10 Things Youth Frontiers Has Taught Me about Community
Fall, for me, has always signaled change. When I was a kid, fall meant a new school year, which led to all sorts of other new’s: new school, new classes, new friends, new perspective — new. As an adult, I know life isn’t always contained within such concrete cycles. Even so, fall, upon its invigorating winds, still always manages to bring change.
This autumn at Youth Frontiers is no exception. As an organization, we’ve moved into our new headquarters, we’re innovating new programming, we’re welcoming new staff, while saying goodbye to some old friends — and all of that change has put my work life into perspective. For me, it has reinforced the importance of a positive, resilient community.
At Youth Frontiers, it’s our mission to inspire character and build community. I can honestly and gratefully say that YF has also internalized that mission. Here are 10 things I’ve learned about community from Youth Frontiers:
1. Say “hello” to people well.
When I interviewed at YF two years ago, the first thing I noticed waiting in the “lobby” (read two low wicker chairs stationed in nearly full view of the whole office) was the warm laughter filling the space. It was a Friday, and while that normally improves the typical nine-to-fiver’s disposition, I could tell the office’s levity stretched beyond the magic of the impending weekend. The snippets of conversation I overheard suggested a deep caring for one another and a positive — and sometimes sassy — rapport. That, almost more than anything I learned during my actual interview, made me want to work there. If the people cared about each other that much, I could only imagine the good their mission accomplished.
2. Identify, develop and lean into your strengths.
Once I was hired, my orientation involved not only becoming more familiar with the organization, but also with myself. YF walks all of its new employees through the StrengthsFinder training. From the start, YF signaled that it wanted to invest in and develop its employees — to make them great at what they already do well. This training also bolsters community. It helped me to further understand in what areas I can most readily support my team, and where I need their help.
3. Do yourself a service by serving others.
Community is made stronger when we look outside of ourselves — and our specific mission — to support the good work others do. YF dedicates a day each year to service. We, as a staff, partner with other organizations to serve our broader community. Most recently, we partnered with The Food Group.
4. Eat lunch with others.
Remember the StrengthsFinder training I mentioned earlier? Well, one of my top five strengths is “achiever.” This strength, the constant urge to accomplish, admittedly makes taking a proper lunch break sometimes hard to do. But, I’ve been reminded many times, just how rewarding having lunch with your coworkers can be. In these brief moments of pause in the middle of busy days, I am reminded of life beyond the office and of the lovely humans I have the pleasure to work (and relax) with.
5. Honor one another for even the little things.
We make it our goal to see and celebrate the behind-the-scenes efforts of our coworkers. Whenever we’ve spotted something we’d like to spotlight, whether to a large group or just the individual, we write a “Props Out,” a small card acknowledging the deed and the way it supports our organization’s core values: Quality, Caring and Growth. At the end of the year, we celebrate the little things in a big way, with our “Little Big Star” award and with our “Bettermaker Cup.” This year, the first went to a staff member who gave away his homemade BBQ sauce and spicy mustard in exchange for donations to support hurricane relief. The latter, was awarded to the staff member who led our brand evolution and who has helped YF to look (and be) its best for the last six years.
6. Just dance.
At YF, we take our work, but not ourselves too seriously. We break for walks around the block, coffee runs, fitness challenges, story swapping and the occasional office dance party. Yes, we get our goof thing on. These small moments of fun and vulnerability are foundational to the strong camaraderie we build at work.
7. Lead with authenticity, integrity and transparency.
In our old office, we had an open door policy — quite literally in our open space. I’m happy to report that even though we have more office doors now, that policy has not changed in our new space. Our leadership team makes a concerted effort to lead with their humanity and to help us understand their decisions and the direction of the organization. Each year, every employee takes Quantum Workplace’s “Best Places to Work” Survey, to take the pulse of our internal culture. We want to know what we do well and what we need to do better. The leadership team shares with our staff these results as well as the strategies they put in place to move us forward as an organization. In fact, we display these prominently in our office to remind us of, and to show our visitors, the importance of our growth mindset.
8. Take time to retreat.
The concept of our retreats is not just for kids. Each year in late fall, we gather as a staff outside of the office for a day to reflect and connect with one another. These days are usually centered on a theme, like on retreat, and give us a chance to set our intention as we head into the busy holiday season.
9. On Fridays we wear flannel.
Or floral print, in the warmer months. Little things — dressing up as a staff, attending staff-led “Lunch and Learns” (topical discussions on a range of subjects over a shared meal), grilled cheese days, impromptu paper challenges, indoor office four-square — unite us and inspire as a team by helping us to tap into our creativity and our inner desire to balance out the “all work, no play” tendencies of our American culture into YF’s “work hard, play hard” culture.
10. Say “goodbye” to people well.
To end, I want to take a moment to tell you about how we say goodbye to those who leave YF. We believe that it’s just as important to say “goodbye” well as it is to say “hello” well. When a staff member pursues another opportunity, we take time to honor them — with Props Out, with food, with reflection on all the good they’ve done for YF and for our staff. We honor them because though they are no longer employed by YF, we want them to remain a part of our community — because they matter and they matter to us. Because that’s the YF way.
Written by Sarah Gavigan
This year, on The Character Movement, we are trying something — indeed — new. We’ll be delving into one of our retreat values each month, examining it on our blog and in our Character Challenges. This month’s theme is community.