As people there is an innate desire in us all to feel like we belong to community; to feel like we are part of a something bigger than ourselves. People call them by different names whether it’s tribes, small groups, or clubs we all have this same need. The first basic need for youth was a feeling of safety and the presence of structure. The second tackles the desire in us all to experience belonging, to have group membership and be actively engaged there.
I think of the kids in Stranger Things that always stick together and formed bonds with one another. If you have never seen the show I suggest you watch it just to see the bond between friends. When things get scary they count on one another, they laugh with one another and they challenge one another to be better. Relationships matter and they especially matter to the youth we work with. A successful program is one where everyone belongs and they feel like they matter there.
In groups that I have been a part of that have seen this success, these programs have these things in common:
Youth Show Up for One Another
When one youth is going through a tough time, other youth rally around them for support. They go to sporting events to cheer one another on. Youth know that other members of the group are there for them and can help them when they need it.
Respect and Care for One Another
Youth demonstrate that they respect one another. They listen to others perspectives and share opinions and beliefs. They feel safe within that group to share deep things and know that other people won’t ridicule or manipulate them with that information. Sometimes, respect looks like caring for someone enough to challenge them to be better.
Celebrate One Another
Youth love to party and have fun. Youth who are feel that they belong often celebrate with one another. Whether it is a birthday party or congratulating someone on a great test score, youth look for ways to encourage and celebrate with the other people in the group.
In your programs and events take some time to think about how you can promote a sense of belonging in the youth that are present. Is there a particular youth that needs this feeling more than others? Can you set up some veteran youth to make new, and younger, youth feel welcome?