23 Nov Meet our new Senior Youth Worker: Evans Omondi
In this feature, we’re profiling one of the newest members of staff at Coram’s Fields, Evans Omondi, our Senior Youth Worker in our Youth Programme. Evans has been leading the delivery of our Inner Strength Project since September, an expansion of our youth work provision generously funded by Comic Relief. Since then, he has been playing a key role in tackling youth crime and antisocial behaviour in Camden, by collaborating closely with Project 10-10; a NHS-led consortium, working with the most gang-affected young people living locally, as well as those at risk of involvement.
CF: Hi Evans, great to have you on-board. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into youth work? What’s your background?
EO: Hi, it’s great to be back. I was born in Kenya and came to the UK at age 6. I grew up in the vicinity of Coram’s Fields near Kings Cross and lived in this area for 18 years, going to school and college in nearby Islington. Unsure of what to do after college, I put university on hold and decided to start volunteering at Coram’s Fields working with young people.
As someone who attended the Sports Programme at Coram’s Fields, for me sport was a tool that the charity used to engage me and my friends in positive activities and I didn’t forget the impact that youth and sports workers had on us. I have now been working for 12 years as a youth worker and have enjoyed supporting young people from all different backgrounds and walks of life. In that time, I have also pursued further study in JNC Youth and Community Work from YMCA George Williams College.
CF: There are a lot of misconceptions about how young people get involved in crime and antisocial behaviour. From your professional experience, what are the main reasons you have identified that can lead a young person to make the wrong life decisions and turn to negative behaviours?
EO: There are several factors that contribute to this, but the main three I want to highlight are: professionals, opportunities, and role models.
Professionals – Many young people have been failed by the educational, social care and criminal justice systems. Professionals working in these systems are not bad people, but often young people’s experience of these professionals is that they are labelled and stereotyped as criminals, which leads to them playing up to it. Particularly in education, there are plenty of young people who are not academically gifted, but if supported to learn in a different way, could make great progress – schools are catered to teaching young people in one way, which is highly problematic.
Opportunities – Many of the young people living locally have reduced life chances. In many cases a lack of access to opportunities means that they are less likely to discover their true passion. In my experience, when a young person finally finds something they have an interest in, they will grasp it with both hands and with the right encouragement, will surprise you with what they go on to achieve.
Role models – A lack of positive role models is one of the main reasons why young people turn to crime and antisocial behaviour. Locally, the only people that young people from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds see making money and driving flashy cars are criminals. Young people then associate this with the only way that they themselves can make money and escape the deprivation they live in. Without seeing that you can be successful in other ways, many will continue aspiring to lives of criminality.
CF: When you saw the job opportunity at Coram’s Fields, what made you decide to apply?
EO: It felt right that I come back to work where it all began. Helping my community has always been extremely important to me – and as this is where I grew up, I found it only fitting to apply for the post. While my community has seen investment and development, such as the Eurostar and transformation of the Kings Cross area, there are still many problems plaguing the community, such as knife crime and drug abuse. When I realised that the post would see me working with Project 10-10, which works with some of the most local gang-affected youth, I knew it was the right position for me.
CF: A significant proportion of your time is spent supporting the work of Project 10-10, which our Youth Programme partners with. Can you tell us about them and what your experience has been of supporting their sessions each week?
EO: Well, I have only been working with Project 10-10 for just over two months and in this short period of time I have learned so much from them already. The work they do with these young people is crucial; I have seen that they genuinely care for the young people and want to provide them with all the necessary tools to be successful in life. The AMBIT (Adolescent Mentalisation Based Integrative Therapy) model they use is one I have not used before and I can see how effective it is. Their approach is trauma-informed, recognising that the life history of a young person has led them to develop poor mental health, which contributes to a cycle of negative behaviour. Their work is leading to a reduction in criminal behaviour among their young people and is seeing more young people exiting gangs and progressing into education, employment or training. It’s fantastic.
CF: In addition to the Project 10-10 sessions, you also deliver our Tuesday and Thursday Youth Programme sessions and deliver one-to-one casework with at-risk young people. Can you tell us about the activities that we run from our Youth Centre on these nights?
EO: Yes. I work two evenings a week in the youth centre. These are drop in sessions where the young people can come and hang out, but we do have structured sessions too, such as music studio, our art sessions and employability training. There is also the bike project that we do with the young people on a one-one basis, as well as cooking sessions and boxercise. The activities have all been informed by what young people have requested.
CF: Why are these activities particularly useful at engaging at-risk young people?
EO: The positive activities listed above take place in a safe environment, ensuring that during the time they are with us, they are not getting involved in anything they shouldn’t be. As the activities have been requested by them, they are more likely to stay engaged and develop new skills. Our employability sessions really help young people focus on what they want to do, not only in the short term but as a career, which is particularly helpful for those who are no longer in education.
CF: We know that casework is a key part of your role. What support does a young person involved in or at risk of engaging in youth violence or crime need to turn their lives around?
EO: They need a solid support system of people who will work tirelessly to keep supporting them until they reach their goal. Never giving up on young people when they slip is also crucial. We have to understand that young people may get side-tracked and we shouldn’t judge them harshly, but instead focus on always being there to support and help them to realise their full potential.
CF: Can you give us an example of a young person you are currently supporting and the impact that the Inner Strength Project is having on young people?
EO: Although I have only been working here for two months, one young person has been a really great success story so far. Charged with robbery at the start of the year, he was told by professionals that he would never be able to achieve his dream of coaching young people in sport due to his criminal record, which is factually incorrect. I managed to get in contact with a sports coach from Talacre Sports Centre, who was able to get this young person onto a sports coaching level 3 course which will enable him to gain his FA level 1 and then get onto a P.E. teachers’ course. This young man is thriving in college, thrilled that he is able to follow his passion. Emails from his tutor reveal they are extremely happy with his work ethic and have confidence he will be an excellent sports coach leader. He is currently awaiting his DBS and we will arrange for him to gain experience delivering sports, to ensure he gains the hours required to complete his course. We continue to support him, but have confidence he will succeed.
CF: Any New Year resolutions?
EO: Yes, to continue helping as many young people as possible and continue helping the youth centre to develop into the best youth programme it can be.
CF: Thank you, Evans. We look forward to hearing more about the Inner Strength Project in 2019.
A special thank you to Comic Relief, which generously funds the Inner Strength project. Without their support this work would not be possible.