Conference Planning and Community Building for Youth
Youth conferences, often called "cons," can be incredibly enriching experiences for all involved. Some conferences are hosted by districts and regions while others are congregationally sponsored and open to clusters or entire districts.
Whether you are planning your first or fifteenth con, here are a few key considerations for your planning, followed by some resources to help.
Involvement in Planning
The most successful cons are those that are planned by teams of youth and adults. While it might be tempting for adults to plan the entire event, or for advisors to leave it exclusively to the youth, shared responsibility for planning and execution is the way that often yields the best results. Who takes on which responsibility will depend largely on your group and where skills and interests lie. Many groups find it helpful to designate a 'coordinator' who then makes sure that all others involved in the planning have met their responsibilities.
Space and Logistics
If you are using congregational space, do you have agreements with the hosts about what is off-limits or what the liability is should something break during the conference? Make agreements about supply and room usage ahead of time. Be clear about any site-specific rules. Can you cook on-site or will you need to have food delivered (either by a restaurant or by congregational members)?
Type of Event
Is this a social conference with limited structured activities? A learning conference with a particular curriculum? Can attendees lead workshops as part of a structured schedule? Determining the frame of your conference is important early on. Some conferences are structured so that participants provide some of the programming while others are structured so that those planning it provide all of the activities. If you want participants to lead workshops, you'll need to give them advanced notice.
Adult support at cons can take on many forms. Youth coming from other congregations will need to have sponsors with them. Having a minister or other trained adult to serve as a chaplain is helpful. Adults may help provide the food for a learning conference so that the participants can focus on their activities. Consider how you might need to provide support to some of those adults in the form of sponsor orientation, for example.
Making sure that everyone is on the same page about the conference rules is vitally important. Check with your district staff for support or to find out if your district has district-level policies they would want you to use. Some rules, such as the prohibition on drug and alcohol use or sexual activity at cons are givens. Others, often related to sleeping arrangements or smoking policies have been points of discussion, especially as adults who are attending the con are expected to abide by them as well. Make sure you know what the host site's rules are (some prohibit smoking on the grounds in its entirety, for example). Where districts have con policies in place, we recommend adopting them to the extent possible for your congregationally hosted events to help keep expectations as similar as possible.
The following resources are available from districts and regions. As always, check with your district or regional staff for support or further guidance in hosting a con in your area.
- ConTemplate (PDF, 109 pages), developed by the Pacific Northwest District of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). ConTemplate is a comprehensive planning guide for large-scale cons.
- The Central East Regional Group (CERG) has an online, on-demand course "Safety Policies 103: Creating a Safe RE Program" that provides comprehensive information on youth safety issues.
- The Southern Region Protection Policies outlines how to create safe, healthy communities for youth.
These resources from the Unitarian Universalist Association may also be helpful in planning conferences.
- Participant Covenant (PDF, 1 page), is an example of what a participant covenant for your event could look like.
- Code of Ethics for Youth in Leadership (PDF, 1 page) provides guidance for the guidelines for the youth leaders of the event.
- Deep Fun is a collection of games for community building.