Photo Above: top left to bottom right: Lucas Richie (staff), Meg Rose (staff), Sarah Ennis, Yelena Forrester, Afroza Hossain, Naomi Madaras, Liana Irvine, Jeremy Graf Evans, Hanae Togami, Afiya Johnson-Thornton
From 2020-2021, PYM staff organized a program to learn how to better engage and include young adults in PYM’s granting witness. During the year-long experimental program, eight Quakers aged 18-35 (YAFs) served on one of PYM’s granting groups and then provided feedback on their experience to PYM’s Granting Committee.
The eight program participants, who were hired by PYM as consultants, were present for Granting Group meetings and stood outside of consensus for final decisions. Four times during the year, the eight consultants gathered as a cohort with PYM staff and guest speakers for fellowship, support, debriefing, and opportunities for shared learning. At the end of the program, staff issued a survey and held a listening session with the consultants to reflect on the year, make recommendations, and envision the future of PYM’s grantmaking. Consultants were provided with a $500 stipend for their active participation.
The consultant cohort exemplified the diversity present within young adult Friends. The cohort was intentionally structured to be cross-race, cross-class, mixed gender and diverse among other identities. Full granting group members serve three year terms and are required to be PYM members. Setting the program up as consultants was a way to bring new voices into the granting groups. For many of the consultants, this program was their first experience serving at the yearly meeting level.
Consultants served in pairs on six of PYM’s nine granting groups: Aging Assistance, Fund for Sufferings, Indian Committee, Membership Development, Quaker Buildings & Programs, and Travel & Witness. Four consultants served on a single granting group that met at least four times during the year. Four consultants worked with multiple granting groups.
How did it go?
The consultants’ experiences during the year were varied. Seven of eight consultants agreed that they are more likely to participate in a PYM young adult friend space than a year ago. Five consultants agreed that serving on a granting group increased their desire to be involved with Quakerism. However, one consultant disagreed, noting that a granting group experience and another non-PYM Quaker experience during the year has left her questioning wanting to be involved with Quakerism. While four consultants agreed that their granting group operated according to Quaker testimony, two consultants disagreed. Similarly, only two consultants agreed with the statement, “I was able to bring my full self to the granting group meetings.”
Consultants made recommendations for how to make granting groups more inclusive. These included keeping digital meetings, developing a stronger onboarding process, equipping clerks with critical clerking skills, and challenging granting groups to deepen their spiritual granting practice through additional learning opportunities.
Consultants noted formally and informally how well supported they felt during the program, and how thankful they were to be involved. Feedback pointed to the importance of treating young adult friends as a heterogeneous community. Providing a stipend, having mid-year check-ins, creating space for social connection, holding space for worship, and opening an entry point to tangibly support PYM’s growth were all practices that built a container that worked on multiple levels to holistically engage, support, and include young adults. Despite these efforts, not all consultants ended up having positive experiences; young adults faced hardships when asked to participate in spaces that have not been built for them. While challenging, continuing to build containers like this that try to hold the joys and challenges people experience working with PYM will be critical to sustaining young adult friend engagement. This experience and these lessons were only possible thanks to the young adults that brought their time and energy to serve PYM as consultants — many thanks!
The Experience of One Consultant and Granting Group
After the program one of the consultants, Afiya Johnson-Thornton, responded to questions about her experience. Afiya worked with the granting group formerly known as the Indian Commitee (after a long process, they recently changed their name to The Quaker Fund for Indigenous Communities). The granting group, upon reading the program report and Afiya’s responses, minuted that “the report and feedback from Afiya Johnson-Thornton were very helpful in understanding the need to be better listeners, to address the ideas young people bring to our work, and to engage them more fully in committee work.” Afiya’s responses are below:
Q: Tell us a little about yourself. How did you end up connecting to PYM and the grants consultant program?
I work in higher education in New York City! I first became connected to Quakerism at the age of 13 when I applied to and ultimately attended the Westtown School. Quakerism proved to be a community and spiritual practice that led me to deeper mindfulness and spiritual connection.
After spending 4 years at Westtown, I attended Smith College where a good friend and I convened a weekly Meeting on Smith’s campus for other Quaker students. After graduating, I remained connected to the Quaker community, attending Green Street Meeting and YAF events while living in Germantown, though not as often as I would have liked. However, when I moved to New York three years ago I felt as though I lost the depth of connection I had to Quaker circles. Through classmates and dear friends that work at PYM, I was reconnected to the community through the Grants Consultants program.
