F|PYN – Frontline Systems of Support
“‘Self-care’ becomes a radical act when we take the risk and allow ourselves to be truly seen, and taken care of, by others. Let’s take risks and take care of each other, honestly and accurately name problems, and renew our innate gifts as healers, artists, organizers, creators, and maintainers of healthy systems.” – Jenny Katz
Frontline Partners with Youth Network (F|PYN) was formed in 2005 when a group of frontline workers came together to support each other to deal with the effects of gun violence. During its most active years, F|PYN strove to continuously recognize the link between systemic oppression and the violence that brought the network together in the first place, developing resources, advocating, and connecting frontline youth workers with support, resources, and each other.
While FPYN is no longer active (though their Mish Mash newsletter is still running), we know that there is no doubt of the lasting impression F|PYN has had on the youth sector in Toronto. We knew we couldn’t talk about the notion of self-care and frontline youth workers/organizers without including an acknowledgement of the work and impact of the network. We hope you’ll take some time to check out this report on grief and trauma experienced by frontline workers titled Frontline Systems of Support (F-SOS). The goal of this report was to look at what current services are available to help frontline workers deal with their grief and trauma, and to find the gaps that exist in organizations that prevent frontline workers from receiving support. While it was launched in 2009, many, if not all, of the challenges outlined in this report still exist, and the recommendations are more relevant than other.
A few recommendations on how to better support frontline youth workers from the F|PYN Frontline Systems of Support report:
- Share/create a resource listing good workshops and trainers that are either free or close to being free.
- Re-think and be intentional about how organizations offer ‘mental health’ support, and how they structure and/or define workloads and worker expectations.
- Create ongoing space for people to come together and talk, without the expectation that they will produce tangible products, like a plan of action.
Given her vast knowledge on this topic, and her role as founder of F|PYN, a conversation about self-care would not be complete without the informed perspective of Jenny Katz. We asked Jenny to tell us what self-care means to her. This is what she told us:
“The term ‘self-care,’ as it is currently used by the Non-Profit Industrial Complex, is a continuing tactic to individualize collective problems needing collective solutions and social change.
Frontline workers are not burning out because they are not meditating, walking in nature, or having massages. Frontline workers are burning out because they have an impossible task that they are continually told is not only possible, but their responsibility and job mandate. They are supposed to get people good steady jobs when they can’t get one for themselves. They are supposed to help people find decent stable housing, which they often don’t have themselves.
They are supposed to address individual, family, and community trauma without support or material resources and without clearly naming the root causes of the trauma – racism, unequal distribution of wealth, misogyny, colonialism, police, etc. These are the same traumas that are often directly impacting them. Often if they do too good a job, they will be co-opted, sabotaged, harassed, shut-down, not have their contract renewed, or be fired with no letter of reference.
People who are good at frontline work – who are skilled at loving people and making magic happen, are infamous for not asking for help for themselves (or even knowing that they need help or could be helped). This makes them vulnerable to having their hearts and vitality exploited. In fact, the system relies on it.
The paradox of all this is – that meditation is wildly beneficial. Walking in nature is body, mind, and spirit resuscitating. Having our bodies tends to remind us that we have bodies. Nurturing one’s creative life is vital.
AND gathering together to honour the pain of work and of life, and to dream bigger solutions – including political – has to be part of the ‘self-care’ equation.
‘Self-care’ becomes a radical act when we take the risk and allow ourselves to be truly seen, and taken care of, by others. Let’s take risks and take care of each other, honestly and accurately name problems, and renew our innate gifts as healers, artists, organizers, creators, and maintainers of healthy systems.
‘Self-care’ has to be about supporting each other as the Spiritual Warriors* that we are.”
*Spiritual Warriors as it refers to frontline workers was coined by Amahla Johnson.