Retreat deposits are due and one young girl raises her hand timidly. “What if my family can’t afford it right now?” she asks.
It is all over the news and in almost every conversation. No part of the United States has been spared the effects of the recent economic downturn. Parish councils and staffs have likely had (or soon will have) a budget belt tightening meeting. Collections are down. And individual families are suffering through job losses, the market collapse or housing losses.
Do not think that youth ministry is somehow immune. Your teens are and will be impacted both emotionally and financially.
Emotional distress in young people is often marked by sudden changes of behavior or mood. Do not be afraid to ask the tough questions regarding the changes you have noticed (see our earlier ’blog, entitled “Starting Difficult Conversations about Suicide, Abuse, and Suffering”). Pay attention to the conversations young people are having about themselves, their peers, and their families.
One high school senior we know, a representative on his diocesan youth council, embodies the challenge of a 2009 teen. “Brian” is showing signs of depression, and it’s no wonder: he is experiencing loss over a bad relationship breakup, he and his family lost much of their personal belongings in a devastating flood, and his father was downsized as a result of the economy. In addition to facing the usual anxieties of getting into college and dealing with girl problems, Brian’s part time job earnings are helping to support the family and he’s on his knees repairing the basement. Chances are good Brian and his family won’t be thrilled about shelling out $400 for that exciting summer mission trip. And he’s one of your “regulars!”
Now is the time to reassess our programs. Are we budget-friendly to our hurting families? Does your parish budget allow for scholarships? Is there an “angel” in your parish, an individual or business willing to help a young person or perhaps a family? If you do offer scholarships, consider using an application process, where they’ll earn credit for their loyalty and leadership in your program or elsewhere in the parish. In that regard it will prepare them for the college scholarship application process. Consider offering a “solidarity option” in which families that have the means can pay an extra $10 or $20 in the spirit of helping others who might not.
Don’t be alarmed: this doesn’t mean that you have to eliminate your “big ticket” items. It does mean however that you should be prepared to offer other layers of programs that are free or affordable. Maybe the second overnight retreat becomes a day retreat for a few years. Simply put, we need to make sure we are ministering to ALL our teens, not just the ones whose families can afford to pay. Get creative and seek ways to reach out to all the teens in your parish. Most importantly, remain firmly planted in hope. No economic crisis (or any crisis) should shake our hope in Christ.