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THANK YOU for volunteering your time, heart, gifts, and spirit to our community. The heart of the JHYM Community is sustained by these retreat weekends, which could not happen without appropriate and loving adults like you.
The Jr Hi Quakers Retreat program’s goal is to provide a safe and trusting community in which we seek to find that of God in ourselves and in each other. Our charge, as ministers of the Spirit, is to help our young people create a sanctuary. What I appreciate more as the years go on is just how rare and astounding a “safe and trusting spiritual community” truly is for young teens. What we “do”, with the Grace of God, is provide them with an experience in building a spiritually grounded community that they then take with them, and hopefully build on, for years and decades and a lifetime to come.
Arrival: I try to arrive by 4:00pm. It is really helpful to have 2 or 3 staffers present by 5:30pm. Registration begins at 6pm, and the JH’ers arrive pretty much en mass at that time. It’s helpful to know your E.T.A. ahead of time.
Wrap-up: We attend Sunday Morning Worship with the host Meeting at 10 or 10:30, followed by announcements and lunch. We ask parents to pick up JH’ers by 12:30, and I try hard to have everyone out by 1:00. It is important to have as many staffers as possible stay until then. Do let me know if you need to leave earlier than this.
Ministry of Presence
I try to keep the staff to attendee ratios low enough that staffers do not leave on Sunday feeling absolutely exhausted and depleted. There is a fair amount of physical effort and labor over the weekends, and it is important to pace yourself. Take opportunities to sit, make sure you eat and drink well (this is not hard to do on our retreats), and be mindful of any physical limits (backs, knees, etc). Enjoy the connections with other staffers. Youth workers in NEYM are some of the finest people on this earth, and the circle of deep friendship and joy that we know in doing this ministry together is a true blessing.
Besides the grunt work, your primary role is to be present to our JH’ers -- at the craft table, out on the lawn, in the midst of a game or chore, or around a book. Your willingness to be with them, offering appropriate, loving hospitality and friendship, is a powerful gift. It can be tricky finding young teens’ comfort zones and general interest in being engaged with adults – sometimes a ministry of presence is in a deep one on one conversation and sometimes it’s simply being present around the edges of a group.
We try to build tall boundaries with wide spaces for our JH’ers to move in, but the borders shift depending on where we are and who is with us! For instance, ball playing may be fine in one place but absolutely not in another. We work a lot of situations out as we go. All JH’ers should have supervision during all non-programmed times. (My mantra: Free time is not staff free time.) Please be mindful of this. Our job is one of cheerfully helping our JH’ers create a safe and grounded Quaker community every moment of the retreat. Speak with me about any questions or concerns as they arise.
Staff Notebooks and Evaluations
You will have a staff notebook waiting for you on Friday with copies of the staff notes, the weekend schedule, small group lists, small group activities, resources around the theme, the attenders’ list, TLC sheets on JH’ers for particular staffers to check in with, and additional resources for your own amusement and/or nourishment. You are welcome to take any of the contents home for use with your Meeting, etc. (Please do leave the binders.) You will find a staff evaluation form in the back – please take a few minutes to fill it out and return it to me. We take your feedback seriously in our consideration and planning.
Small Groups generally meet three times over the course of the weekend: Friday evening, Saturday morning, and Saturday afternoon or evening. We divide into 3-5 small groups – with 7-9 JH’ers and at least 2 staffers for each group. Everyone stays in the same small group all weekend, hopefully providing a community within a community.
Small groups start out with rounds of check-ins, spending as much time as is needed for everyone to be heard and supported. I provide activities and/or discussion questions around aspects of the theme for the group to use in the remaining time. The feedback about our small groups continues to be overwhelmingly positive, which is a huge affirmation to you, dear staffers.
Facilitating small groups is one of my favorite parts of retreat ministry, but I know that not everyone feels this way. Please let me know if you, or your group, are struggling in any way – sooner than later – so that we can problem-solve together. Do know that there are a slew of factors that make or break a small group – including the time of day, the room, the mix of personalities, and the alignment of the planets!
Enjoy this time with the young people in your group. Don’t stress it – some groups gel and some don’t. Think about what you needed from a small group leader when you were in middle school. Most of them would like to have a real conversation, but they are very afraid of doing the sharing. Fostering a safe and respectful community is primary.
Be open to the leadings of the Spirit in your group. If you have an idea of a game, story, or angle to head, and your co-leader affirms it, please go there, Friend!
