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.

Group Identity Crisis

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When working in community coalitions we must be united in our efforts. These groups are made up of agencies and individuals that share similar goals, but still hold onto their unique systems, procedures, or niche in the industry. Yet, each organization is not the puzzle unto themselves, but merely a piece of a bigger puzzle that we need one another to be a part of.  Here are a few ways that we have been able to clarify our group identity, create cohesion, build momentum and impact the lives of youth in our community:

Clarify the Win

Many of these coalitions are struggling with group identity. They ask themselves: who are we and why are we meeting? One of the first steps then is to clarify the win. We re-evaluate our mission and vision. Personally, I love the simplicity of a Vision Frame. Many churches use this model, however, I have found it useful in other organizations, non-profits, youth programs, youth councils and coalitions. We go through what the vision of the group is, and we word our mission in a way that allows us to take steps to meet that vision. For instance, one of the coalitions vision is to see youth free from substance abuse. Therefore, this particular groups mission is to inform and equip community organizations, schools and parents about resources in the community to help young people struggle with substance use. We can then create measures and strategies to help us know if what we are doing is actually working. The values of the vision frame help us maintain our group identity and guides the action steps and decisions that we make. For example, one of our values is youth voice. We then make sure that we have a young person at the table to help inform decisions and any publications we produce. Through this process, we have been able to quickly build group cohesion, come up with action steps

Just Hit Something

I used to coach football for middle schoolers. As they were just learning the fundamentals of the game there would be times when mistakes were made, assignments got messed up, or they would just look puzzled. As we corrected the mistakes and made progress towards to everyone being on the same page, I would give the players some advice. I would say, “when in doubt, hit something, and hit it hard.” These groups would do the same thing, puzzled glances, unsure of action steps and hesitation that stopped the group from the work we were supposed to do. I suggested that we just hit something, and hit it hard. At the same work group, our mission was to inform the community about resources to help adolescents with substance use. I suggest we start with a community guide to available resources. We all pooled together to talk about what resources are available, the steps parents would take to get help, conversation starters and contact information for agencies. The plan is to distribute it to schools, our individual organizations, and programs that work with youth in our county.

From these things, people have said we have made more progress in a month then in two years. It happened because we were able to step back, clarify the win for the group, find ways to work together in what unites us, and we decided to take action, even if it was a small thing.

Momentum

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Most youth programs have a major event sometime throughout the year. Maybe it is a Fall Weekend, a fundraiser dinner, a conference, a big training or a week long Summer Camp. These experiences are often the pinnacle of the year for volunteers, staff and the youth you work with. It is ‘THE’ event you want youth to attend. Youth leave these events charged up, equipped, and ready for what is next. Yet, programs often fall short in the follow-up. The momentum of these “mountain-top” experiences can do amazing things for your group if you allow them too. Here are a few ideas to keep the momentum going and leverage them in your programs.

Post Event Meetings should be scheduled even before you host you big event. These events help youth continue to form the connections they made at camp, at the conference, or when you went somewhere for the weekend. Challenge them on what they learned while away and what they are doing with the new information. Make sure to invite ALL youth, not just those who were able to attend your event. Make it a celebration!

In leverage the “mountain top” experience you can use it to help recruit new youth and build some hype and energy around your program. Get on social media and like all of the youths videos and pictures of them at camp. Use it to build conversations, tag new youth, and even as promotions. Have a contest for the best recap video, and use that video to promote camp for the next year. That video can also go to youth who were not able to attend and families so that they can stay in the loop.

Using the momentum of these BIG events can also help you to create some changes. We were able to create camp as a “vision” of what we want regular meetings to be. Coming off a first camp with youth, we were able to shift some culture things that needed to change based off the trust, fun, and relationships that were built at camp. Using this trust to make a shift in culture with the positive things in mind can be a great strategy.

Post-event strategies are vital to continue with the momentum and energy created during your event.  Don’t miss the opportunity to connect with youth, families, volunteers and staff to bring the energy of these BIG experiences into the daily grind of your programs.

Losing the Battle

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Are you willing to lose a battle to win the war?

This thought recently came to me when talking with a room full of probation officers. They were upset that their youth weren’t engaging with community programs. I asked them how these conversations go, how these programs get selected and I asked them about youth themselves. The current process is a P.O. would select a program they felt fit the youth and tell the youth to attend. For me, this current process is losing the battle and the war for the hearts of our young people.

Breaking down the situation I encouraged them to define the win, which was to get young people connected to a positive community program. This is the goal, this is the win.  We began a conversation that would empower youth to select programs that played to their strengths and brainstormed strategies for the P.O’s to be more than just P.O.s but positive adults in the lives of these youth to encourage them and even attend programs with them.

What the P.O.’s would have to lose something: their feeling of control.

Are we willing to lose the battle of control over young people, in order to empower them to make decisions that align with the values in which we teach them, in order to win the war. Can we set aside the secondary, and focus on the primary.

Somewhere you are struggling with coercing a young person; struggling to engage them in the program, to change a behavior, or to eat their vegetables. What would it look like to empower them to make a decision, to offer a third option, to teach them the value and the end goal of the decision-making process. When we can empower youth to make their own decisions we communicate that we trust them and believe in them.

Fear is a Liar

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I still think there is a possibility that there is a shark in any swimming pool I go into. There is this small nervousness of going in the deep end and not being able to touch bottom. This past weekend I was able to help a friends son swim around for the first time in the deep end. There was a lot of nervousness and fear but we took steps towards the ultimate goal. He swam around in a float, walked around the edge, hung onto me as I waded in the deep end, practice floating, and swam back and forth in the shallow end without touching the bottom. By the end, he swam in the deep end  and was jumping off the diving board with no fear!

