Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Tons of learning about junior youth, reflection, and justice

Much exciting learning and progress about junior youth groups is taking place in the Southwest region. We are very happy to share excerpts from a regional newsletter about this important core activity that is steadily emerging in many clusters.

First is an overview of the training institute material that prepares individuals to become animators of junior youth groups: Ruhi Book 5, “Releasing the Powers of Junior Youth”, currently available in pre-publication format.

The first unit of the book explores specific capacities and characteristics that define the period of youth: “A special point in the life of an individual.” One important capacity is developing and exercising spiritual power. Also explored in this unit is the preparation required for a life of selfless service, a sense of purpose, and the role that youth play in advancing spiritual and material progress. . . .

The second unit of Book 5 explores the immense potentialities of junior youth, the age group whose spiritual empowerment is the aim of the program. It examines the impact of the social environment on junior youth as well as the need for spiritual empowerment.

The final unit examines the types of materials used in the program, and helps animators to practically consider the concepts and elements that will be needed for a successful group.

Next are some insights gained from the collective experience of junior youth groups in the region:

Healthy exercise has been an important element for many junior youth groups in the region. Some groups go for walks before they study the materials, others play kick-ball at the end of their group, and some dance.

Complementary activities help enhance the concepts in the materials. Animators are finding that, as they become more confident with the materials, they can plan activities that are creative and meaningful.

Bonds of friendship are formed not only among the junior youth, but also with their animator. When an animator sees themselves as a part of the group and not an instructor, the junior youth feel empowered to take on more and more levels of responsibility within the group.

Groups can develop service projects that mean something to them and their community. One group cooked enchiladas for their community and presented issues that were affecting their families, offering solutions that they could work collectively towards. At a later date, this same group decided to make piƱatas for the children attending a community gathering. The junior youth enhanced their artistic abilities by carrying out this act of service.

This next story depicts some of the steps taken to form a group and get it up and running.

A and B are two youth. With the help of A’s parent, they decided to start a junior youth group in a neighborhood that already had an established children’s class. It was located in an area with several housing complexes of about 50-60 homes each. It was clear that this location could potentially have a group of 10 to 20 junior youth.

The next step they took was to meet the junior youth in the neighborhood. They first met two girls who were both so excited to start the group that they eagerly introduced them to the whole neighborhood. A and B consulted with them and came up with a plan to invite more junior youth in their community. Both the animators and junior youth practiced how they were going to introduce the program. One of junior youth would say, “Hi, my name is __ and I’m 12 years old. We’d like to invite you to our junior youth group. We meet every Saturday at noon.”

A and B would then introduce the program’s concepts and shared a flyer outlining the fundamentals of the program. The team of 4 went into the neighborhood, and 14 junior youth confirmed their participation.

A and B realized it was important to be consistent and follow through on plans of action. At their first few meetings with the junior youth, A and B talked about a sense of purpose, introduced the materials and discussed the key elements of a group. It is now in its fifth week and progressing along.

As a team of two, A and B are trying to learn as much as they can each week. This process of learning is enhanced through the skills of reflection. Many animators find reflection an important part of the learning process. Some keep a journal, others email each other stories, and most take a few minutes after each meeting to consider their experiences and the group’s dynamics.

Finally, we share this account of an activity organized for one junior youth group: riding their city’s light-rail train together. This may seem like a very simple activity, but the animator turned it into a profoundly rich experience.

This was an outing about justice. The group rode the light-rail together. A lot of consideration went into the nature of the group outside its typical environment. They had to keep in mind concern for members of the group and making sure that no one got lost in the crowd. They considered the idea of what is appropriate behavior in large crowds. They were also conscious about being considerate of space and mindful of people with disabilities or the elderly and responding to their needs. The junior youth observed this without being prodded to do so.

Being aware of everything around them and observing their environment provided profound opportunities to develop their inner sight and expand their spiritual perception. The group observed posters and banners with biblical quotes and engaged in discussions on religion and issue related to justice. They noticed people that are homeless in a different light than they usually do; this prompted them to recognize the injustice around them, and they were promoted to express their thoughts around the injustice that exists in their daily interactions.

This experience transformed the group. Where in the beginning behavior could be sometimes silly, everyone shifted and transformed to be sincere and respectful. This outing, on something as simple as public transportation, provided a space to do this and to express their thoughts.

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