15 Year Review - Intro
The Youth Programs Review Committee (YPRC) was created in the fall of 1995 by the Board of Trustees of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA Board) at the request of the Youth Council of Young Religious Unitarian Universalists (YRUU) and charged to:
- Determine the current progress of YRUU at the continental, district and local levels and give recommendations for changes that would better meet the needs and purposes of Unitarian Universalist youth
- Evaluate and report on all aspects of continental youth programming, services, resources, Religious Education curricula, training (especially for advisors), and publications including Synapse, The Spider and The Youth Advisory
- Evaluate annual events such as Con-Con and Youth Council
- Deliver a report by June of 1997
In its composition of members, the YPRC consisted of a high school-aged youth, a college-aged former YRUUer, a young adult former YRUU Programs Specialist, a local youth group advisor, a Director of Religious Education, a minister, a UUA Board member and a UUA staff liaison. Among these individuals is also represented a broad range of UU youth program experience including a current Youth Council and Steering Committee member, several former Youth Council members and a former Steering Committee member, four former Continental Conference staff members, three continental leadership and advisor trainers, a trained AYS leader, several current and former district level youth governing committee members and a former member of Liberal Religious Youth (LRY).
Our committee met four times over 17 months, including at the 1996 UUA General Assembly in Indianapolis where a Youth Focus, attended by 350 youth, featured programming and events highlighting the philosophy of the UU youth movement. In addition to utilizing this opportunity to circulate questionnaires, hold hearings and conduct interviews, we also sought information through a variety of other means. The committee conducted group interviews with key UUA staff members, including Makanah Morriss, Director of the Religious Education Department; Jory Agate, Youth Programs Director; Meg Riley, former Youth Programs Director; and Kathy Daneman and David Taylor, the YRUU Programs Specialists serving at that time. Individual committee members interviewed youth and adults involved in youth programming at all levels, with particular efforts made to speak with former YRUU Programs Specialists. We distributed surveys to District Presidents, District Executives and Youth Council Representatives designed to measure youth program activity on the district and local levels. We obtained and reviewed published YRUU program materials and resources. We were also fortunate to have an advantage over past review committees in the emerging technology of on-line mailing lists through which we were able to solicit comments and observe lively discussions on youth programming among youth, advisors and religious educators.
The members of the YPRC would like to thank the UUA
Board for the opportunity to serve on this committee. We hope the
work we have done will have a beneficial impact on the lives of
present and future Unitarian Universalist youth and the quality
of Unitarian Universalist youth programming. We also want to express
our appreciation to the UUA Department of Religious Education and
especially the Youth Office staff for their cooperation and help
with research. However, the Youth Programs Review Committee is wholly
responsible for this report's comments and recommendations.
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Overall we have found that youth programming in our religious movement is at its highest point of functioning in the past 25 years, as well as in a state of growth. We see the appointment of this committee and the opportunity to make this report as a positive indication in that it fulfills what we have observed as one of the most basic needs for successful youth programming--consistent, deliberate attention from adults. Because of the transitional nature of adolescence, it is easy to allow youth programs to fall into third place, behind adult programs and children's religious education programs which, historically, local congregations and the larger movement have often seemed to regard as more immediate necessities. Happily, there is much evidence of efforts to change this perception.
However, it remains true that there is great variation in the degree and quality of youth programming throughout the association. Some congregations have active, successful youth groups and others, similarly situated with respect to size and budget, do not. Some districts have strong youth governing bodies offering a full calendar of conferences and activities, while others operate sporadically, going through repeated cycles of building and then rebuilding programs. Thus, at all levels, this association still has some distance to travel towards treating its youth programs as a basic, ordinary part of Unitarian Universalist religious life.
At its core, the Unitarian Universalist youth programming philosophy advocates the empowerment of youth through leadership opportunities. While the recommendations we have made in this report cover a wide variety of issues, all of them have been conceived with the goal of youth empowerment in mind. This goal necessitates a delicate balance between youth and adult power that seeks to give the youth as much responsibility as possible for creating and carrying out their own programs while also expecting adults to ensure a safe environment for the youth and protect them from the large-scale failures.
In the process of our review, it has been our observation that sometimes within an organizational structure patterns will evolve for getting a job done that may not be the best way to foster leadership for the youth involved—therefore serving to undermine the goal of youth empowerment. To maintain the necessary balance of power between youth and adults, the youth empowerment philosophy must be called to mind again and again. There can never be a final set of rules and procedures; there must always be adjustments made depending on the interests and abilities of the particular youth (and adults) involved. Many of our recommendations call for a reexamination of this balance of power so that our religious movement may achieve a more thorough and effective practice of its cherished youth empowerment philosophy.
Parallel to the issue of youth empowerment is the issue of adult responsibility. Accompanying an intention which seeks to give youth responsibility for the direction of their program, there must also be an understanding that the responsibility for ensuring that there is a program lies with the adults. In particular, it is the responsibility of the adults in our movement to see that there is a sufficient number of trained, competent adult youth group advisors available to work directly and consistently with our youth, and that these advisors have the support they need from their UU communities. This is an area we have given special attention to in this report.
Finally, we have every expectation that the youth
of Unitarian Universalism will respond to this report with energy,
thoughtfulness and creativity. It is our hope that the adult members
of our religious movement will strive to match the youth's
abundant vitality with their own deliberate and consistent love.
As the YRUU Five-Year Review Committee noted in their 1989 report,
Young people, when served well and included fully, enrich the life
of any congregation. The Youth Focus at the 1996 General Assembly
demonstrated that our youth have the potential to enrich the life
of our entire movement. It should not need stating that when we
serve our youth well, we not only serve the present life of our
movement; indeed, we ensure our movement's future.
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