Hello Quaker from the Philadelphia area, my name is Matt and I coordinate a program called the Middle School Friends program and I’m here to tell you that this program is the bee’s knees. Some of that is because I’m supported by an awesome program assistant in Kody Hersh, and a team of great volunteers at every gathering. It is also because Philadelphia Yearly Meeting supports its youth programs in many wonderful ways. Sometimes I wonder if Yearly meeting members are aware of all of the ways in which this program is awesome, so I decided to lay them out below. Think you know everything you need to know about the MSF program? Read on and find out!
First and foremost, the Middle School Friends (MSF) program is designed as a safe space. This means physical and emotional safety is priority number one. What that looks like is small group time so that participants can develop close relationships with several other Middle Schoolers whom they might not have known well before the gathering and develop trust with an adult volunteer or staff member. It means a prohibition against non-consensual behavior like calling names, taking hats, or physically hurting each other, but openness to Middle Schoolers determining their own priorities during free time within those parameters.
In addition, PYM supports the program’s safety goals by running background checks and child sexual abuse clearances for all adults who will be alone with and/or stay overnight at our gatherings.
The MSF program is a great way for Middle Schoolers to experience Quakerism. We explore through workshops, worship sharing, games, and conversation. Developing friendships with other Quaker youth through the MSF community is a great way to keep young people engaged in Quakerism, and finding centeredness among other Middle schoolers is a great way to access spirituality.
PYM’s youth programs also seek to be more geographically accessible through our shuttle service to and from gatherings. In order to better serve families coming from far away, we offer both carpool lists and shuttle service so that no family will have to drive over an hour to get picked up for a Middle School Friends event.
Finally, we want to serve the entire yearly meeting, not just Philadelphia! While we are excited to serve many people from the population center of Philadelphia, we make an effort to visit meetings that encompass the full range of geographic areas within PYM. In years past we’ve visited Harrisburg, Third Haven, Camden (DE), and Wicomico River Friends Meetings.
Did you know all of that? Was any of it surprising to you? If so, please forward this article to a Quaker you know with a Middle Schooler in their family and invite them to attend our gatherings!