Carrboro Junior Youth Group

An animator in Carrboro, NC shares about her group’s first meeting:

"We gathered everyone outside at a picnic table. We had about 6 or 7 junior youth. The first question we asked was “what is everyone’s understanding of what a junior youth group is?” They had a basic idea because we had previously done home visits with each of their families when we went around the neighborhood to invite all the neighbors to the group. During the home visits we had focused our conversations on how the group would empower us serve our communities, develop our power of expression and our spiritual perception. We had a big poster and wrote out what people said in relation to the group’s purpose, goals, and activities they wanted to do. This led to a conversation about the definition of spiritual and intellectual excellence and we talked about what it would look like if we progressed in each of these dimensions.

The next thing that we talked about was service. We asked what the meaning of service was and we discussed the needs they saw in the community. They thought of a few projects they wanted to do in the neighborhood. We also talked about how in order to accomplish these projects they would need to rely on their powers of expression and spiritual perception. For example, one service project was to make a community newsletter that recorded stories of people who lived in the neighborhood carrying out courageous acts. We talked about how we would need spiritual perception to recognize when an act was courageous. We would be using our power of expression to describe exactly what about the acts made them courageous and drawing on writing and analysis skills in creating the newsletter. They each thought of one potential service project individually and then we went around in a circle and shared. Next, we memorized the quote, “Let each morn be better than it’s eve, and each morrow richer than its yesterday.”

The next week we started with [the first book, called] Breezes of Confirmation. We first read the introduction and discussed that we would really just follow the instructions of the books. So we split into pairs to read and write individually just as the text asks of us. Because we set the standard of studying the book this way it really helped them to engage in the study for the rest of our lessons. Also to help them follow the story we had them draw character trees of each of the characters we were doing on a white poster board.

We also had a conversation about the kinds of complementary activities and healthy recreation they liked. They said they loved games, drawing, painting and other visual arts. We had one of the junior youth teach us some of the movement games she had learned in her drama class at school."

Sasha's Story

“I liked my junior youth group because it was nice to be around people of different backgrounds and to have some time to be with other people my age. I wouldn’t have to beg my parents to hang out with these friends at group because they knew it was a place where we were learning to be selfless, to help the community and to empower myself and others.

I was one of the older members of the group so I would help the others answer questions, study the materials, and motivate them to come to group. I developed patience and determination because I needed to understand everyone’s level of social skills. At the beginning, sometimes kids would not talk at all and no one would want to do anything. It was hard to go to every meeting but I would say to myself, “we have to do this” because I saw the need for it in my community and I wanted to support my sister. It helped me be able to organize meetings and I felt like more of a leader. Before the group, I was the most shy person in the entire world. Through the span of the two years that I was in the group I came out of my snail shell. In the group I was confronted with new situations. Like I had to speak up. It wasn’t like in school where you don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to unless the teacher calls on you. This was a group of friends and we all shared our thoughts without any pressure. In a junior youth group you need everyone to talk or else we won’t grow and learn as much. It was a more comfortable environment because I didn’t feel like I had to give every correct answer or be perfect.

The program has now helped me have my own junior youth group because now I know what to do as an animator. Also it helped me to see the whole spectrum of service projects that are possible to do in a community. There’s a lot more we can do in our community beyond just picking up trash. Now when I think of service, I think of all things that can bring people happiness in the community. And the program has helped me learn to give without expecting anything in return. It could be the simplest things but as long as it is from the heart it’s beneficial.”

– Sasha, 16 years old, graduated in 2012

Junior Youth are Agents of Change

The example below from a junior youth group in the United States demonstrates the potential of junior youth to be agents of change and their capacity to bring about a significant and lasting change in their communities.

Members from one of the groups discovered that local government officials were considering building a landfill within several miles of where their group members lived and attended school.  Together the group members read articles from several local and regional newspapers and with the assistance of their animator began to analyze the size and impact that the landfill might potentially have on their rural lifestyle. Everyone was surprised to discover that their small town was soon to become the site of one of the largest landfills in the United States. Having recently completed one of the later junior youth texts, which helps the junior youth learn about their power of expression, the group consulted about the possibility of trying to organize a public meeting in which the youth could share their concerns about how this landfill would materially and spiritually impact their community. Because there were only two weeks until the final vote that would be taken to approve the landfill they decided instead to go to public places and talk to people about their concerns and encourage community members to do the same.

