Recently I was blessed to go to an Edge-style Night at a local parish in Atlanta, GA. From the moment I showed up, I was reminded why I love working with middle school youth. I was a stranger to them, yet they welcomed me as if they had known me for a long time. It was fun to see them buzzing around from place to place.
However, one young man quickly stood out to me. As soon as he entered the room, I could tell he didn’t quite know where he belonged in the group. He grabbed his pizza and headed straight for a stool in front of the box labeled “Prayer Intentions.” I saw him writing something, so I walked over and asked what he was drawing. Silly me, I had assumed he was using the paper to draw, but he was actually writing out a prayer intention. He quickly covered it up and would barely look me in the eye as I asked him a few introductory questions. I asked him what he enjoyed doing and in the faintest voice I heard him say, “I like to read.”
I stepped back, “I love to read. What do you like to read.” Still with no eye contact he responded, “Mystery books.” I let him know that I also love reading mystery books and one of my favorite games is “Clue.”
Suddenly, his eyes lit up and he turned and faced me. In a more confident voice he told me that he has two versions of the game and two copies of the old movie. Just like that, he came alive.
What did I learn?
Sometimes it takes more effort to reach out to each youth, but it is worth it. Seeing this young guy move to sit closer with the group and make a connection was awesome.
I need to remember not to reach out to the youth I am most comfortable with or seem to have the most in common.
We need Core Members of all kinds because our youth are certainly not made from one mold.
Lastly, I learned the importance of paying attention to who is walking in the door. Middle school youth feel awkward in their own skin and walking into a room where they may or may not know anyone is terrifying. We need to be proactive about being present to every youth that walks in the door.