Our Junior Youth Group, called “Lacy Blue” because some of our junior youth come from a neighborhood called Lacy Boulevard, is supported by a consistent team of adults from the community whom we call “the support team.” From the beginning, the presence of both youth and adults has been instrumental in keeping our group strong. We have always travelled to our neighborhood because no Bahá’ís live there and would sometimes meet only to find that none of our junior youth were available that day. Still, we would keep one another joyful and encouraged, consistently showing up until it became a consistent group of 6 to 8.
The group would not be able to meet if the adult support team did not pick up both the junior youth and me as the animator every Saturday, as I live in a different cluster and most of the time cannot drive. Because they provide so much organizational support for the group, it makes it easy for me to animate and be a full-time college student. The adults coordinate even seemingly small details like reaching out to the community for snacks. With all the technical arrangements covered, the animators effectively need only think about how to make each session meaningful for the junior youth. We can express our needs to the team and ask for advice based on what happens in the group, and they contribute practical resources, multiple perspectives, and a strong sensibility for planning to our efforts. The foundational support that they add to the group has also allowed us to continue uninterrupted through two different co-animators leaving for college and work.
The adults also bring a capacity to pursue developments that the youth would not have time to pursue or consider. For example, it was because one of our adults dedicated herself to contacting different community center directors in the area that we now meet in a space reserved for us weekly rather than outside on a picnic blanket as we did when our group began. That friend continues to be responsible for maintaining our relationship with the center.
These developments include core activities and branch initiatives. The adults have a unique capacity to form friendships with the parents and other adults that surround our group, just as the youth animators have a particular capacity to form friendships with the junior youth. Thanks to both the connections they have been able to cultivate and their capacity to arrange and organize, we have been able to host bi-monthly picnics for the parents to attend at the home of one of our adults, consolidating the sense of community that the group has generated. The adults have come to meet casually with one of the mothers, a very loving Muslim woman, on their free time and have talked with her about facilitating a devotional for the neighborhood in her home. As of this writing, the adults have accompanied her through two devotionals, which take place during the day while the animators are in class. They recently sent the whole team an email describing that the mother had made a large lunch for the friends when they arrived for the second devotional, and that they had shared a verse from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá about “friendship.” One of the friends described that “we agreed on everything we discussed about God, about the importance of education for girls and women, and about God’s amazing creation. We laughed a lot, too.”
In another example, one of the friends who used to be part of the support team makes a point of participating in local interfaith events hosted by the county, and she once asked me to attend an upcoming conversation on minority youth so that a youth could speak about the program. We prepared a handout outlining the children’s classes and Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program (JYSEP), once again owing to the organizational sensibilities of the adult friends. One of the friends picked me up on the day, and we stood up and gave a presentation on the JYSEP during the discussion. Now we have the contacts of county representatives and community development people interested in observing our group, faith leaders from such groups as the Hindu community wanting to explore collaboration between the JYSEP and their own youth programs, and have been included in the county’s new Committee on Children and Youth, the connection of the county’s efforts focused on improving life for local youth to the faith communities. Without the energies of our support team, the group would not have had the capacity to develop these accompanying core and branch activities.
Today, Lacy Blue is 1½ years strong. The growth it has brought and the reach it has developed in our community, Bahá’í and non-Bahá’í alike, could not have been achieved without the special capacities, energies, and time that both the youth and adults have contributed to bring out one another’s strengths. I have experience animating with two other groups besides Lacey Blue. One, composed of mostly Bahá’í junior youth and of which I was the main animator, stopped meeting largely because I had so little energy and time as a student to form adequate relationships with the parents or put thought into the lessons, much less put energy into core activities that might sprout from the group. I was a co-animator in the other group, supporting another animator who felt limited. While the two college-youth were better able to form relationships with the parents and put thought into the lessons, largely owing to the efforts of the other animator, we still did not have as much time or energy between us to create activities for the adults or extend the group’s impact into other community groups, or to form as intimate a relationship with the parents as an adult presence has enabled Lacy Blue to do. Of the three groups, Lacy Blue should have been the most challenging to maintain, having faced such obstacles as language barriers with most of the parents and adult friends, having no initial space to meet and being the farthest distance from most of the team members. Yet with the adults and youth maintaining one another’s joy, we are not the least bit tired.
Youth may have unique energies and capacities to contribute, but we can do so much more when supported by older friends. And in addition to lightening our load and serving as a constant source of morale, the support team’s strong assistance of the youth has also served to add momentum to the activities that each of the adults have pursued on their own. Together, we can enable one another to transcend our limits. The “youth movement” is not only for youth, and I believe that there is a large untapped potential for growth amongst the friends who feel that they are excluded from the current focus. And so I think this is an area of the JYSEP in which to pursue more learning and experience – welcoming and encouraging the involvement and support of our adult community.
“… experience has demonstrated that the process of community building falters if there is a sense that the work of the Plan is confined to the young or to certain neighborhoods alone… The full pattern of activity envisioned for a thriving community requires involvement of the generality of believers. The friends everywhere can be assisted to overcome dichotomies, to grasp the intent of the Plan’s community-building activities, and to determine the place each will choose in contributing to the collective effort.” – Universal House of Justice, 5 January 2015