I think the first thing you notice when you become The Galaxy Director is the sudden loss of privacy. No more quiet dinners out, no more quick runs to the grocery store, no more anonymous student identity in town. Instead, you become something of a celebrity-everyone likes you-who wouldn't like the Director of the town youth center? And everyone is asking: How's it going? Are there a lot of kids there? What do you have planned? Has it been at all like you expected? And the worst, What type of kids are there? Being constantly on the spot, and forever putting a positive face on a project you are overwhelmed by and under-prepared for, is difficult. Everyone asks in earnest, but there is only one right answer: It is going well. It is going beautifully. We have a strong group of kids coming, and we have lots of great stuff happening. It's a huge success.
One of the most common questions through this first part of the year is, Is it what you expected? And the answer is absolutely, completely, entirely, and totally no. I anticipated difficulties, but I never dreamed the forms that they would come in. The challenges you face in a position like The Galaxy Director come from vastly different directions, and are subtle and nuanced in ways you cannot anticipate until you experience them for yourself. So yes, I expected it to be challenging yet rewarding, tiring yet inspiring, and complicated yet straightforward. And yes, it has been all those things. But I was unprepared for the combination of so much self definition and local control, with so much public accountability, and an unclear set of expectations throughout-not only of my role, responsibilities, and capabilities, but of The Galaxy itself. I thought that I just didn't know what was going on because I wasn't fully involved. The truth is that no one knew what was going on. It is extremely difficult to work in a situation where success has no measure, and the difficulty is exaggerated in a situation where there is no clear idea of what success may be.
I opened The Galaxy on the same day I began working. Big mistake. Huge mistake. If I could give only one piece of advice to the next Director, it would be (so far) not to open The Galaxy until she had a little understanding and experience under her belt. I felt it was important to have The Galaxy open and to get the ball (BALLS!) rolling. The summer was split into two distinct periods. The first month and a half, I opened The Galaxy five nights a week with the best guess of good hours that I and the Board could come up with. We started with a strong crowd of middle school students, but absolutely no high school students. I shouldn't say none--there were quite a few who came in and walked straight back out. It was discouraging. Then I realized that kids already have places to hang out, what they need is stuff to do. So in August, I began a focus on activity oriented planning. Which was a great idea. But because I didn't really have a feel for the town, I didn't know that everyone goes on vacation in August, so even if there are cool events, very few people (especially high schoolers) will come. It was discouraging, and I didn't understand why more kids weren't coming. What made the situation more awkward was that I didn't have anyone who was closely associated with the groups that I was trying to reach with whom to talk.
Originally I had thought that my Youth Council would take initiative and be very proactive. After three or four meeting where only one or two people came, I was frustrated and irritated. After all, they had signed on for this-why weren't they participating? Once again, I had no feel for what the Youth Council was like, who was on it, and what their schedules and feelings toward The Galaxy were. When they finally told me in August to stop trying to plan anything until school started, I felt some strange combination of relief and failure. But they were right-kids don't hear about this stuff during the summer, and no one wants to go anywhere without their friends. And they focused on an important point: With something like The Galaxy, you are always walking the fine lines between working up to a full schedule slowly and risking fizzling out, and having a big bang and risking its failure.
Although I could talk about particular events and happenings, I feel like they are secondary to beginning to understand and work within the culture of Grinnell's youth. Really, the numbers are not as important as the quality of time kids have at The Galaxy, and the planning and preparation are always subject to revision, change, and sometimes a complete scrapping. Although, just for the record, the event I've been counting on since before I started was a huge success, and drew about 110 kids (not that numbers matter . . . of course). Words of the first quarter? Flexibility, growth, networking, challenge, learning, laughter, and YOU CAN NEVER BE TOO POLITE OR ASK FOR CHAPERONES TOO FAR IN ADVANCE.