The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof. — Barbara Kingsolver, author
As Unitarian Universalists, we are called not to admire justice from a distance but to live right in it, under its roof. This series of workshops offers a unique opportunity to engage youth in the critical work of developing skills as Unitarian Universalists committed to social justice. The workshops encourage youth to reflect on their own lives while also making connections to the lives lived by others. This both/and approach increases youth's self-awareness while also developing leadership skills. The stories offer real-life examples of people facing the complexities of living lives of justice. It is under this roof that the youth become Justice Makers. Justice does not come into being automatically. Individuals must work together, learn together, listen together, laugh together, and heed the call together.
This program will:
- Identify qualities needed to create justice
- Explore social justice as individual and collective acts of our spiritual journey
- Demonstrate how to engage in social justice work
- Connect youth's sense of belonging to Unitarian Universalism by learning about the social justice actions of Unitarian Universalists
- Provide youth with tools they can use in justice work.
People with skills in the areas of child development (with a particular focus on youth), social justice, and/or the arts would most likely enjoy leading these workshops. Seek leaders who are willing to learn alongside youth and help them build leadership skills instead of doing the work for them. Working with a co-leader offers great opportunities to reflect with another adult as you guide and witness this exploration of social justice for youth. Co-leaders who complement each other with different skills—perhaps one with experience in social justice work and another who has worked with youth before—would be good choices. Because of the sensitive nature of some of the topics, make sure potential leaders review the program before committing. Leaders need to be able to model Unitarian Universalist values of tolerance and justice-loving, in words and deeds.
The content and processes of Heeding the Call is designed to meet the developmental needs of junior high youth or 12-15 year olds. Adolescence is a time of tremendous physical, psychological, and cognitive growth and development. Typically, adolescence marks the start of reflective thinking—an ability to think about thinking. Self-consciousness and awareness of others are heightened. Many youth develop a strong sense of justice, while at the same time beginning to notice injustice in the world around them. Though their ability to be compassionate is growing, peer pressure is also increasing in importance. This can lead to exclusion of those who "don't belong." You will want to constantly encourage the group to be inclusive.
Adolescents feel autonomous, but are still dependent on the network of others who care for them. Early adolescence sometimes marks a period of diminishing communication between youth and their caregivers. At the same time, adolescents are considering their identity: who they are and who they wish to become. The process of identity development is intimately tied to youths' families. Although family relationships define young children's identities, adolescents embark on the journey of navigating independent, relational identities. Tensions from change—both internal developmental changes and external changes, such as death, divorce, remarriage, and inclusion of new family members—often arise. While adolescents may rebel against or even rebuke families, they need and depend on them. Belonging to a wider shared community, such as a faith community, can support adolescents and their families. Workshop leaders and other supportive adults or mentors in the congregation can be of great value during these years.
Some characteristics of the young adolescent include:
- Seeks support for self-esteem and body image as she/he transitions into an adult body
- Engages in abstract and hypothetical thinking
- Concentrates on self and other's perceptions of the self
- Engages actively with peers and social relationships
- Tries to reconcile the inner self with the outer self
- Explores gender, racial, and ethnic identities through affiliations
- Expresses criticisms of self and others
- Seeks belonging and membership, and is concerned with social approval
- Takes on others' perspectives and understands that sharing perspectives does not necessarily mean agreement
- Expresses interest in religion that embodies values
- Sustains faith development by engaging with a community that allows questioning
- Seeks love, understanding, loyalty, and support.
As leaders, you can support the young/older adolescent by:
- Promoting a positive body image and self-esteem
- Affirming and supporting the adolescent's many physical, emotional, and cognitive changes
- Modeling respect
- Being flexible and responsive
- Providing opportunities for complex thinking and the pondering of big questions
- Respecting and take seriously the adolescent's self-consciousness
- Recognizing that challenging authority provides an outlet for new cognitive skills
- Maintaining clear expectations that enable adolescents to make independent decisions
- Keeping some routines or rituals that provide continuity from childhood to adulthood
- Being a sounding board for youth's exploration of ideas
- Encouraging involvement in multiple settings
- Actively supporting the adolescent's exploration of identity
- Encouraging participation in a faith or religious community
- Providing outlets for questioning faith, religion, and creed
- Facilitating youth's work in the community
- Celebrating both change and continuity.
Integrating All Participants
By adapting activities or using alternate activities, you can help ensure that every workshop is inclusive of participants with a range of physical and cognitive abilities and learning styles, food allergies, and other sensitivities or limitations. Below, you will find general guidance on adapting the activities, along with some resources for implementing inclusion.
As you plan workshops, be aware of activities that might pose difficulties for youth who are differently-abled. All spaces, indoor and outdoor, need to be accessible to anyone who might be in the group, including first-time visitors. Check the width of doorways and aisles, the height of tables, and the terrain of outdoor landscapes.
Find out about participants' medical conditions and their allergies, particularly to food, if you plan to serve snacks.
Each session mixes active and quiet, expressive and listening, and whole-group and individual activities, along with alternate activities that you can substitute for core activities if you feel they better suit a group. As you begin to recognize different learning styles among the participants, let this information guide your selection of activities for each session.
Some activity descriptions mention specific concerns or suggest adaptations under the heading Including All Participants. Feel free to devise your own adaptations to meet any special needs you perceive. As the leader, you will know best how to provide a fully inclusive learning experience for the group.
A helpful resource is Sally Patton's Welcoming Children with Special Needs .
As with faith development, a family’s dedication to exploring social justice plays a critical role in the development of youth as activists. Many youth report initially venturing into the realm of social action at the urging of a parent or family member. By involving the families in this program, you will help support the youth as they explore what social justice means to them.
Every workshop offers Taking It Home resources that provide tools for communicating, learning, and having fun as a family.
The Faith in Action activities provide important opportunities for youth to explore social justice issues locally and globally. Many activities include roles for parents, caregivers, or other family members. If the group is doing the long-term Faith in Action activity that begins in Workshop 5, Courage, you will need to communicate and coordinate with parents the activities happening outside of regular meeting times.
The leader/parent relationship is very important and must be both welcoming and reassuring. When parents bring their youth to experience Unitarian Universalist religious education, they need to feel confidence not only in the safety and enjoyment you will provide, but also in your faith leadership. Strong partnerships can foster parents’ commitment to becoming strong faith leaders in their own families. As a leader, you can support and inspire parents to bring intentionality and excitement to their role in their youth’s faith development.