Robin Bozian, of LRY (Liberal Religious Youth), OVF (Ohio Valley Federation)
What was the youth group to which you belonged (also city, and congregation if you care to identify it), region, and what were the years?
I was a member of First Unitarian Church of Cincinnati, Ohio youth group, OVF (Ohio Valley Federation), 1966-1970.
Was your family UU (or Unitarian or Universalist) and what was their generational history as far as involvement in UU? Had family members been involved in former UU or Unitarian or Universalist youth groups and do you know what their experience might have been? If you were from outside UU, what was your religious/spiritual/social upbringing?
My parents found their way to UU when I was very young (I think around 6) when we were living in Nashville (moved to Cincinnati when I was 11). My mother was raised Southern Baptist and hated church, my father was raised Armenian Orthodox and didn't find that appealing. They sent my sister and I to a local Methodist church as 5 & 6 year olds and when we came home singing "Jesus Loves Me" my mother said no more. A friend of my parents was a member of the UU congregation in Nashville and they found their home. I was the oldest of 5 children and we were all raised UU.
How did you learn of the youth group, or what attracted you to it? What kept you there? Why and when did you leave? Did it provide an environment that was missing elsewhere in your life? Were you looking for spiritual experience, social consciousness activities, intellectual stimulation, personal friendships? How were these things fulfilled or not? What growth/change did you feel?
As a UU teen, I knew about the youth group from the older members and COULD NOT WAIT until I was a freshman in high school and I could participate. I went to my first conference and knew immediately it was for me. I did not miss a conference in the 4 years I was a member. LRY provided me with the opportunity to be myself, talk about things that you couldn't talk about at school (anti-war, civil rights, women's lib, etc). I enjoyed talking with teens from all around the region and exploring all of the social justice issues that we did. The late sixties were turbulent times and LRY was quite the haven for me. I left after I graduated from high school and went to college. LRY exposed me to social justice, intellectual stimulation and friendships. What I didn't appreciate until much later is the leadership experience and ability to understand group dynamics and planning for group activities that LRY gave me. I remember going to my first training as an adult that included a discussion of group dynamics and how to work with a group, lead a group, etc. and realized that I "intuitively" understood and practiced most of the skills because I had started doing it at an early age - I had taken leadership positions within the federation during my high school years and it gave me tremendous experience and skills.
What were your experiences local and non-local (conferences)? Did you prefer one over the other or did they complement each other well? Was non-local experience accessible?
I do not remember attending any non-local conferences. Our federation had a summer week-long conference with another federation - ARF (Allegheny Regional Federation) which later became GOD-ARF (Greater Ohio District-Allegheny Regional Federation) - summer Micon. These joint camps were held at Versailles State Park in Indiana until we were kicked out in 1968 and then we moved to Tar Hollow State Park in Ohio. Because of these joint conferences, I became friends with teens all over the place. I frequently traveled to Cleveland to spend the weekend with friends from ARF/GODARFul. The local conferences were the most fun because you knew those folks better but the weekends in Cleveland were fun. If I had to chose, I would say the local conferences.
How did your experiences affect your life in the short term and long term? Were you UU as an adult--why or why not?
I have already mentioned that my ability to function within a group, understand group dynamics, participate and lead a group discussion, keep track of who is feeling uncomfortable and needs coaxing, etc., is one of those priceless skills that I can directly attribute to LRY. My natural inclination to be of service to the community was certainly nurtured and strengthened by my participation in LRY. Exposure to different lifestyles and different thinkers was certainly a huge plus - I can talk to anyone and have a natural curiousity about just about everything - my parents were certainly good role models but LRY reinforced that openness. I left LRY when I graduated from high school and went to college and law school. I would occasionally go to church with my parents when I went home but did not have the time or inclination to attend church on my own. I began working for legal services in rural Southeastern Ohio, married and had children. When my oldest was 5 years old, she came home and said to me "Mom, I do not think God made every tree". It turns out that she had been playing with a friend who was talking about God this, God that. I realized that she needed something - so, back to UU I went. I have been a committed member of our local UU Society for the last 23 years. I have been the youth group leader for the last 10 - my way of giving back for the great experience that LRY gave me.
What was your awareness of the group and its activities as far as being youth-directed and the history of youth-direction in UU youth groups? If you hadn't much awareness of the history of UU youth groups, would you have been interested in learning more? If you hadn't awareness of the history of the UU youth groups, would education in that history have further molded your experience and expectations of yourself and others? Would it have affected a sense of legacy? If you were interested in legacy, did you feel you were able to contribute beneficially or not?
One of the biggest differences between the LRY youth activities back when I was a youth and now is that the adults do more. When I was a youth, the youth did everything - planning the conferences, shopping for food, cooking, cleaning, worship service, etc. Adults were pretty much in the periphery and would help out if asked. Now, the youth still do the planning of the conferences and the worship services. The youth help with cleaning up by clearing up after each meal and at the end of the conferences. Adults plan, shop and prepare the food.
Another change which in this day and age is appropriate is that there are more rules and the rules are enforced. The youth are the primary enforcers but adults are available at all times to assist. Adults are present at all times and at least 2 adults are up during the night (along with at least 2 youth) to check on the group. Sex, drugs and violence are strictly prohibited and rules about sleeping together are enforced. All of this creates a safe space and does not seem to detract from the incredible experience that the youth seem to have. Every time I sit in on their worship service, I am immediately transported back 40+ years to my time in LRY - same feeling of community, spirituality, and in some cases, even some of the same songs. They play ha-ha and duck-duck goose and I just watch and smile.
I was not a part of LRY when it met its demise. I was a part of the totally free period where adults were somewhere but not really there. Many of the youth were involved with drugs, some much more than others, but drugs were not welcome at the conferences when I was there. I understand that the atmosphere changed several years later. Sex was a little different - looking back, I think there were a lot of situations that were not always safe for girls - or boys - not very many safeguards were in place to keep the vulnerable from being preyed upon. I know that folks have told stories of feeling pressured and I am sure that was true for some - we should have been better and done a better job. Maybe if we had, and had kept drugs out of the conferences later on, there would still be an LRY.
What was your sense of youth-adult relations between the youth group and the host congregation? The youth group and advisors?
For the most part, the church enjoyed the youth, allowed us to have conferences at the church, and supported us in a variety of activities. We loved our advisors who were always pretty cool. I don't recall any youth group-host congregation tensions - at least not at our congregation.
It seems to me it would be useful to not just learn what individuals found beneficial or not about their experience in the youth group, but to contextualize it generationally. What was going on in your area outside the group in other formal and informal groups of individuals of similar ages? What was going on societally that you feel affected your experience of and participation in the youth group?
In the late 60's, the Vietnam war and civil rights were issues of the day. The public high school was not a place of huge discussion - football, dances, who was wearing what and dating whom - I enjoyed that too but wanted more. LRY was the one place where I could go, be myself, talk about anything and not worry about if I was cool or not. It really strengthened me as an individual and along with the influence of my parents, is probably why I am still a legal services lawyer 36 years later. That community sense just never died.
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