Kelsie Sharun (left) poses with former youth worker Nick Valcourt in January when she took on the role. Sharun leaves Apr. 17 to begin a position with Edmonton Public Schools as a substitute teacher. – Morinville News File Photo
By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – The Town’s Community Services department is once again in search of someone to work with Morinville youth after Kelsie Sharun, Morinville’s latest youth worker, announced she would be leaving Apr. 17 to accept a position with Edmonton Public Schools as a substitute teacher.
Morinville’s youth worker answers directly to the Town’s Family and Community Support Services coordinator, Karin Debenham, who joined Community Services in last December, filling a gap left vacant for a few months when former FCSS Coordinator Amy Dribnenky left the position.
Debenham said she is sorry to see Sharun leave, but understands her wanting to pursue her career aspirations.
“I really admired Kelsie and especially her teacher training,” she said, noting working with youth takes a special person who understands youth. “I really admired her in terms of how she’s worked through some pretty difficult dynamics over the last couple of months.”
Sharun took the helm at the end of January from Nick Valcourt who left to teach English in South Korea after five months in the position. The Town hired Valcourt after A.D. Richardson, Morinville’s first youth worker, left the post in October of 2012 after nine months on the job.
Debenham explained when Valcourt announced he was leaving it was important to make sure the work he had been doing continued uninterrupted.
“We had a very high priority when we hired Kelsie,” Debenham said. “The highest priority at the time was to refill Nick’s shoes as quickly as possible [so as] not to lose any momentum. Kelsie was very definitely the strongest candidate and we knew that we were taking a risk because she was so strong. When you know that you’ve got a gem in the early stages of their career, you know you are taking a risk when you hire them. Kelsie was very candid with us even during the interview that her objective was to become a teacher.”
Sharun said she will also miss the community. “The time I have spent in the Morinville Community has been a very valuable stepping stone in my pursuit of making a positive difference in the lives of today’s young people,” Sharun said. “The opportunity to work in a formal education environment has presented itself sooner then expected. Though I am happy to move on professionally, I will truly miss seeing all of the youth I have had the chance to meet with and learn from.”
Potential changes to the position
Debenham said Brian Croft, a local Scout leader, has accepted a contract position with the Town to work with Katie Silipkowski in keeping the Morinville Youth Centre operational. Filipkowski had been working with Valcourt at the youth centre and continued to do so with Sharun. The addition of Croft to the mix will ensure program momentum continues until a new youth worker can be found to work with overall youth programing in the community.
“The youth centre will, for the most part, continue being operational, and we will try and stay with Kelsie’s plan in terms of expanding the hours as soon as possible,” Debenham said, adding Silipowski and Croft are also willing to work to provide some of the Town’s youth programming until a new youth worker can be hired.
That person will ultimately serve in a different way than the three previous workers. Debenham said running the youth centre previously formed part of the 28 hours allotted to the youth worker position each week. She would like to see the new position utilize the 28 hours apart from the day-to-day manning of the centre. This would leave Silipkowski and Croft to run the centre as contracted services, something Debenham said there is room for in the budget.
“We want those 28 hours to be working in the community all the time,” Debenham said. “We don’t want the hours that the youth centre is taking taken off the 28 hours. There is not enough time when you take over half of it away to operate the youth centre.”
Debenham said the desire is to find someone for the position who is unlikely to leave quickly. “I’m hoping for some stability for this position,” she said, adding she understands a youth worker is a junior position within the Community Service hierarchy. “Our objective is to find some stability for the youth in the community. In looking at a slightly different model for what has been called the youth worker position; my objective there is to recruit someone who is at a different point in their career.”
Tough task ahead
Working with youth requires a special type of person, Debenham explained. “These kids are at a point in their lives when they’re trying to figure out who they are. Trust is really, really important for them, so finding a staff person that can relate to youth is important. It means you are probably looking for someone who is a youthful person rather than someone who has too much life experience under their belt and sounds more like a parent.”
Sharun said there is great opportunity with the community’s youth. “The Youth here are passionate about their community and are looking for opportunities to develop into contributing, valuable citizens,” she said. “I know that the next youth worker will help facilitate these interactions by continuing to build on past successes. I encourage the citizens of Morinville to continue to support the Youth Centre operations, as it is an important place for Morinville youth to explore and take action toward what volunteerism, leadership and developmental growth means to them and the Morinville community.”
With the amount of money that the Town is spending (I tried very hard not to say wasting) for other, less critical salaries with less of a demonstratable pay-off, I’m not sure why they can’t find the money to make this position fulltime and the pay worthwhile. The fact that there is a high turnover should send a clear message to Town HR staff and the leaders that they answer to.
If our youth are important, let’s invest in an outstanding youth leader and provide them with great role models. Allowing for such a high turnover in an influential position tells our youth that they are not as important selling tickets to MCCC events, which is the wrong message.