young people.
July 5, 2021 Season 2 Episode 03
Missouri, United States: Laura Bradshaw persevered through a less than perfect childhood and family trauma to find her own path forward. The challenges, twists, and turns of her life instilled a commitment to help others. Her courage and willingness to change are two of the gifts she shares to help young people find their own path forward. She lives and breathes hope and instills that in the young people she works with.
June 22, Season 2 Episode 2
California, United States: Rose Sargent shares her insightful story of courage and self-discovery. She was experiencing trauma at home and school. She didn’t feel like she belonged anywhere. At the unimaginably young age of 11, she just felt it would be better to leave and figure herself out. Her experience of homelessness in San Francisco uniquely prepared her to work with youth experiencing homelessness. Her view of harm reduction reminds us to support youth autonomy.
June 7, 2021 Season 2 Episode 1
Minnesota, United States: Paul Meunier launched The Passionate Youth Worker podcast to share stories of the struggles and successes that shape individual youth workers. In this first anniversary special episode, Paul shares what he’s learned from youth workers around the world. And he reveals the evolution for season 2 with a profound shift that will explore how the life experience of youth workers shapes how they work with young people. Your own personal growth and self-reflection are key.
May 24, 2021 Season 1 Episode 28
Missouri, United States: Misty Boone always knew she wanted to help others. She grew up seeing the value of sharing whatever you have to make life a little better for others. In her work with survivors of domestic violence, she gives of herself every day. She’s a realist with an optimistic outlook. And she shares her perspective about helping and hope.
May 10, 2021 Season 1 Episode 27
Minnesota, United States: Nancy Hlee Vang has learned to transform tragedies and trauma into empowerment. She found her calling to youth work during a college work study assignment serving elementary school youth. Now she is the mentor to young people that she always wished she’d had. And her greatest reward is seeing her young people grow as a result of her trusting relationships with them.
April 26, 2021 Season 1 Episode 26
Minnesota, United States: Dave Wilmes followed an uncommon path into youth work, launched by being a conscientious objector to the Viet Nam War. Driven by his natural curiosity and analytical interest in figuring things out, he saw problems that needed solving in our field. Through the years, he’s created a legacy of caring and helped hundreds of youth workers and young people develop their potential.
April 12, 2021 Season 1 Episode 25
Minnesota, United States: Emily Fulton-Foley’s passion is uplifting youth voice and youth power in areas usually dominated by adults. She artfully empowers young people to channel their passion to impact positive change in the world. She reminds us of the power of empathy and acceptance. When we accept that there’s no one right way to be, we allow young people to be the way they are. We need to provide grace for ourselves and others in that recognition and understanding.
March 29, 2021 Season 1 Episode 24
Minnesota, United States: Jaleeza Smith-Breedlove is a social worker and a youth worker. She sees that distinction as a kind of freedom. As a youth worker, she is focused on irradicating the barriers for youth to be great. What guides her work was a lesson learned from her mom; “No one can live this life alone. No one has just one teacher.” She wants to charge all youth workers to be irrationally crazy about every child.
March 15, 2021 Season 1 Episode 23
Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands: Roxann Wake-Forbes always wanted to help young people. Her empathy and compassion for others is just who she is. And she brings all of herself to the work, creating a home and a family for young people at her center. She says, “Let’s really pour into our young people as much as we can and let’s listen to them. Allow them to grow, help to water them so they can bloom and flourish and feel empowered.”
March 1, 2021 Season 1 Episode 22
Minnesota, United States: Marty Lukaszewski knew in elementary school that he wanted to become a teacher and a coach. He says working with young people is his greatest reward, “Knowing that you helped them do their best to become the best that they can be.” Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2014, his own service dog became a perfect metaphor with a student, “Think about me kind of as your service dog, I’m going to be there to help you when you need help.”
February 15, 2021 Season 1 Episode 21
Minnesota, United States: Sara Morris-Perry recalls how conversations with her mom made always made her feel connected and respected. She learned there was something special in that kind of connection and it’s what drew her to become a youth worker. Suddenly losing her sight caused her to re-evaluate everything. But she was determined to make something of her life and when she was able to return to youth work, she says it felt like home, she was back doing what she loved.
