UUA Administration Response to Resignation of GA Youth & Young Adults Volunteer Staff

Context: The 2020 General Assembly Youth (GA Youth) and Young Adults at GA (YA@GA) volunteer staff publicly resigned from their positions via Facebook post and YouTube video on June 12. This is a response to the members of those teams from UUA Administration, from Rev. Dr. Susan Frederick-Gray and Carey McDonald. A copy of this has also been emailed to those teams.

Please visit these links for more information about current GA Youth and YA@GA programming.

Old brick wall with window opening and cracked plaster

Dear former Youth and Young Adult General Assembly volunteer staff,

In acknowledging your statement and choice to resign from your volunteer staff positions, we regret and are sorry that this experience hasn’t been affirming of you as leaders of our faith. We are grieving the loss of trust expressed in your emails and statement, we feel it personally and deeply.

Working with the GA Planning Committee and the Board of Trustees to decide on and plan for Virtual GA, we failed to appropriately include you in the decision-making process. This undermined the quality of the process, created painful impacts for you and your work, and compounded the experience of being devalued by your faith’s main institutions of power. We understand that the shift to a virtual format mid-stream in your planning process was an incredible strain, and regret that there weren’t better conversations with you about how to scale back to a more appropriate level of programming. The conditions of your volunteer service changed, and we weren’t proactive in questioning assumptions around how the reduced costs of covering volunteer travel and expenses could offset reduced income from GA. We sincerely apologize for these mistakes and we commit to do better.

Our choices, made with the GAPC, on what to offer in response to your initial request for financial compensation were based on our attempt to be consistent and fair to all GA volunteers receiving honoraria. We want to continue to uphold the values that led us to that decision and also respect your calling us to radically reimagine an experience that truly makes youth and young adults feel valued. We endorse exploring options for future GAs such as converting volunteer staff positions to fellowships or other creative ways to honor the many ways these leadership positions provide a lasting impact for our faith.

In the immediate term, we’re committed to following through with the $500 grant we offered in our June 10 email to honor the leadership and work you’ve already contributed.

Bigger picture, we invite you to (virtual) face-to-face conversations over the summer about the shifts we want and need to make to GA and to the UUA’s investment in young leaders. How do we begin to build the kind of trust that would make a new conversation possible? We’re very open to your suggestions here, and would welcome the chance to speak with you about this at any point in the future.

We appreciate the work that went into the requests you outlined in your video, and want to explicitly pledge to support them moving forward, starting with GA 2021. They reflect our own understanding of what needs to change with the GA planning process. These include 1) youth and young adult volunteer participation in major GA decision making, 2) a review of GA planning processes for their inclusion of volunteer and lay leaders, 3) clarifying and documenting the difference in expectations between volunteer and paid leadership, and 4) formalizing an agreement with volunteers for how their support or compensation may shift due to future unanticipated events. We are also working with our staff to plan for more transparency and public conversation on the UUA's overall investment in youth and young adult ministry.

This pandemic and uprising have magnified the cracks we already knew were inherent in the systems we rely on for life, meaning, and justice. We know that even as we appreciate the words and deeds of individuals, what’s called for in this time are broad, profound changes. We want to imagine alongside you, to find creative solutions to meet your needs and the needs of future generations of young Unitarian Universalists.

Yours in shared faith,

Susan Frederick-Gray, President

Carey McDonald, Executive Vice President