GA Youth & Young Adult Fall Town Hall Responding to GA 2020 & Introducing a New Yaya GA Approach

By Stevie Carmody

On Thursday, October 29th, more than 50 Unitarian Universalist youth, young adults, youth & young adult ministry professionals, committee members, and UU leaders virtually gathered for a GA Youth & Young Adults at General Assembly Fall Town Hall.

Convened by the Office of Lifespan Faith Engagement’s Rev. Sara Green, Alex Sherwood, Anna Bethea, and me (Rev. Stevie Carmody), we sought to introduce a new staffing structure and program focus for GA Youth and YA@GA. And we wanted to substantively respond to demands of the GA 2020 Youth and Young Adult leaders when they resigned their leadership earlier this year.

On a deeper level, I reflect that this meeting was a small part of the UUA’s work of repairing and strengthening the trust between young people and the institution. While speaking to the deeper histories and patterns between young people and the UUA is beyond the scope of this post, I just want to acknowledge that it informs how I approach an event like this. For instance, as a staff member, I recognize how interactions between the UUA have sometimes been a one-way street (as I learned deeply while at this constituent listening session in 2019), and that more transparency, listening, and accountability is required from those of us who fulfill the responsibility and authority of our roles at the UUA.

You can watch the entire Town Hall below, and read on for summaries, resources, and information about joining the YA@GA and GA Youth staff for GA 2021!

Responding to Demands

In the lead up to GA 2020, following the switch to an all-virtual General Assembly, the staff of the GA Youth and YA@GA programs resigned from their positions after negotiations with other GA leadership regarding compensation, decision-making, and inclusion of young people. You can watch and read their statement (YouTube).

President Rev. Dr. Susan Frederick-Gray and Executive Vice President Carey McDonald responded with this letter.

Throughout the summer, members of the Lifespan Faith Engagement staff worked with the GA Youth and YA@GA leaders and GA “Decision-makers” (the Board, the UUA Administration, GA Conference Services, and the GA Planning Committee) to reimagine how young people fit into GA decision-making.

In this clip below, Anna gives an update about institutional changes being made, and several of the GA Youth and YA@GA staff (Martha, Mali, and Mya) share how they’ve experienced it.

Check this space by Thanksgiving holiday for the UUA Decision-making and Labor Policy documents that Anna alludes to in the video! The demands and responses are summarized below as well.

Demands Progress

#1 Invite GA Youth & YA@GA leaders to major decision-making meetings, beginning GA2021

Commitment from Board & UUA Admin; YaYA leaders consulted on GA MAP decisions; YaYA leaders invited to quarterly meetings with GA planners; YaYA leaders on Program Development Group which decides programs at GA

#2 Review decision-making processes for GA, with attention to how lay leaders and volunteer are involved

GA Decision-makers (GAPC, UUA Admin, GACS, Board) articulated decision-making in document; document needs to describe how YaYA leaders are involved; YaYA GA Staff will have more time for decision-making in program shift

#3 Document expectations and differences between volunteer & compensated labor

Document created by UUA articulating approach to labor & compensation—to be released by Thanksgiving; YaYA leaders now part of fellowship, including training and stipend

#4 Adding a clause to lay leadership contracts around Acts of God and formalizing negotiation of turning indirect compensation into direct compensation in these instances

Commitment to this; for YaYA staffing, information includes direct and indirect compensation in the event of virtual GA

#5 Host a public forum to address systemic under-resourcing of youth and young adult programming

Information gathered for staffing and budget for YaYA at UUA; administration will hold forum by 2021 at the latest

Staffing Structure

Next, Alex, Sara, and I introduced the proposal for YA@GA and GA Youth staffing and program focus. In summary, our approach this year—responsive to what we learned during GA2020—is to skill up our leadership for facilitating emergent programming at GA2021, to focus on relationship-building with other GA leadership throughout the year, and to have more opportunity for youth and young adult input in larger GA decision-making. Additionally, the staff will be co-selected at General Assembly with input from youth, young adults, UUA staff, and the GA Youth & YA@GA teams.

Watch this video introducing the proposal, and our reasonings for it.

Or check out these slides that accompany the video.

Apply for GA Youth and YA@GA

YA@GA and GA Youth Application Promotion

Applications to be on the General Assembly Youth and Young Adult staff teams are now open! Until December 7th, interested UU youth and young adults can apply to build community, advocate for young people, and lay the groundwork for spiritual nourishment. GA Youth and YA@GA are both shifting from planned out events and workshops to emergent programming co-created within our communities. You can learn more about what to expect from being on staff at 2021’s all virtual GA through the links below and elsewhere on the Blue Boat Blog.

Question & Answer

We fielded many questions throughout the evening, and in the chat, and at the bottom of YaYA at GA Town Hall Resources and Questions.

Here’s a few that we’ve highlighted:

  • Will there be a discussion about the UUA’s response to the Y&YA Responsive Resolution? This will need further work done, both by the UUA (for example, we’re currently making it possible to clearly show how much staffing and money is devoted to Youth and Young Adults) and by the congregations. Let’s not lose momentum on this!
  • How do we do voting, participation, and community-building if we are “hybrid” (some in person, and some in virtual)? In truth, there’s always been a virtual way to participate in GA… we just didn’t do a great job of integrating youth and young adult communities with virtual participants. While GA2021 will be all remote, there’s a sense that in some ways we’ll never “return to normal,” and hybrid is a new reality. We still need help in figuring out how this will be possible, but we’re hopeful.
  • Will emergent programming still have room for key staples of GA Y&YA community? We’ll still have things like delegate training, covenanting, worships, and caucusing, but they’ll be done in emergent ways. Synergy worship will require a lot of pre-planning, because of the realities of the “main stage.”
  • How will we be creating volunteer opportunities for youth and young adults that are not intensive commitments? Emergent programming is going to need leader-participants to collaborate with at GA!
  • What about fun? We will never forget fun.
  • How are adult advisors for GA Youth to be selected? How have they been selected in the past? The past two years, adult advisors were selected by LFE staff, recruiting from a pool of reliable adults we know well. In part, this was a reactive decision, based upon applications not getting us the information we needed in the past. But this does deserve some examination around access and equity.
  • Did adults support GA Youth and YA@GA staff during the resignation of GA2020? Yes, both volunteer adult advisors and the LFE staff supported the youth and young adult leaders during the discernment and walkout process. And, sometimes it felt to the youth and young adults like it was a LOT, and that suggests to me that the balance of leadership and support might have been off. That informs how we move into this year.
  • How can we bridge the divide between this emergent culture of UU Youth and Young Adult spaces, and other cultures that UU old adults may have? This is a deep and important question, but we think it starts with openness and sharing!
  • How will you be engaging youth and young adult communities in the lead-up to General Assembly? More community forums (we’re currently thinking about once a month, very informal), and direct outreach engagement from the GA Youth and YA@GA staff to Y&YA communities.