A typical day in the life of an Alexandra House Youth Advocate? Well, to be honest, there isn’t one, but this should give you a sense of the challenges and joys of our work.
We start early- 7:30am early. We arrive at the high school in enough time to review the list of 15-20 students who we have been meeting with weekly. We get the schedules of the youth who have been referred or requested to meet with us after hearing our class presentations on family, dating, and sexual violence and healthy relationships. Then we write out passes to call them down for individual advocacy meetings.
Because one in three adolescents in the US is affected by teen dating violence, there are usually more students in need than there is time in a day. Furthermore, students meet with us for a variety of reasons. Some are experiencing violence in their homes by a parent, a parent’s partner, or a sibling. Some have been sexually assaulted by a relative or a peer. Others are concerned about a loved one or are currently in an abusive relationship. Some are being stalked or harassed by an ex-partner. Many are experiencing depression or anxiety linked to any number of traumatic events in their past. And in order to get through the school day, all are in need of support in one way or another. As advocates we offer information and resources, assist with safety planning, provide emotional support and help students to set goals and build resilience.
During one of the class periods we facilitate a support group on topics such as self-esteem, healthy relationships and coping skills. This gives students the opportunity to learn from each other. Then, at lunch, we pack up and head over to the next school to do it all again for another set of students. Several times a month we also facilitate groups at middle schools and in the juvenile detention center focused on many of the same topics.
Of course, if a student is in crisis or we’re giving a class presentation or a school has finals, then our day changes considerably. And in the flurry of activity each week, I think to myself, “This is the best job ever.” Youth are often real with us in a way that most adults will never experience. I remember the first time that students finally let me into their world. It can be a dramatic and exciting world. It can also be confusing, stressful and at times downright devastating. But this is why I love the work. It is an honor to be on that journey with them, to hold space for youth as they grow through it to become some seriously amazing people. And they have incredibly wise insights to share along the way if we take the time to listen.
Each day we encourage youth to think of trusted adults they can go to for help. How are you creating a safe space for youth in your life?
Taryn Tessneer is one of three Youth Advocates at Alexandra House who serve students in Anoka County schools. Students in Anoka County High Schools can meet with an advocate during their school day. To set up a meeting, call Alexandra House or speak with a school counselor