Safe

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We often ask youth to be in a vulnerable space; to share about their lives, their pasts, their families, their hurts and the road that has led them to where they are today. It may take time to break down those walls that have been built up for so long. Youth will continue to ask questions about whether it is actually safe to share like you say it is, they wrestle with conflicting values of sharing something or not depending on the adult in their life, and in the end, they may not be sure you can handle their truth. No wonder youth may not be sharing or speaking up as you had hoped when you first sat amongst them.

If the risk of vulnerability increases, we want to increase the feeling of safety.

When we ask youth to be vulnerable and open up with set the stage for them to feel safe.

We break into small groups for our conversations about life, specific topics, and teaching skills. For moments that we can anticipate a high vulnerability we break these small groups, into even smaller groups. It makes the asks to be vulnerable a little bit safer.

Right now many of our groups are mixed gender. Volunteers and the youth who are showing up usually determine this to us. However, for big moments we will always split up youth by gender with the same gender leader. This can get tricky sometimes but conversations that include topics about sex, mental health, and abuse should always been in a place of safety. To help youth feel safe, we will continue to reevaluate what a typical group looks like.

If we are anticipating a tough conversation with youth get another trusted adult involved. Maybe it is their parent, coach, or a previous small group leader. It may help hold you accountable for a tough conversation. To help a youth feel safe, be vulnerable with your own life. Strategic sharing and normalizing a conversation can decrease any sense of guilt, shame, or doubt and allow youth to begin to talk about a big moment.

Safety is vital to youth beginning to process the moments of the past and present so they can walk confidently into the future.

Be Mindful

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Something that I have been trying to work on with youth these days is the concept of mindfulness. Simply put, mindfulness helps our youth be in the moment. It can help them make better decisions, control their emotions, and helps them relate to other youth better. There is a lot that can go into mindfulness, different techniques or directions that depend on who is talking about it. The three that I try to help youth focus on are mindful feelings, mindful bodies, and mindful communication. Helping our youth be aware of what they are thinking or feeling, what their bodies are telling them and how they are talking and listening to others can make a major difference in the life of a youth. Mindfulness can help bring a sense of control back to the lives of a teenager whose world is often in chaos.

When we are talking about mindful feelings, we also look to the thoughts behind the feelings. Helping youth identify what the emotion is they are feeling, whether anger, sadness, joy or any one of the many emotions we feel as people can start the process to being in the moment. We worry about the past and get anxious about the future and that can lead us to not thinking about the moment. There are two big questions that I like to ask youth who may be feeling overwhelmed: What are you like when you are well? What are some things you need to help you get there? These questions can be a great conversation starter with youth you work with.

Mindful bodies help us be aware of what our bodies are telling us. I typically help youth do some sort of breathing, I personally love a timed rhythm of 4 seconds in, 4 seconds hold, and 4 seconds out for a good breathing pattern to calm us down. While breathing, I ask youth to be aware of their surroundings, take notes of your five senses, do a body scan for where you feel tense. A question I work with youth on through this is what are some early warning signs that your body gives you that you are getting overwhelmed or not doing ok. Many of the responses include they change body posture, clench fists, start crying for no reason, chest feels tight, or get extra tired.

We then move on to who we can use mindfulness when we are communicating. The big part of this is using active listening to be in the moment, not just waiting for your turn to talk or getting distracted in the conversation. Simply asking a youth how do they know when someone isn’t listening to them, and what does it look like when they do can start a conversation and good practice in to using mindfulness to communicate.

Mindfulness is about being in the moment, being aware of what is happening. Many times we get bogged down by the past, future, and our busyness. When we can help young people take control of themselves, we can see them thrive.

Growth

One of our core values is growth, particularly in how it plays out for personal development. Growth shapes how we make decisions, how we advocate for youth, how we do training’s, and it shapes our conversations. As a leader it is important to not just sit on our laurels, but to continue to push ourselves to learn new things, discover ourselves more and see ourselves grow into the person we aspire to be. It is a main tenet we tell our youth, that who they were before this moment, is not who they need to be in the next. We have a say in who we are becoming, and that is powerful.

A huge way we have continued to grow is simply in learning new things. We want to instill in our youth a passion for learning and a drive to be an individual that can influence their families and neighborhoods to reach their full potential. We sign up for classes, register for new degrees, dive into new activities and the bravest of all, try new foods. All of this in the pursuit of becoming.