Meg Rose suggested I apply because she knew that my research on Black Quaker communities in college, my own spiritual practice, racial identity, and work to hold my high school alma mater accountable for its own failings in building right relationship through racial justice would be beneficial to the work of PYM’s granting groups.
Q: There were eight young adult friends chosen to serve as consultants. Were you able to choose granting group assignments? How was the application process?
During our initial interview with Lucas and Meg and the application itself, we were asked if there were particular granting groups we might be most interested in joining. After reviewing the list of granting groups, I knew immediately that I wanted to bring my voice as a descendant of enslaved Africans and of displaced Eastern Band Cherokees, to the work of the Indian Committee.
The application process was brief but thoughtful and certainly challenged me to think critically about how I come to both racial justice work, spiritual community, and my own relationship to God. I most enjoyed answering the question that prompted us to share our Quaker affiliation. This question challenged me to think beyond heritage or membership where I feel I am least secure in my relationship to Quakerism and rather to appreciate and value the less formal way that I’ve come into the community.
Q: You worked with PYM’s Indian Committee, PYM’s oldest granting group. Are there stories about that work you feel like sharing?
PYM’s Indian Committee is experiencing a period of self-reflection. As it pertains to both the committee’s name and purpose, there are some within the group that seek to respond to changing language, community definitions of indigeneity, and community needs while there are others who hold the history of the committee in the highest regard and want to preserve it in all its forms.
These two viewpoints often oppose one another. There’s no particular story to share as it was the overarching theme of many of our conversations. How can we as a community of Friends and a granting group committed to building right relationship with indigenous communities hold both the importance of this particular committee’s history and the need for progress, critically, dynamism and creativity?
(Afiya shared her interview before the committee changed their name)
Q: Do you feel Young Adult participation/voice in the granting groups can create impact? What might that impact be?
Certainly! However, I believe there must be a reorientation of our role on these committees. It was clear that some of us were viewed as spokespeople not only for our generation of young adults but also as people of color on committees that tend to be overwhelmingly white.
Representation is essential but we also need a critical mass of individuals that represent a variety of backgrounds and relationships to Quakerism.
This representation must also extend beyond just the membership and into leadership on these committees, specifically Indian Committee. If this was achieved we could see the seismic shifts we’re aiming for. We might then be able to untether ourselves from elements of this work that can be voyeuristic and hold histories above the present needs of our communities.
Q: What were your takeaways from working with a PYM granting group?
I came into the Indian Committee apprehensive and knowing that it would require a great deal of emotional labor on my part, the willpower to hold back in moments, and the need to step up in others. However, I did not anticipate the degree to which I would feel called to hold my tongue in the face of thinly veiled racism, organizational stagnancy, and white fragility due to an emphasis on respectability politics. I have encountered this in my own engagement with my alma mater and on the Indian Committee.
We spent the duration of the past year discussing and debating the name of our committee, which itself is laden with assumption, anachronism, and inaccuracy. I have learned that as well-intentioned as an organization may be, its works can be stalled and impact stifled by slower-moving processes and timelines.
There is an urgency to racial justice and equity work that must be considered in all of our efforts.
Learning from the experience
There were many positive, and unexpected, outcomes from the program such as several consultants agreeing to join granting groups as full members and one consultant being hired by PYM as full-time staff. After the program, feedback from the consultants was crafted into a set of recommendations to PYM’s granting committee. These recommendations will help PYM deepen and grow their granting witness. At their February 2022 meeting, the granting committee approved implementing the following recommendations:
- Build check-in and relationship building opportunities within all granting group agendas to build stronger relationships and reduce an insider/outsider dynamic when new people join.
- Set expectations of granting groups members around community engagement and outside learning to help granting groups embody being part of a learning organization.
- Develop orientation materials for all new granting group members, with context on how the group works, the personalities, and how the financial restrictions work.
- Personally invite young adult friends, especially those outside our networks and those not currently involved with PYM, into granting group service when there are vacancies.
- Review, annually, clerking responsibilities with all granting group clerks. (Note: there will be 4 clerks rotating off granting groups in 2022. It would be appropriate to have a meeting with those clerks, the rising clerks, and GC liaisons next year to review responsibilities and provide appropriate training.)
- Explore ways to reduce administrative burdens of applying for and reporting on grants.