Enter, Rejoice, and Come In

Dear Friends,

Once upon a time, I had a bad case of Youth Group Envy. What’s that? Here’s a definition.

youth group envy [noun]

  1. to wish one had a youth group as booming and robust as that of another congregation

“The DRE felt a twinge of youth group envy when her colleagues described their sizeable youth groups.”

Not too many ago, UUS:E’s Youth Group was dangerously close to extinction. The number of high school youth participating in Religious Education and other church activities was dwindling considerably, and we were at a loss as to how to remedy that. We even began to wonder if attempting to remedy it made any sense. Were we investing too much time and energy into a program that seemed destined to fail? Perhaps the concept of a Youth Group was no longer relevant to today’s teens? Maybe. But we weren’t quite ready to throw in the towel. And so we persisted.

We gathered our teens together, provided them with plenty of pizza, and asked them to talk about how they felt UUS:E could best support them. And then we listened and took notes! Lots of listening and lots of notes later, we began to understand that our youth do indeed still crave opportunities for in-person connection with one another and that spending time with UU peers is something they value.

We discovered that what we’d interpreted as apathy on the part of the youth, or a disinterest in connecting with their peers, was not that at all, but rather an appropriate response to what we were offering them—a Youth Group designed not with their needs in mind, but instead fashioned after the youth groups we knew (and loved) in generations past.

The reality is that today’s youth are busier, more tired, and more stressed than teens of twenty or thirty years ago. It turns out that what they most need from us, their spiritual community, is a safe container in which they can just be. A place where they feel supported and loved, listened to and valued. A place where adults provide guidance and navigation as needed, but make sure that the voices of the youth are always heard.

So we scrapped our old blueprints and started fresh. Thanks to the hard work of a very dedicated group of adults, and our teens’ willingness to keep showing up even when none of us really knew what we were doing, UUS:E now has an active, thriving Youth Group that continues to grow each year. Under the leadership of Michelle Spadaccini, our lead volunteer Youth Group advisor, our teens meet weekly and spend their time together in a variety of ways, with a very intentional balance of active engagement in the community and downtime to simply socialize and relax. On any given Sunday—and sometimes other days of the week—you might find our Youth Group organizing a bake sale, devouring a bag of Doritos, lighting a chalice, doing a check-in, watching a movie, preparing breakfast burritos, playing Dungeons & Dragons, attending or participating in a worship service, making mosaics, volunteering at the fair, helping Buildings & Grounds with fall clean up, or just hanging around in their beloved “couch room”. All of these have value – even hanging around the couch room. Especially hanging around the couch room.

Suffice it to say, I no longer have Youth Group Envy!

Gina Campellone, Director of Religious Education

With love,

Gina