We love that we get to partner with Orange. They are a group of people that love influencing the next generation and empowering leaders to do the same. They do this through Weekly emails, video training’s, and host amazing conferences. While they are geared to helping churches and families influence the next generation, we have always been able to apply their knowledge to anything we do, the programs we partner with or the youth and families we spend our time with. If you are looking for an amazing conference that will help you grow and develop, check out ReThink Leadership Conference. Orange runs this conference during the same time as the Orange Conference, but it is geared to leadership positions specifically. This is your chance to “rethink, rehash, and reshape” how you engage youth and families.

If you passion for growing, challenging yourself and learning, check out Rethink Leadership Conference. We can’t wait to see you there!

Life Together

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Working with youth has a lot of rewards, but can also be very challenging. As caring adults in the life of young people we believe in the power of relationships to help us connect with kids. Relationships are a two way street and we must be willing to put into it just as much as we expect to receive in return. If we expect our youth to open up about themselves, we should be willing to open up as well. Now, we do expect there to be boundaries and there shouldn’t be a time where you use your youth as your support network. However, when we can give the youth we work with a place of honor in our lives, an inside scoop to our important moments, it shows them they matter, they are valued, and they are cared for.

For my wedding, we invited a whole bunch of youth we work with. It was a blast, and we all danced our butts off. We just found out we are expecting a baby, we found a fun way to break the news to the youth we work with. These moments are big moments in the life of anyone. Youth, however, are often some of the last to hear about these things. What if they were first?

When we prioritize youth in our lives, they see that they are a priority.

Social media allows us to demonstrate this in an easy way. It seems like youth live by the old adage “If it isn’t posted on Instagram, does it even matter?” When you go out with a bunch of youth, share about it. It lets youth know that you are present and that they are an important part of your life. In return, get ready for youth to share news with you, open up in a new way and engage the programs you are building with a passion.

Better

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   Growth, next steps, acceleration, expansion, all of these are words we use to convey the need for our programs to continue to get better. This concept of getting better isn’t some arbitrary statement but one that should be deeply grounded in your programs mission and vision. There should be a drive to be better at engaging youth, better at recruiting quality staff, and better at  impacting your communities.

Are you serving the youth in your communities to the best of your ability?

   This simply question should continue to drive your organizations steps in evaluation and improvement. From this questions stems conversations about community partnerships, family connections, funding, staffing, mission, vision and what your best might look like.

   One of the tools that we use to evaluate our programming is a SWOT analysis. We reflect on the past few months to year and create a table that looks at our Strengths, Weaknesses, our Opportunities and the Threats to our success. This exercise will be able to help lead your discussion on what has been working to make you successful but also allows you to identify ways to improve. This strategic planning tool has led to new initiatives, new conversations and partnerships that allow our youth to thrive.

   A major step to answer the question of serving youth in your community should be in asking youth themselves. Incorporating youth voice and perspective into any youth organization is vital in the evaluation and improvement of a youth program. Many organizations proclaim to be for youth voice, but simply err on a side of youth tokenism where they do not have any real say or power in the programming. If youth are the ones we are hoping to impact the most, shouldn’t they have a voice in how to do that best? From creating youth panels, youth evaluations, or more natural conversations with stakeholders (directors, community members, program directors) are all ways to incorporate youth voice.

   The youth that we work with deserve our best. By creating systems that allow for us to evaluate and improve the programs we work in we position ourselves to maximize our impact.

Reflect, Evaluate & Improve

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As we begin 2019 it is a natural time to reflect on the previous year and dream about what this upcoming year will bring. For your youth program it is also a natural time to evaluate your program and look for innovative ways to improve. Setting a culture that values evaluating and improvement is vital to a successful program. When we don’t take on this viewpoint we are in jeopardy of allowing our programs to grow stagnant, outdated and make choices that are not aligned to our programs mission and vision.

During these next couple weeks, take time to examine your programs and ask a few questions about what is working and not working. Are your current systems and procedures helping you to meet your program goals? Are we serving youth to the best of our ability? Does our programming reflect the values of our organization? What is working well? Where is an opportunity for us?

By asking these questions, and having a conversation with your staff, you can begin to get a clearer view of your program and identify areas of improvement. The next step is to create organizational goals based on those areas that need improvement and how to sustain what is working well. When we create a culture that values evaluation and looking at ways to improve, it sets the tone that allows for personal development within our programs.

What are you doing to get better today?

‘Tis the Season

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’Tis the Season for giving. From Christmas trees, hot cocoa and loads of presents, everyone is excited during this season. Stay tuned throughout the next couple weeks as we do some gift giving of our own.

