Written by Zachary Dutton, Associate Secretary for Program and Religious Life
Following on a recent announcement from our General Secretary about upcoming changes to our staffing structure, this post proffers further explanation and clarity with respect to the changes to staff support for youth and young adults. The post begins with a set of bullet points for easier reading, followed by the full descriptions. Other posts with deeper explanations about other elements of the staffing structure are forthcoming.
- Those involved in running the youth and young adult programs have been working on needed changes since 2014.
- Laying down the four coordinator positions that make up the Youth & Young Adult Programs Team allows us to create space for the expansion of the current set of programs we offer.
- In place of the four coordinators, there will be four program facilitators. They will be purely field staff, running the programs that currently exist within Children’s Religious Life, Middle School Friends, Young Friends and Young Adult Friends.
- The program facilitators will be supervised by a new, full-time Youth & Young Adult Engagement Coordinator, whose job it will be to handle administrative tasks, engage in long-term relationship building, develop a Resource Friends practice area, and overhaul religious education curricula.
- The trade-off in this plan is that it doesn’t leave quite as much space for the program facilitators to be in relationship with program participants between the events that they run.
- Further discernment through a third sprint group of Quaker Life Council and dialogue with the young adult Friends community will determine the precise expression of future programming and its relationship with the program facilitators.
Since 2014, those involved in running the youth and young adult programs have been imagining how the current set of programs could be expanded in ways that help us to get more connected and spiritually grounded. This includes various members of staff, consultants, and community members. We’ve been exploring how to begin supporting families in meetings along with children. We’ve considered how to provide support to meetings around religious education and youth work. We’ve wondered how to expand our outreach to youth at Friends Schools and to young adults who don’t live in Philly or who are in college. We’ve piloted a few things. We’ve held focus groups, we’ve conducted surveys, we’ve talked internally, and we’ve talked with a lot of people across our yearly meeting. What we’ve developed takes a few steps forward, while laying groundwork for further dialogue and discernment.
Laying down the four coordinator positions that make up the Youth & Young Adult Programs Team allows us to create space for the expansion of the current set of programs we offer. I know that this seems counter-intuitive. It also hurts the Friends who work in these positions to lose their jobs. It hurts the communities they serve to lose relationships with their coordinators. This fact bears repeating and holding up. There is nothing about laying down the positions that isn’t painful and that doesn’t make life hard in the short term. We are doing everything we can to ensure that the coming transitions are as smooth and supportive as humanly possible. The individuals who have filled the positions are excellent and brilliant. They have been a joy to work with. The decisions to make these changes are in no way a reflection on their stellar service to our yearly meeting community.
In place of the four coordinators, there will be four program facilitators. They will be purely field staff, running the programs that currently exist within Children’s Religious Life, Middle School Friends, Young Friends and Young Adult Friends. They will also have program assistants functioning in the same way the current assistants do now. It is therefore our intention to maintain the level of programming (mostly through events, gatherings and retreats) that we do now to the greatest extent possible. The program facilitators will only rarely step foot in the office—to do stuff like meet with their supervisor, organize supplies, participate in full program department meetings, etc. As part of the hiring of the program facilitators, we will do our best to ensure they commit (barring unplanned circumstances) to serving for at least three years. The positions would be designed for folks with gifts in youth work and young adult leadership, but who also have something else going on in their lives that mean they wouldn’t be able to commit to full-time or even more substantial part-time jobs.
The program facilitators will be supervised by a new, full-time Youth & Young Adult Engagement Coordinator, whose job it will be to handle administrative tasks, like email communications, background checks, registration, and strategic planning. The coordinator will also participate in the newly constituted staff Community Engagement Team and will be responsible for developing long-term relationships with monthly meetings, quarterly meetings, Friends Schools and Quaker Colleges. The coordinator will work with me, Zachary Dutton, to develop a new Resource Friends practice area in youth work and young adult support. This practice area will provide direct consultation to monthly and quarterly meetings around supporting families, children, youth and young adults. Lastly, we will work together to overhaul the religious education curricula that is currently woefully out of date so that they can be interactive and useful again.
The trade-off in this plan is that it doesn’t leave quite as much space for the program facilitators to be in relationship with program participants between the events that they run. This is where I hope that over the next few years, the work that we do together as a whole will lead to the formation of a network of Friends involved in religious education, youth work, and young adult community. I envision a community of practice, which could even provide most of the governance-level stewardship of youth programs (the young adult community is largely self-governing). In other words, I hope that this potential short-term gap will be filled in the medium- to long-term by a “village” of Friends across our yearly meeting who serve at local and regional levels, and yet derive strength and stamina through broader yearly-meeting-wide connections.
Soon, a third Youth Programs Sprint group will form under the auspices of our Quaker Life Council to define a new vision, mission and governance structure for youth programs. This will provide the frame within which the above will be tested. Much of it needs more specificity and articulation. Our General Secretary and I are waiting to give it such until more Friends have had the chance to weigh in. Two sprint groups have met already to cull our data collection and solicit further input; they created a review of their general findings and a set of queries. To respond to the queries for yourself, go to the story on the PYM Website called “Youth Programs Visioning.” Similarly, our General Secretary and I will be in dialogue with the young adult Friends community about how their vision, mission and governance frames the coming transitions and the future of young adult programs. While we think we might need to reduce or consolidate programming on the edges, the coming changes are precisely designed to maintain as much of the current set of offerings as we can, while expanding our focus and outlook.
You can direct questions about anything to me, Zachary T. Dutton, Associate Secretary for Program and Religious Life, and if I can’t answer them myself, I will forward your inquiries to others who can.