Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Families: A Jr. High School Youth Program that Explores the Diversity, Commonality, and Meaning of Families

Before You Start

Part of Families

Read through the entire program before embarking on it. The photo-documentary project requires behind-the-scenes work of the program leaders, summarized below:

  • Contact congregation leaders, both staff and lay. Enlist their help in recruiting families for the photo-documentation program. Explain that a key program goal is to deepen and broaden definitions of family; ask for their assistance in uncovering the diversity within the congregation. Follow up on leads with preliminary invitations asking families to participate. If you will be following the Family Event protocol, advise families of the dates.
  • Procure or arrange for photography equipment for the program.
  • Arrange the logistics of congregational space for photo-documentary display and Family Events. Secure dates.
  • Review Sessions 2 and 4. If you plan to have guest speakers for either of those sessions, make initial contacts.
  • If you would like to have a photography consultant to this program from the congregation, make arrangements.
  • Discuss your congregation's safety policy with the religious educator. In particular, you need to understand policies concerning mandated reporting (see 'Leader Guidelines for more details).


Use the resource to help track the stages of the project throughout the program. If you decide to skip or rearrange sessions, this resource will help you distinguish how those decisions will affect the project.

There is no one "right" way to do the photo-documentary project. It is very possible to create the photo-documentary project using a myriad of methods. Create or follow a plan that is comfortable to all program participants and to the congregation of which it is a part. The outline below is provided as an example of one way to guide the photo-documentary program process.

Starting the Program

To start the program, make initial contact with families who might be participants in the photo-documentary project. Youth may not know a diversity of families: often they know families with similar age children/youth. You, your religious educator, minister, and lay leaders can insure the project's success in representing a diversity of families by inviting diverse families to be potential participants and leading youth toward them in their work. Envision feasible ways of presenting the final photo-documentary project and explore tentative plans about logistics. It is good to know what options are feasible so that you can explore them with youth participants.

Sessions 1 and 2

This period is an ideal time to contact and recruit families directly or assist youth in doing so. Make sure two Family Event dates are scheduled, confirmed, and provided for families. There are two ways to use the Family Event. In the first method, the same group of families attends both Family Events: they are photographed at the first event and they meet with youth to talk about the photographs, be interviewed, and create the write-backs at the second event. Another method of using the Family Events is to invite some families to one event and other families to the second event. In this method, photographing the families takes place during both events, and then youth make arrangements to meet with the families individually to talk about the photographs, perform interviews, and create the write-backs. Be sure to support youth in these processes.

Session 3

During this session decide on logistics for doing the photo-documentary. Make decisions with participants about how they plan to organize—in teams, as a large cooperative group, or as individuals—in order to photograph and interview families. Youth may also make posters to advertise the Family Event during this session.

Session 4

This is the session before the first Family Event. Confirm logistics for the Family Event, including how participants will accomplish photographing the families. Decide who will print the photographs from the Family Event for the next session. Copy consent forms for the Family Event. Help youth learn about the process of obtaining and respecting informed consent from participating families.

Session 5

In this session, participants review Family Event photographs together and learn about methods of gathering information about families. If youth will not have the opportunity to interview and create write-backs during a second Family Event, make plans for how youth will contact the families and arrange to meet with them for these steps. You may want to follow up with youth via e-mail. This is a good time to check in with them about the shared vision for the final project. Confirm congregational logistics so that space, time during or independent of a service, and/or an area for display are all reserved.

Session 6

Confirm family participants for the Family Event 2. Check in with youth about the project. Although no direct work is done on the photo-documentary project during this session, the activities will make youth more aware of how each photograph and each interview can only reflect the point of view of the interpreter.

Session 7

During this session youth may make posters to advertise Family Event 2. If youth plan to interview the families they photographed during the first Family Event, check in and see if they need leader support. Confirm Family Event participation for Family Event 2.

Session 8

This busy session precedes the Family Event 2. Confirm all logistics: who will be photographing whom and who will print the Family Event photographs for the next session. Follow up with e-mail as you see fit. Copy consent forms for the Family Event. If youth are photographing new families during Family Event 2, they should arrange a time when they can review the photographs and develop write-backs with those families. It is important to arrange the follow-up time immediately, since the project is on a tight schedule right to the end.

There is a way to accomplish both photography and interviewing/write-backs with new families at the same time. If you set up a computer at the Family Event, youth can take digital photographs (before dinner), put them on the computer (during dinner), and then interview the families about the photos (after dinner). If this is not possible, be sure that youth make arrangements to follow up with the families before the families/youth leave the Family Event.

Session 9

This is another busy session, during which participants review the family photos they took at Family Event 2 (either of new families or additional images of the previously photographed families). It is imperative that the follow-up meetings with newly photographed families—at which youth will gather interview information and write-backs—happen soon after this session.

Check in with youth participants about their progress on the photo-documentary project at each session, or via e-mail between sessions, to make sure they are receiving enough support in their work and that the final photo-documentary project can take place on schedule. Ideally youth will finish gathering write-backs by the next session (Session 10). During the next session, youth will create the part of the photo-documentary project that represents themselves. Have work that the youth completed in earlier sessions available at the next session for youths' collective self-representation.

