Wednesday, May 13, 2009

My Friend Mitch

I'm thinking about my friend Mitch. He lives in Austin and has been in this business of saving kids alot longer than I have. Way back in the 70's, when he was a real hippy, he went to work for a small emergency shelter called "Middle Earth". And over 30 years later, he's still at it, having served as a direct-care worker, manager, executive director, and now COO of the agency that was created when Middle Earth merged with five other agencies in Austin.

He was involved in the early years of the creation of the National Network for Youth, the Southwest Network of Youth Services, and the Texas Network of Youth Services. And probably most importantly, he has served as the auctioneer at the annual TNOYS conference for as long as I've known him. He wears his history lightly, seeming to never age and to never stop loving his work.

I'm thinking about Mitch because of something he said in his acceptance speech when he was awarded the "Lifetime Achievement Award" from the National Network for Youth a couple of years ago. He said he doesn't believe in burnout. But he does believe in "rust-out"--that is, when we let ourselves stop learning, stop being curious, stop wanting to hear the stories of our teens, get boring, start thinking of our work as a burden, or worse, just a job.

I'm thinking about this, because right now I am really tired and somewhat overwhelmed with the work ahead of me this month. And because I have suffered with "burnout" or "compassion fatigue" or "rust-out" periodically throughout my career. And then when I hear Mitch, after over 30 years, talk excitedly about plans for his agency, I am pretty humbled.

I'm really glad there are people like Mitch in our field. And people like Doris and Sonjia and Peggy at Promise House, whose many years of service have not diminished their commitment to teens and who still love teens and all their wacky ways.

I want to be like them when I grow up.

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