The first step the group took was to compile newspaper articles and information from the internet into folders and then to go to a local grocery store and begin talking to residents about the proposed landfill. Group members tried hard to always focus their discussion on their concern for the “material and spiritual well-being” of their community, central concepts in Drawing on the Power of the Word, a book which teaches the junior youth about their power of expression. Group members made efforts to avoid engaging in political or argumentative discussions about the landfill. The group also decided to create a statement expressing their concerns and encouraging the local politicians to seek out public opinions before any further action was taken. Each day over the next two weeks group members made efforts to talk with their friends, parents and other adults within the community reflecting on the effectiveness of the conversations that they were having with others, modifying their approach as they went.  Group members were excited when they attended the public meeting in which local officials decided to seek more public input before proceeding any further with the proposed landfill.

Although the issue of the landfill continued for some months to come, the group members continued to attend public meetings and engage in conversations with others.  During this time they also collected over 400 signatures of community members who also were concerned about the “material and spiritual well-being” of their town (in a town of approximately 900 people).  They presented these signatures to their local councilman during a County Council meeting.  Several weeks later the County Council decided not to proceed with building the landfill.

Following this experience, one of the animators had the following reflections: “What was clear is that the group’s response had been formulated by their study of the [text]. They realized that their words had power and if used deliberately they could affect positive change. Throughout the experience they were confident and united. They remained detached from the final outcome and remained focused on consulting about their next step and seeking God’s “confirmation” which of course they had learned about in Breezes of Confirmation (the first book that the junior youth study in their group).”

The animator further described how during one of their group meetings members began to debate about what they should do next when one of the group members explained to the group, “the only tool that we have is unity, the only way we can change our community is by building unity, everything that our group does needs to build unity. Otherwise we will not be contributing to the spiritual well-being of our community."    



 

Junior Youth in the Middle East

The following story demonstrates how a junior youth group can integrate and bring together the life of a community:

"We started our junior youth group in a refugee camp which is home to about 10,000 refugees.  In each camp there are different centers and agencies under the umbrella of UNICEF offering various services to the local community.  We met with one of the centers and introduced the program.  They offered us rooms and facilities to hold our group gatherings and invited the youth to join our program.  They also offered the necessary stationary and refreshments.  In the first month we had 3 groups of 10 to 15 participants each.  This number grew steadily and now we have 8 groups with a total of 80 participants. The administration of the center is happy with our work and believes in our good intentions and our pure motive to service.  They appreciate the program and find it very special and deep.

Our junior youth groups have conducted different service projects during the past three months.  The degree of complexity of the service projects is increasing systematically for the past period.  Since the refugee camp is located in a poor area, with poor hygiene and infrastructure, the junior youth came up with many ideas for service projects.

Initially one group decided to clean one street of the camp.  However, after they evaluated their project and found out that the area soon became dirty again, they printed flyers to introduce their group and the need for the people's support and distributed them to every house on that street. The next step the group took was inviting all the children on that street and gave them a lesson on cleanliness.

This initiative led to the children coming regularly to the center asking for more classes. As a result, we have now around 30 children attending moral classes for children taught by 8 junior youth participants of our main program.

Another group decided to paint the dirty school wall and after reflecting on this idea they thought that painting it in white would be "tempting" to fill it with bad language and meaningless expressions.  So they suggested that we draw something on it.  With the help of one artist, the group made a beautiful mural on this part of the wall and it was appreciated very much by the people of the camp, as well as the camp officials and managers.  The camp committee contacted us saying they want to offer us the material needed to finish the entire wall with similar beautiful paintings!

My brother and I meet every few weeks to reflect on our activities, discuss our challenges and plan for the next weeks.  These meetings, as well as our daily reports, became a useful tool to understand and conclude the learning.  One of the important things we learned is that we are now part of this community; we understand their needs and challenges.  The junior youth groups started at the community center with a small number, and then we had to build the group week by week.

Therefore, we went with the junior youth to visit their friends' houses, or to walk in their neighborhoods and invite their friends and tell them about the group.  This reach-out method proved very useful in venturing into the camp and meeting parents.  Now the camp population warmed up to us and got used to seeing us with the junior youth.  This was a success for us since even the long established community centers in the camp have difficulty to reach out to the youth and have a low number participating in their activities.

Visiting the parents of the junior youth was very important and had a positive impact on the attendance of the junior youth in our groups. Often after the visit the family encouraged their children and junior youth to join the groups and classes.  They also invited their friends, relatives and neighbors to join the program.  Some parents even joined and supported in the service projects."