February 1, 2021 Season 1 Episode 20
Minnesota, United States: Dan Huebsch recalls the joy he felt in third grade being paired with a Big Brother high schooler. That experience planted the seed for how he wanted to be that person for others when he grew up. His parents, and especially his grandma Wanda, shaped his lifelong commitment to being involved in community and making things better for others. He knows firsthand how the power of one caring, trusting person to walk alongside somebody really can a big difference.
January 18, 2021 Season 1 Episode 19
Minnesota, United States: Kaitlin Comfort sees her life and work guided by two traits learned from her parents; her father’s willingness to question everything and her mother’s confidence. Ironically, with a last name of Comfort, she says her greatest strength comes from learning to be uncomfortable. Being in uncomfortable situations has taught her the courage to follow her path and do what she thinks is right.
January 4, 2021 Season 1 Episode 18
Minnesota, United States: Anne Parish grew up as an only child whose parents allowed her expressive, free spirit to flourish. Her mother’s spunk and tenacity, combined with her father’s constant reminder that all you can do is love, shape how she partners with young people on their journey to becoming adults. She once aspired to be a dance therapist and has a unique perspective on how youth work is like jazz; being great takes knowing how to improvise.
December 21, 2021 Season 1 Episode 17
Minnesota, United States: Mike Tikkanen is a passionate and unapologetic advocate for the welfare of abused and neglected kids in Minnesota, the United States, and around the world. You can hear his sheer determination to effect systemic change as he shares how abuse shaped him and put him on this path to end generational child abuse. This is not an easy episode to listen to so be aware if you may be triggered. But he also offers perspective and help for anyone doing work with young people.
December 7, 2020 Season 1 Episode 16
Minnesota, United States: Richard Coffey’s parents lived to give back to others and those lessons of giving brought him to serve youth. He recalls every conversation with his mother ended with her asking, “Who did you help today?” Giving back, giving more than he receives, fills him with hope and happiness every day. He knows the work is tough, the young people are not always easy to work with, yet he just deals with everyone with love. Just love.
November 18, 2020 Season 1 Episode 15
Guam, United States: Juanita Blaz overcame a fear of public speaking to step into her role as program director of Island Girl Power and discovered the power of speaking from her heart. Strong family role models taught her to be a kind, giving person. And life’s struggles and traumas taught her a strength that grounds her in empathy and respect. She reminds youth workers ‘your purpose is really to offer an extension of yourself that teaches people that they can do more.’ Bring an honest, open version of yourself to serve with heartfelt understanding.
November 9, 2020 Season 1 Episode 14
Minnesota, United States: Mary McRoy was in 5th grade when she first knew she was born to serve others. She’s made social work her career and says the reward of the work is that it continues to confirm she’s doing what she was meant to do. She says youth work should be rooted in love, compassion, and kindness because kids who need love the most are going to ask for it in the most unloving ways. Kids do well when they can. We do what’s right to do.
October 26, 2020 Season 1 Episode 13
Minnesota, United States: Brandon Brooks credits being a ‘Navy brat’ whose family moved often for showing him how to connect with people, an asset he uses now in working with young people. He calls us all to be a person young people can trust will do their best for them. He says young people need us to listen to them and allow them to lead. The way he views youth work relationships is enlightening and offers optimism for the change.
October 12, 2020 Season 1 Episode 12
Minnesota, United States: Brandon Jones knows the job of a youth worker is to be a role model, to engage, to encourage, to help young people even when you might not see the fruits of your labor. It’s challenging work. Yet he encourages us to try our best to do whatever we can for a young person. They will see that you care and hopefully they will take pieces of that on their journey so that they can have a better life.
