It's late Thursday night. The Big Room festivities are over. The Exhibit Hall is closed. And all around the Kentucky International Convention Center, youth workers are hanging out, grabbing a late bite to eat, or for exhaustions sake, turning in for the night. So as day one of #NYWC15 comes to it's end, I wanted to share just a few thoughts before calling it a day myself.
As a member of the Main Stage Team, one of the responsibilities we share is the 'opening of the doors' at the general sessions known as Big Room. The scene goes like this. Retractable straps rope off an area preventing convention attendees from entering the Big Room space until 15 minute before the start of the session. At about 40 to 60 minutes before the session, youth workers begin congregating in little groups hoping for a chance to get a 'good seat' somewhere near the action. When our pre-session tasks are complete, the Main Stage Team makes our way to this area and chat with the youth workers standing in groups.
I love this time spent with the youth workers. It's truly amazing how much you can learn about a person or persons when you take just a few minutes to talk and ask a few questions. Usually the questions are pretty basic. What's your name? Where are you from? Is this your first time, second time, third time, or twenty-third time at NYWC?
Tonight I walked up to a couple, a bit older than me, and we started talking. They were the Anderson's. Husband and wife who have worked with students...for years. They have attended NYWC...for years. They even served on the volunteer team...for years. But they have been a way for a few years, and this was the year they were able to return.
We talked for quite a while; about the conference, about the chances that YS has experienced over the years, and the memories that have been made throughout the NYWC history. As we talked, I was struck by a particular question the Anderson's asked. The question basically asked, " Does it still feel like family?"
I thought for a second and then responded with two answers. The first was, Yes, NYWC is family. The youth workers who attend year after year create a certain familiarity that makes the convention seem like a great big family reunion. I'm never surprised when I bump into an old friend. One part of you hoped that you'd see them, while the other part somehow already knew they were there.
But there was more to the question of family then just a family reunion. You see, there's something more, something deeper that happens at NYWC then just seeing old friends. Many, many years ago, when Tic Long and Mike Yaconelli were still the dynamic duo, they created an atmosphere that really made you feel like you were part of the family. And it wasn't just Tic and Mike, it was the entire YS and NYWC staff. They just made you feel so special. Cared for. Loved. And appreciated. You knew that you were in a safe place. A place where you wouldn't be criticized or questioned. A place where it was okay to cry or laugh or or just be. Need a nap? Take one. Take two! Need to talk to someone? Someone was always ready to listen.
Then, the convention wasn't always about the speakers or give-a-ways, seminars or exhibit halls. The convention was a place you knew you'd be welcomed, with arms wide opened, because that's what family does. It's what Tic and Mike, and the rest of their staff did.
Tonight, as I paused to think about the question, I asked myself, "Does it still feel like family?" My second answer...ABSOLUTELY YES!!!
Much as change at Youth Specialties over the last couple of years. There are a lot of new faces. NYWC has changed a little bit, too. But at heart of YS and NYWC, the passion to love-on and care for youth workers still exists. It's that passion that first welcomed me to NYWC in 1999, when my wife and I attended our first convention on Cincinnati. And it's that same passion that has brought us back again this year.
I saw Tic tonight, behind the stage at the general session. I told him that I bummed into a great couple who once served as volunteers, and how we talked about family and how we always felt like we were part of a greater family. The funny thing...Tic knew exactly who they were. Why? Because we're family!
Faces may change. Names may change. Topics change. Venues, locations, and the number of conventions per year might change. But what hasn't changed is the heart.
You are part of this wonderful family. You're home. And, it's safe here. So be free to be you. Laugh. Cry. Take that nap. Heck, sleep all day if you want! Because we're going to love you just the same. It's what we do. It's what NYWC does!!
Jay Higham is a veteran youth worker of over 28 years; having worked with students in the local church and Christian camping settings. Jay is currently serving as the director of family ministry at a church, located in West Virginia. Jay has been married to Amy for over 23 years. Together, they are raising 5 kids, (4 boys and 1 girl). Jay is an aspiring author, blogger, speaker, vlogger, and social media junkie. He is passionate about student ministry, family ministry, and training youth workers to love and serve their students with passion and excellence.