Good Sort: Rod Baxter
Rod Baxter is a long-time youth worker who has just landed a job as New Zealand Red Cross’s National Youth Development Advisor. Tessa Johnstone caught up with him just before the move as he reflected on how he’d ended up staying 14 years in one organisation, and what he had learned along the way.
Youth worker Rod Baxter is a busy man. My first email to him solicited this auto-reply:
P.S. It might take me a while to reply to your emails because I’m spending more time with young people and less time with my devices.
It says everything about the way Rod works – young people first.
While the rest of us are complaining how they’re noisy and rude and always on their phones, Rod’s supporting them to be the best people they can be, whatever that looks like for them.
“Young people are quite transient, and they don’t stay young for very long. But there’s so much change happening for them, more than anyone else.
“It’s very dynamic, but the work is slow. Young people need consistency; they need adults who are not going anywhere.
“That’s what’s kept me [in youth work]. I need to be the dependable adult. And seeing young people grow is just incredible.”
Rod’s been in the profession for nearly half of his life, spending the last 14 years with Boys’ and Girls’ Institute (BGI) in Wellington. He’s been at BGI since before some of his current charges were born.
It was a big deal for him to move to Red Cross last month.
So, what did BGI do to keep him so long that other organisations might learn from?
“I think BGI enables creativity and flexibility, and that allows youth workers to do what they believe are in the best interests of young people.”
Rod started out volunteering with organisations like Youthline when he was about 18 and soon after made an active decision to pursue youth work as a career.
“I was studying theatre and education and had always thought I’d have a career in the arts or theatre because I felt an urge to be creative.
“But I discovered young people are a naturally creative population, prepared to experiment and be spontaneous, and I was getting more satisfaction from collaborating with young people, problem-solving and working on projects with them.
“I also really care about the community I live in, I love this city. And I want this city to be the best city it can be for all the citizens in it, including young people.”
Rod’s day to day work at BGI had involved mentoring young people one-on-one, facilitating groups, planning programmes, creating resources and drinking a fair amount of coffee.
At Red Cross he’ll be developing a strategy which allows young people to be meaningfully involved at every level of the organisation.
Working with young people can be an emotionally draining job sometimes and he says he never really switches off, which in some ways makes him good at the job. But he accepts he needs to change focus or distract himself sometimes.
“I read comic books. Specifically, I love X-Men. If I need to detach, it’s not hard. I just open a comic book, and I read about the X-Men and worry about their problems more than anyone else’s problems.
“I feel like I’ve known those characters longer than anyone else, apart from some real world friends. I want to read the latest instalment of what’s happening with Cyclops or Wolverine. I’ve been reading comics since I was four years old.”
Rod says everything he’s achieved in his youth work career so far has been with the help of a team, and that’s his advice to anyone else trying to do good in the community.
“Find a team of people that inspire you, including some who have been doing it a bit longer. They may not work for the same organisation, but they should speak the same language and support you to do what you love.”
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