North vs. South: The Importance of Relationships in Non-Profit Work

By January 15, 2019 AmeriCorps*VISTA

by Olivia Glen-Rayner, Youth Opportunity Center Associate at YouthLink

I have always been a person of action. Whenever there is a school project, a chore at home, or a task at work I make a plan and get right down to it. At a recent workshop, we did the Personality Compass activity. Respondents answer questions and then find out their dominant personality type. Every time I have taken this quiz I have gotten “North.” People with Northern personality types are known to be goal-centered, fast-paced, task-oriented, assertive, decisive, confident, determined, competitive, and independent.

When I showed up at my service site, YouthLink, on the first day, my Northern personality had me ready to hit the ground running. My mind was brimming with ways to tweak existing programs and new initiatives I wanted to implement.

As you can imagine, I didn’t get going on any of these projects on the first day, or the first few weeks, even. I felt frustrated and guilty that I wasn’t contributing anything to the organization. When I spoke to my supervisor about this, her perspective was entirely different. My supervisor, a classic “South” (all about relationships!), explained to me that she was purposeful in not giving me many tasks in the beginning. She wanted me to absorb the workings of the organization before I contribute my part.

I learned so much in those first few weeks just by having my eyes and ears  open to those around me. Everything at YouthLink comes down to the relationships we build with youth experiencing homelessness. Relationships come first. Having a conversation with a young person over a hot meal about how their day is going can lead to them accessing transformational services like housing and education assistance in the future.

Perhaps even greater than the tangible and transformational services that we provide is the creation of a place youth can come to to feel cared for, respected, and valuable. It is from that space that YouthLink and youth, together, do their most life-changing work. My supervisor often tells me that it is one’s presence at YouthLink and their intent to listen, validate, and provide assistance that is the real work that we do. I would never have fully understood this (and I’m still working on it!) if I did not spend a year of service at YouthLink.

My VISTA service at YouthLink has led me to reflect on how I approach my work. In environments that I have worked and studied in previously, I think it has benefited me to let my Northern personality traits take the lead. These environments tended to be results-oriented. Documents had to be completed. Emails had to be sent. Clients had to remain satisfied. These things are important of course, but they aren’t everything.

YouthLink has stretched my understanding of what productivity is. It has shifted me from being so task-oriented to being more relationship-based. I don’t always have to check something off my to-do list to feel accomplished. Now that I am five months into my time at YouthLink, I feel my Northern qualities and my newfound Southern ones melding together. For me, this combination means that relationships and the knowledge I develop from them comes first. From there, I can implement my goal-centered, assertive attitude to accomplish the most I can for those I have developed relationships with.

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