Bold Directions in Structured Youth Programming

First Unitarian in Rochester NY has made some really exciting changes in how their youth program is structured. While they have a large youth program, the philosophy of these changes is accessible to youth programs of every size. Here’s an over view from Sheila Schuh, DRE:

Based on the suggestions in Sustainable Youth Ministry, we have changed the structure of our Youth Group in significant ways-

1. Movement from a Youth Director to a Youth Coordinator/Youth Advisor Specialist Team. This model takes all the responsibility and channel of support from one director and creates a network of adults for youth to connect and work with. Youth Advisors have particular program areas they provide support for (Social Justice, Spirituality, Education, etc) We have also let go of the idea of having a highly charismatic youth director to having a coordinator who is grounded in UU values with a highly collaborative style, working with a team of passionate youth and adults to sustain membership.

2. Movement from limited calendar planning with no defined aims to advanced calendar planning with defined UU balanced programming area objectives. Youth organize the calendar based on these areas: Social Justice, Education, Community Connections/Fuun, Spirituality. They have had 2 major brainstorming and slotting days this year and simply select and slot their priority ideas. Leadership and connection with intergenerational community life is built into the framework.

3. Movement from an all-youth and ad-hoc subgroups leadership model to a Child Adult Leadership Forum (leadership team, all with defined roles) which includes youth in double ratio to advisors and staff. The CALF team meets separately to handle everything from firming up the calendar to making policy decisions and trouble-shooting changes needed to best serve the group. Roles include Youth Moderator, Junior Moderator, Education, Social Justice, Community Connections/Fuun, Food Coordinator, Secretary, etc. This model supports collaboration between a youth leader and advisor specialist to help make a session’s program event happen.

4. Movement from a system in which adults hold youth accountable for violations of covenant and guidelines, to a collaborative restorative circles model. Issues are brought to the Youth Coordinator and DRE, and a team of peers selected by the youth involved go through a multi-step circle process to resolve the conflict.

5. Movement from a splintered communication system to a weekly parent newsletter, active facebook page, and pre-con mandatory meetings.

Youth continue to affirm the model and have the leadership structure in place to make organic changes as needed. They are currently revising roles needed and their definitions for the upcoming year. We are also considering how to build skills needed in leadership earlier in the RE program.

Sheila Schuh, DRE
First Unitarian Church of Rochester, NY
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