September 28, 2020 Season 1 Episode 11
Pennsylvania, United States: Melissa Perkins grew up in Pittsburgh and later Miami. Two contrasting experiences taught her the importance of instilling in young people a sense of belonging, that they have a community they fit into, that they belong somewhere, especially our LGBTQ youth. Like many, she kind of fell into youth work. Now 25 years later, she says she’s more personally invested because she wants to make sure LGBTQ youth are able to thrive.
September 14, 2020 Season 1 Episode 10
Minnesota, United States: Deb Nebosis grew up where everybody in the community watched out for each other. The idea that ‘it takes a village’ is at the heart of her youth work. As VP of Resource Development for Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Minnesota, she describes the caring community and supportive relationships at every level of her organization, all to benefit youth. She reminds us our work is to remove injustices so every young person has an opportunity for success.
July 31, 2020 Season 1 Episode 9
Maryland, United States: Dr. Laurel James learned the significance of service to others from her close Caribbean community, especially her father, and great grandmother. She sees hope in the social engagement of young people today and reminds us to be present to young people. Doing youth work is a calling, truly a vocation, wake up and feel this passion inside of you boiling in your belly. We’re here to make a difference in a young person’s life.
July 21, 2020 Season 1 Episode 8
Kaduna, Nigeria: Ibrahim Yusuf lives his dream to work with youth with all his heart. Deeply loved but not always accepted by his parents, he started making poor choices in life. But everything changed when a mentor took him in, believed in him, and said “you are bigger than what you are doing.” That put hope in him and now he does the same for others through his Triumphant Youth Foundation.
July 9, 2020 Season 1 Episode 7
Minnesota, United States: Colleen O’Neil felt she didn’t have a person she could be 100% honest with growing up. That experience shapes how she works with young people today. She knows young people want us to be genuine, honest, and always let them feel that they’re being heard. They respect and gravitate toward that. When we are authentic, sincere, and truly do sit back and listen is when we can do the best work with them.
July 07, 2020 Season 1 Episode 6
Lusaka, Zambia: Tapela Banda says ‘different’ was never in her vocabulary growing up, she saw everyone just as human. She didn’t like the fact that society would stigmatize and discriminate against others for being different and that drives her passion for youth work now. She shares a beautiful belief in humanity, reminding us that somebody out there depends on our voice, depends on us. Keep speaking and keep being the light.
June 9, 2020 Season 1 Episode 5
Minnesota, United States: Drew Althoff realized at an early age that he wasn’t a prototypical male. He calls his path to youth work a slow evolution, born from the desire to be a dad. He dedicates himself to being the adult he yearned for growing up, offering unconditional love to the young people he serves. Drew is all about lifting people up, meeting them where they need to be met, with hope in your heart.
June 1, 2020 Season 1 Episode 4
Lusaka, Zambia: Mwape Chibuye grew up in Zambia, grateful for whatever she had and eager to share what she had to help others. She reflects on the mixture of good and challenges she moved through in her own life, crediting her mother’s support. A passionate youth advocate, Mwape says young people are hungry to make a difference and if they're given the right opportunities, they'll do that and maximize them to make even better opportunities.
May 14, 2020 Season 1 Episode 3
Ontario, Canada: Angela Hill always knew she wanted to be a youth worker. Growing up with an alcoholic parent instilled a passion and empathy to help others. She shares an uplifting perspective that fuels her ability to find the good in others every day, even when the work is difficult. She sees herself as an “aha junkie,” thriving on sparking those moments when youth workers and young people gain real insight to grow.
May 4, 2020 Season 1 Episode 2
Utah, United States: Tua Kealoha seems born to be a youth worker; a Samoan heritage grounded in taking care of others and a Hawaiian name meaning ‘love.’ But his path began as a gang member. Now he’s a gang prevention specialist, using his own life experience and love to help other young people transform their lives.
April 28, 2020 Season 1 Episode 1
Minnesota, United States: Sarah Barott has a surprising view of youth work as addicting. She’s a high school special education teacher who is inspired by her student’s grit. She shares how their small successes provide her motivation to be her most authentic self and how that has led her to feel grateful to work with young people.
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The Passionate Youth Worker Podcast is made possible in part by a generous donation from M Health Fairview.