Meet our Spokane County Program Quality Manager, Ben Baird. Since 2004, Ben has been passionate about serving young people in rural communities and believes that all youth should have access to high quality outdoor experiences. Our organization is thrilled to have him on our team as we continue to grow our work across the state.
Please share your journey into youth development
Long story alert! As a kid growing up in Spokane I attended tons of different programs, camps, and enrichment opportunities in the area. I attended art programs at the museum, recreation programs at the local parks, writing camps through the libraries, and music camps through the school district. I always had something to do, especially in the summer when city parks had youth development staff with snacks and games. I could walk to any park in the area and find something to do. I think my experience as a young person laid the foundation for my eventual career in youth development.
To be honest, I sort of fell into youth development work by accident. While pursuing a degree in Natural Sciences I ended up volunteering at a drop-in youth center because I had a crush on the program manager. (Ha!) I enjoyed the work and the kids so much that I stayed for two years after my crush left. After moving back to Spokane, I jumped right back into youth development work. While working as the Assistant Manager of Youth Development at West Central Community Center in Spokane, I had the opportunity to incorporate my love of natural sciences into my out-of-school-time programming.
What beliefs inspire your work?
I think the greatest driving force for me is that I believe that all young people should have as many opportunities for learning and fun as possible. Communities with low barriers and easy access to activities, programming, and places for young people are communities that thrive. Young people have something to call their own and everyone benefits from the outcomes.
I’m also super excited about young people having opportunities to explore the natural world. When young people have access to nature and are absorbing her knowledge, they become protectors of the natural world, and all lives benefit. The best thing in life is watching a young person in awe of the organized randomness of a tuft of moss through a magnifying glass.
What excites you about your role at SOWA?
I love connecting with my community. There are so many people in the Spokane area that are unashamedly passionate about youth work. It’s conversations with program managers and front-line staff that make my role exciting!
What’s something you learned that you didn’t expect?
Simple. Sounds cliché but…I had more to learn from young people than they had to learn from me!
When was the first time you saw/and or felt the impact of your work?
While working at the Community Center I had the opportunity to facilitate an enrichment elective at one of the local high schools. The class focused on peer leadership and community activism. After my fourth year of leading the class, I had the privilege to attend the college graduation of a former student. As they addressed their fellow graduates, they spoke of the challenges they faced during their childhood and teen years and how thankful they were to be on that stage that evening. As they spoke about their future career in social justice they mentioned that the inspiration to head down their current path was because of the leadership class they attended during their senior year of high school.
What do you think is unique about youth programs in Spokane County?
Like many programs and organizations that serve young people, programs in Spokane are greatly under-resourced. Yet people stick with it, some for 30+ years. The dedication to youth work in the Spokane area is unrivaled. People are super creative too! Like…who thinks of starting a phlebotomy camp for teens? Someone in Spokane does! Folks just make things happen here and it’s exciting to be a part of it!