Yolanda Duckworth's "why" behind her desire to work in out-of-school time is to provide a safe haven for youth.
"A place where youth can feel appreciated, accepted, be responsible and be free to be themselves in love," said Duckworth, Site Coordinator for Project Success of Vermilion County (Project Success Teen REACH at Danville High School) in Danville, Illinois. "I have no greater joy than to see the youth laughing, having fun, and enjoying themselves all while they have fun while learning. This is a great joy to me—allowing laughter, love and acceptance to heal the soul of the youth."
Similarly, Duckworth's journey to pursue afterschool work was inspired by youth.
"Coming for a large family background, from my dad's family and my mom's family, I've always had youth around me, even in my youth," Duckworth explains, noting her family made the most of what they had. "We made up games to play, played with cardboard boxes, walked trails in the nearby woods, played kickball, had snow ball fights, played pity-pat, dressed up, had dance contests and water fights, and played school.
"Despite our low income and impoverished community, we were rich because we had one another and our family and friend time was enriching."
As Duckworth grew older, she began to work for and with youth more often.
"When I was 18, I coordinated and implemented our first family reunion with ease—it was easy for me to operate within and with a budget because being low income we had to budget," she said. "We had to live within our means. By the time I was in my early twenties, I had the opportunity to work with the youth in a summer youth program."
Planning lessons, implementing games and activities were like second nature to Duckworth.
"I began to realize how much I loved working with the youth," Duckworth said. She went from working for a summer youth program in Vermilion Gardens to Laura Lee Fellowship House in 1998, to working with the youth in the Youth Ministry in two local churches over a period of 17 years.
"The Youth Director(s) would charge me to care for the youth, to speak to a congregation of youth, teach the youth, organize events, implement games, supervise the youth, and teach the youth Bible lessons," Duckworth recalled. "I was soon planning bible lessons and youth activities for a youth ministry with over 120 youth ranging from under a year old to 18 years of age."
When the opportunity presented itself for Duckworth to become a site coordinator/supervisor for an afterschool program, her initial response was to turn it down. She was asked again about a week later, to which she then "humbly and graciously accepted the opportunity."
"To date, with over 30 years of experience, I incorporate life skills, academic lessons, STEM, community learning, volunteering and my experiences into our program, encouraging youth to be their very best selves," Duckworth said.
Duckworth notes that NAA has supported her professional efforts by providing trainings, webinars, zoom meetings, and resources to better assist her in her job, in addition to opening her eyes and understanding to a more diversified family of professionals and youth in our schools and community—city, state and nationwide.
"I have been blessed to learn about SEL, STEM and NAA's Code of Ethics," she said. "I, Yolanda Duckworth, choose to do my very best to adhere to The National AfterSchool Association's Code of Ethics and to assist families and children to rich their highest potential."
To connect to more afterschool professionals around the country, upgrade to an Executive membership today. Look for more "Stories That Shape Us" experiences and perspectives in upcoming enewsletters.
Courtesy of NAA.
Photo courtesy of Yolanda Duckworth.