Start each small group with a round of check-ins. Go over what a “check-in” is the first time you meet together (every retreat). Check-ins happen out of the silence and do not need to go in any particular order. Encourage people to use the silence to reflect on their week, their state of being, or what they want the group to know about them. Check-ins on Saturday should also include a window into how each person is doing at the retreat. They can always ‘pass’ if they want to. Don’t let people interrupt, read a book, etc., during check-ins. Thank people when the group is done. (You may want to designate one person to start – ask a person who you know will give a real check-in – this sets a tone that it is OK to really share and go deeper).
Everything that gets shared in the small group stays in the small group. This is important to say out loud and get affirmed by the group.
If someone has shared something really heavy or something that seems unfinished, ask them if they would like some of the group’s time – to listen more, to ask questions/mini-clearness committee, to pray for them, etc.
Some group times will be very centered, and some may be exceedingly unsettled. Be gentle with yourself and the group about this, and don’t stress about making it do something it won’t. The primary goal of these groups is to build community and provide a safe, more personal place to share something of themselves.
If one or two junior highers are giving you or the group a hard time:
- My favorite phrase is one Kevin Lee taught me “You can do better.” Most of the time they can. Lisa G. also suggests calling them on it: “So, you two keep having a side conversation that is both distracting and makes me feel like you don’t think the rest of us are important. Can you please stop.”
- Start a game, like Hot Seat, and make them the center of attention first.
- There are occasionally times when someone just needs to leave. Please make sure a staffer goes with this person, or let me know that you need me to go with them. It may be that they just need some quiet, unstructured time out of the group.
Try to formally close the group. Name something you appreciated about the group and either share a small ending ritual, quick game, or “fast silence.” Thank them for their work and community together.
Be gentle with yourself and know that your willingness to be present with them is your greatest gift. Thank you!
Junior Highers want free time, but most of them want it with structure so that they can be in community. This is my mantra: “free time” is not staff free time. All of us on staff need to initiate group games (Apples to Apples or other card/board games, the Lap Game, JYM Ball, Graveyard Tag, Soccer), inspire craft projects, make new Who’s Who Book pages, start conversations, and engage stragglers into the mix in any ways we feel led – or the young people themselves lead. With JH’ers, it can be especially important to gently, continually nurture inclusiveness. Please consider your gifts and leadings, check in with me as needed, and go for it!
Saturday Morning Opening Worship
As part of our Worship on Saturday mornings, we often have a couple of JH’ers and a staffer share aspects of their personal spiritual journeys relating to the theme. These Friends have generally been attending JHYM for a while, and I invite them to speak because I know or sense they have something particularly meaningful to share around our theme. Sometimes I have extensive contact via email or phone with them as they discern their messages. Often, the trust and affirmation that they feel in being asked is enough to help them truly center and listen inward for the essence of their message with the Spirit. These moments are wonderful ways for our JH’ers to give voice to their truth and hard-earned wisdom and to hear it in each other; they are also some of the most powerful and spiritually centered times of our weekends together
The Quiet Room
For several years now, JHYM Retreats has had a designated Quiet Room available throughout the retreat for JH’ers who need a break. It’s become a lovely haven – and, no, staffers, you can’t all be people of presence there all weekend but I do encourage you to stop by and help to nurture and preserve the space.
Everyone in the retreat program, staff and JH’ers alike, take an hour later Saturday afternoon to chill, read, sleep, and be renewed. Everyone is on his or her own sleeping bag, with no talking or interacting. Staffers look forward to it, and a lot of them sleep! Some of the JH’ers welcome it, most go with it, and a few challenge it. Ipods, etc, are okay for individual use if it helps them to relax, as are activities like knitting or drawing. It is really a good thing for everyone and for the flow and spirit of the evening’s program.
I try to match what I know of staffers’ skills and interests with our usual staffing “roles,” which are as follows:
- Retreat Nurse
- Craft Table Elder
- Name Tag Czar
- Group Game Leaders
- Carpool Coordinator
- Cook’s assistant
It is really helpful to know if there are roles that are either great or too challenging for you. In addition, if you have leadings or special skills to share, please be in touch with me ahead of time so that we consider how to best let them shine.
A Final Note
I hope that you feel welcomed and supported. Don’t hesitate to ask questions. Be gentle with yourself – staffing JHYM for the first time is a little like stepping onto a dance floor. It takes a bit to get the rhythm and the flow. We hope you enjoy it. We’re so grateful for your willingness to be with us. Thank you!