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15 June 2021
Salvos chaplain Daniel Smith is there for young people as others were for him.
Salvo Daniel Smith is a chaplain with The Salvation Army Youth Services in Western Australia, primarily in Perth. He provides pastoral care to young people and staff at the Salvos Transitional Support Service for young people leaving state care, for youth aged 18-25 in a Salvos independent living program, and at two supported residential houses (Oasis and Landsdale).
“I lost my father at an early age when I was growing up,” says Daniel. “We were part of the Salvos, so I was connected into the church community, and later youth group, and was able to find a lot of other role models, especially males. This was quite pivotal for me at different stages of my journey.
“I wanted to provide the same support and guidance that I received to other young people, and have been involved in the youth space since I was 21. This includes roles as a community youth worker, high school chaplain and transitional housing case worker.”
Today, Daniel’s role with young people includes regularly checking in with how they are going, working alongside the staff in programs they are part of, and assisting with whatever comes up on any given day.
“This could include helping with the school run in the morning if staff are busy, taking a young guy on a bushwalk so he can get out of the house, connect with nature and clear his head, partnering with young people in their recreational activities and having conversations with them in all these places,” he explains.
Recently, Daniel and a couple of other staff members took four young people away from the city to go camping.
“These young guys were finding it hard to disconnect from technology and were overusing it as a coping strategy,” Daniel shares. “It was hard for them to connect with others. So we camped away from Wi-Fi for a couple of nights and did plenty of physical activity such as mountain bike riding, high ropes and fishing.
“It was a really safe space for them to disconnect from the hustle and bustle into a simple environment with no modern facilities – and with other young people who have been through similar experiences.”
The high-ropes course was one of the highlights for the young guys on a recent camping trip with Daniel and other staff.
Looking for day-to-day opportunities to connect with the young people is part of Daniel’s role.
“Recently at Oasis House, one young resident wanted to set up an aquarium in her room, something the staff didn’t have the time or freedom to do,” says Daniel. “I took her shopping and we were able to have a chat along the way.
“Often, young people don’t want to sit down face-to-face to talk about what they been through, but they are happy to get into the car and get some things done that they want to achieve, and share their interests, goals and things like that in the process. It’s about finding ways to help young people not feel like they are being interrogated or asked to share their whole stories. It’s listening when they want to be heard, without an agenda and with genuine interest, to what they are comfortable sharing and going where they want to go with that.
“It’s not having a specific idea of where you want them to be, but asking where they want to go and how we can help them get there. It’s being a sounding board for them.
“These adolescents have come to us because they have experienced some level of trauma and have been removed from their families. Many of them have been shifted around in their care, so being a supportive and consistent adult in their lives, and providing a non-threatening, confidential and safe space for them, is crucial. They need people they can trust, relate to and share experiences with. And the relationship has to be voluntary.
“It is sometimes easier for young people to share with me instead of another staff member, as I am not involved in their case, in any housing or tenancy agreements, or with any government department. They can just be themselves.
Daniel explains that many people don’t understand the power of mentoring, and that its impacts are usually not immediate. Young people don’t usually change their course of action overnight – it takes time.
“For me, it’s been about looking back and seeing who was important in my life and adolescence,” he said. “It’s seeing who was there when I needed them, and just listened to me. Listening can be so undervalued as well.
“The fruits of mentoring, of coming alongside a young person, may take time, but that is the power of community and of a church community, if it can be there for the long term. Chaplaincy too, is a similar connection point.
“Although we live in a society that is quite digitally connected, young people can still find adolescence an isolating experience. They may have a social network online, but may not necessarily find it easy to connect in the real world.
“It’s so important for them to have avenues for building trusting relationships in the real world and a pathway into wider society. We can assist here by connecting with them in the Salvos and referring them to different supports.”
Daniel explains that, for young people, hearing the stories of older people and learning from their experiences, is not always something they have the opportunity to do.
“Our communities are disconnected, often even in a church space,” he shares. “I know I’ve sat in funerals and heard the achievements and life stories of the person who died and realised I knew so little about them.
“So many of us have experiences of disconnection and isolation and negative things, so having someone who has been there before us to share their experiences of what they have done to get through harder times, can be pivotal. Times have changed, but life experiences haven’t.
“Our understanding of God changes over time too, as we mature and go through things. It’s a real power for young people to hear the sustaining nature of an older person’s faith – a person who has walked that road for a longer period of time – and see how God has been there for the long haul.”