Session 10

An important part of this session is a check-in about the youths' progress on the photo-documentary project. All materials are "due" at the next session (Session 11). Offer support as needed and encourage youth to help each other. During this session, youth create their own part of the photo-documentary project: Meet the Creators. Encourage youth creativity! Outside the session, arrange congregational publicity about the upcoming photo-documentary display.

Session 11

During this session, youth put the photo-documentary project together. You may need additional time outside this session. Confirm all logistics with the greater congregation, including continued publicity, arrangements for food, plans for congregational feedback, and so on. Highlight youth project leadership and creativity!

Families Display and Opening Event

This occurs outside of regularly scheduled program time.

Session 12

This closing session offers a time to reflect together about how things went. Some groups may have to dismantle their displays during this session. This is a session during which groups and their co-leaders can celebrate all the efforts, joys, troubles, and work they shared during the photo-documentary process.


Purpose of the Event

The Family Event has multiple purposes. The curriculum-centered purpose is to provide a context in which the participating youth can photograph, interview, and get to know the families they will profile for the photo-documentary project. The congregational purpose for these events is to provide a context in which families can get to know the youth and observe them as leaders of the photo-documentary project. In addition, the Family Event serves the authentic building of community—for families and for the entire congregation.

People at the Event

Religious educators, program leaders, and other congregation leaders will need to support youth by recruiting diverse families from the congregation to participate in the photo-documentary project. Although much of the Families program is shaped by youth initiative and work, family recruitment is the responsibility of the adults supporting the youth. Inviting and ensuring family participation in these events should be the responsibility of program leaders; the youth will be in charge of photography and interviewing of families.

Form of the Event

The Family Event can take many forms. In general, it should encompass some activity in addition to the tasks of photographing and interviewing families for the photo-documentary project. Food-centered events such as potluck dinners or lunches, afternoon tea/lemonade gatherings, ice cream socials, pizza parties, or a breakfast are recommended.

Activities at the Event

It is good to have some kind of plan for the event itself. Provisions and plans with youth for photographing and interviewing families are essential. In addition, families will enjoy having a sense of involvement. For example, they could help facilitate or maintain some aspect of the event (such as scooping ice cream) or family-specific activities (such as leading simple games or the writing of family poems). Activities designed for intergenerational events will work for these Family Events if the activities allow for the ebb and flow of participation. Allow time for youth to photograph and interview families during the event.

Structure of the Event

Regardless of form, each Family Event will need some limited structure. Some structure is automatically provided by the activity (e.g., eating pizza) and by having the space and provisions ready for the event. In addition, each event will need (1) an opening or welcome, (2) a middle activity period, and (3) a closing or thank-you. Plan to have someone mark all three portions of the event. If youth lead these transition points, support them to ensure their success.

Sample Family Event: Family Potluck Lunch


The religious educator and program leaders arrange: the invitation to the event; follow-up with families who plan to attend; and the logistics of the day, time, and location of the event. In addition, the program leader gathers input from participating youth and ensures that food and other event provisions are present at the Family Event. Adults should oversee the process to ensure success. Youth are entirely responsible for photography equipment and supplies related to interviewing families.


An outline of the afternoon's schedule is posted on a large piece of newsprint. This will allow everyone present to have a sense of what to expect.


One youth participant and the Families program leader share the task of welcoming families. They express the following ideas:

"Welcome to the Youth Family Project dinner. Tonight we'll start with introductions around the room, followed by an icebreaker activity for all of us. Then we'll have dinner. Youth from the Families program will sit with invited families and will try to learn about them. Youth may even take notes! During that time youth will also photograph participating families. [If youth use a digital camera, the next sentence may make sense.] Families will be able to view the photographs in the camera and share their delight or despair about them with the youth. Youth may follow up the photo shoot by asking families some interview questions they prepared during one of the Families program sessions. Then we'll have dessert and a few words to close the evening."

Schedule of Events

  • Welcome and introductions
  • Icebreaker activity (perhaps a continuum game from the Families program)
  • Optional blessing or grace before the meal
  • Dinner, youth with families (Youth will use this time to find out about families. They may even use prepared questions.)
  • Photography of families (This will happen during staggered photography breaks for families during the meal.) Youth take turns photographing families, after inviting families to decide where/how to pose for the photographs, and asking families to talk about who or what is missing from the photograph.
  • Photo reviews and family interviews
  • Dessert
  • Good-bye and thank you
  • Benediction or a familiar hymn (optional)

Follow Up

Youth will have time to reflect on the process and products of the Family Event during class sessions. After the event, youth contact the families to get more information and to ensure that families are happy with how the youth represented them. In addition many youth obtain write-back information—written reactions to the representations—from families. The second contact between youth and families can occur at a second Family Event or with individual meetings.

Thank families for their participation in the photo-documentary project, and invite them to any showing of it.