Our program is powered primarily by the wonderful kids who participate, and the fantastic adults who volunteer. Middle Schoolers come to our gatherings for a variety of reasons including but not limited to: finding safe space to be themselves, trying out an edgy or different way of being, getting away from their ‘normal lives’, finding new friends, connecting to Quakerism, reconnecting with old friends, or simply to having.
These different ideals can sometimes compete with one another. What does it mean when one person values the fun games that we play, and another comes primarily to explore Quakerism? What does it mean when one person decides try out a new persona for a weekend that compromises someone else’s sense of safety and comfort? What happens when some people are looking for new friends, while many people have come to see their old friends? All of these conflicts can be challenging for Middle Schoolers to navigate. The thing that makes Middle School Friends so great, is that it’s an opportunity to explore all of these community issues with trusted adults.
What does knowing a trusted adult mean to a middle schooler? It means they have someone to talk to when they’re feeling upset. It means they have someone they can trust to act as mediator when they find themselves in conflict. It means they have someone to ask for advice. It means they have someone who won’t judge them for their shortcomings. And it means that when we ask them to try something new, go beyond their comfort zone, they’re more likely challenge themselves. This is really important, because outside of our comfort zone is where spiritual growth happens.
Our weekends are short, and it’s hard to build trust in just a couple of days. That’s why it’s been such a blessing to have had so many long-term volunteers these past few years. I think of Helen Pauly-Hubbard, Harriet Hart, Kody Hersh (who is now the program assistant), Carrie Engeman-Sandler, Rich George and Greg Woods, all of whom gave their time at weekend after weekend for a year or more. No article about long-term volunteers would be complete without mentioning Kamali Busch, who attended more gatherings than either coordinator or assistant before moving out of the area. Over several gatherings, they developed the kind of trusting relationships described above, and in doing so, their leadership and guidance became critical to the experience of many young people.
This is not to take anything from one-time-only or short term volunteers. We appreciate everyone who volunteers with the Middle School Friends program, but with open enrollment for the Youth Program Internship open right now to Young Adult Friends, it seems like the perfect time to highlight the impact of people who commit for the long term. If you know a young Adult who might want to work with Middle School Friends, please ask them to apply!