This season is also a time to give thanks. Being grateful for the past year, thankful for our friends and all the things we have received. This week we want to share about one our friends, Orange. Over the past few years they have given a lot to a many people by sharing strategies and resources to help organizations impact the people around them.

One of the greatest gifts that Orange has given us isn’t something material though. It’s funny, sometimes the best gifts are something that you can’t hold in your hand.

For us, that gift was passion. They have helped to  reignite a fire in our organization that has allowed us to connect to our community, help youth and engage families.

It is easy to get stuck. Doing the same thing, feeling like your efforts don’t matter, and hearing a  lot of negativity from burnt out people can sometimes make all that we do seem small compared to what stands against us.

Orange helps breathe life back into the our efforts. From working alongside people in the trenches with us, hearing the positive things that are happening around the world, looking at the strengths of our youth and leveraging everything we have to make a difference in our communities.

This year, get plugged in with Orange. They’ll help you build a strategy for your programs, you’ll hear success stories and get connected to a community of people that believe in uplifting communities. Reignite the passion that got you where you are now.

It’s Personal

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Orange Conference is right around the corner and soon you will be able to call dibs on all the great speakers, information, and fun that is coming. If you are looking for a conference that gives you the latest information, the best strategy and the most fun then Orange is where it’s at. On October 18th, registration will be at a huge discount so sign yourself, and your team, up to go.  This year’s conference theme “It’s Personal” will help your program reach more youth and leave a legacy in your community for years to come.

Why go? It changed how I engage young people, families and the community. Orange Conference helped me to see the bigger impact that youth groups can have on parents, schools and communities. They helped inspire me to do more for my staff and volunteers and gave me the tools I needed for them to do more for our youth.

One of the biggest areas they helped me to grow was in being strategic. With limited time, limited resources, and limited help I have to choose my battles wisely. Orange was great to see how I can create different events to impact the lives of young people. While there were good things happening, new strategies helped to improve systems, people and provided intentional steps that allowed our programs to flourish.

I can’t wait to head back for 2019; for the new theme, for awesome speakers, new ideas and to see old friends. Can’t wait to see you all there.

Caught in the Act

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Finding ways to encourage staff and volunteers is vital to a successful organization. Yet, we forget to do it, or we can feel like we might embarrass someone, or hurt someone’s feelings because if they were “left out.” Giving people a shout out can shift the culture of your group to something amazing.

Instead of things to fix, it is the vision of something that is working.

Instead of negative behaviors, it is encouraging one another as we do the right thing.

Instead of correction, it is spotlighting successes.

One way we here are working to stay positive and focus on the great things we are doing is adding a section to our weekly communication. Every week we send out emails to our staff and volunteers. We have recently started a section of that email called “caught in the act.” It simply a time to highlight staff and volunteers who are doing things that meet the expectations of our mission and visions, as well as, things that go above and beyond. From innovative ways of supporting youth to highlighting the ways people are supporting one another in the workplace.

Writing simple “thank you” notes is another way to show appreciation. Every month, we have our team leaders send out a few thank you notes to their teams, volunteers and supporters simply saying thanks. What is awesome is our team leaders are able to tailor those notes to the individuals specifically.

By highlighting the people that make the organization successful we can start building a culture that supports our youth best.

Partnering with Parents

 

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There is not a more influential person in the life of a youth you work with than their parents. This is why it is so important to partner with parents. The things you are guiding youth through and the skills you are developing in them can have maximum impact when they are reinforced at home. To bridge the gap between your program and the home, communication is key to set parents up for success.

Having a plan for communication that is consistent allows parents to know what to expect and when to expect it. The goal for the weekly parents email is to inform, equip and encourage. We inform parents of events, programs, and discussions that are happening in group. Then, we can equip parents by giving them conversation guides and questions to further the conversation at home. Equipping parents also looks like sending out resources to reinforce the power of family. Parenting is tough, working with youth is tough, yet when we can encourage one another we realize that we are all in it together.

Our friends at Orange set up youth programs to do just that. They have a new Parent Cue Live event that will help parents rediscover what their kids need most in each phase of life, reprioritize how to engage their kids, reimagine how to talk with their kids about critical issues and rethink how parents can partner with churches and other organizations to impact the future of their kid’s life. We are super excited for these events coming up. Check out the website here to learn about when they are coming to a city near you.

We wanted to give you something else for free! We created a back to school guide on ways to partner with your kid’s teacher. If parents, teachers and other caring adults all work together to influence the lives of our kid’s they will create a place where youth can thrive.