Over the years, we have seen an increase in youth who are worried, anxious and fearful of the world around them. As adults we get to help youth to deal with and overcome these paralyzing emotions. Here are some ideas that have help me work with youth to overcome fears and worries.

I try to take their fears seriously, even if they aren’t that serious. By validating their fear, you are able to acknowledge it and begin the process to move past it.

Communicate with youth about when you were able to overcome your fears and the result.

Take baby steps and don’t push them past their comfort level. Create a strategy together of what those steps look like.

Be close to them as they work through their own worries. We all are capable of pushing past our comfort zones when we know someone bigger has our back.

You may even be in a season of worry and fear. Who can you connect with to help you overcome those feelings?

Anxious

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When we connect relationally with youth, we get a first row seat to some of the anxiety that fills their lives.  By being equipped to have a conversation with youth you can really help them get the help them overcome fears.

Ask youth some of these questions to process their anxiety:

When do you feel anxious? What happens and what do you feel?

Do you notice any patterns of triggers that make you anxious?

When you are most anxious, how does that impact your mood, activities and relationships?

Do you have any coping strategies for your anxiety? When does the feeling of anxiousness subside?

If you could handle your anxiety better, what do you think your life would look like?

Through these questions you can help youth to do a variety of things. You can start to watch out for triggers in their lives, and develop strategies to avoid them. Help youth to challenge the negative thoughts and beliefs by being a supportive person for them, give them reassurance about their strengths and abilities. Be patient, dealing with fears and anxiety can be a process. Make sure to connect with parents and have youth talk to them about their anxiety. Encourage youth to see a licensed therapist if you see signs of extreme and irrational worry, physical tension (like unexplained headaches) and if you notice an excessive need for reassurance during particular moments.

Stay informed about what anxiety looks like for youth, examine your programs for potential triggers (like calling up the new kid to the front), and help connect them to community resources if appropriate.

Flying with the Helicopter

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When talking about the challenges of working with youth, it amazes me how often it is not the youth or their problems that are most often brought up, it is their parents. It can be tough trying to work with youth in any context when there is an overbearing parent. Yet, despite frustrations, there is a lot you can learn from these parents.

  1. When talking with parents that can be overbearing I try to get to the root of the complaints or the situation. For instance, if a parent is talking about all the risks, liabilities and issues that can come up with youth ministry I get a sense that safety is a big value for them. I then say something like “I get the sense that the safety of the youth is a big deal for you, I hope you know we don’t take safety lightly.” I then can show them some of the areas and procedures that demonstrate that and inquire about what solutions they could think of. If you don’t have some of those procedures and systems in place, it is a legitimate ask for you as a leader to have.
  2. For me, I can easily get frustrated when people come to me laying out all the wrongs and problems of the group without balancing it out with what is working. I often take these conversations and navigate them into a place that is solution focused, and challenge those people giving criticisms to offer solutions too. Then, I empower them to think through how to implement their solutions and go for it.
  3. Often, overbearing parents have a heart of gold. They want what is best for you, their kids, and the group. Legitimize their voice in the process and don’t shut them out because you feel annoyed in the moment. What these parents have to say is important, they see things differently than you do and by finding solutions you can help other parents of the group build more trust with the programs.
  4. There is a no one more influential in a kids life than their parents. Don’t forget that. Look for ways to partners together to improve systems, safety and remove barriers in the programs you run.
  5. Sometimes, those overbearing parents become volunteer leaders simply because they don’t want to leave their child. Talk to them about a boundary and inquire what they are going through as a parent. Remember, we aren’t just working for the betterment of youth, but for the families as a whole.

Building rapport with parents in essential to running any youth program. Learn how to communicate and speak to the issues and priorities that they put value too. You will have a better group for it.

New

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Coming into a ministry as the new leader can be tough. There are various expectations, concerns, and procedures to learn, not to mention all the names of the people involved in the group. As I have recently found myself being the new lead for a youth program, here are a few steps that have helped me to navigate the transition.

Being in the position only a couple weeks, I have tried to hear the wisdom from the leaders who have been there longer than I have. I want to honor their commitment and time by not rushing in and making it all about me. They know the youth best, have taken years to foster amazing relationships and know what works and doesn’t. I am in the process still of having meetings with them all just to pick their brains, hear their hearts and talk about the next season. Empowering leaders to take ownership of the group, honor them by listening, and create a conversation of what is next.

There have been a few events already where there are a ton of families, adults, and youth. Coming in, I have fought for my time to spend it with the youth. The first few months I have devoted to simply build relationships with these youth. There is a student leadership team and I am usually asking them a bunch of questions, laughing with them, trying to give them more responsibility and buying them a slice of pizza. Don’t get too caught up in the procedures and systems that you forget to actually spend time with the youth.

I am also spending the first few months intentionally starting small. There are a ton of amazing things happening and there are some things that could be improved on. I hope that by looking at small tweaks that will have big pay offs I can start to build more trust over time. If this is day one for you, don’t go nuts and feel like you need to scrap everything and start new. From my experience this usually ends badly. Remember, build up relationships, build up trust, create a vision together and leaders will walk with you into fresh ideas you may bring to the table.

If it is day one for you somewhere, congrats! If you have been in the same place for awhile, how can you begin to look at your program with fresh eyes? Get a mercenary to come evaluate your program or follow other programs on social media to get some of the best ideas!