Citizenship & Community

Citizenship & Community

Citizenship.  For some, the word invokes images of Boy Scouts saying the pledge of allegiance or students volunteering at the library.   Most of us would define the word by a reference to service of some kind.  Many of us older adults mourn the loss of citizenship among our students.   Many think of citizenship as a product of a bygone era, no longer possible or practical among our digital generation of teens.

My son has been learning about citizenship in his martial arts class.  In each class, there is a simple lesson geared toward the 3 to 5 year-old students about picking up trash, saying hi to a new student in class, helping an elderly person who lives in your neighborhood, opening doors for others, etc.

As I listened to his instructor, I realized that while the stated character trait was citizenship, it was ultimately about community:  Who do you know? Who can you serve? Who do you need to add to your community?

Our youth need community as much as ever.  Too often, we get caught up in thinking that adolescence is about moving away from the family and friends a child has always known. In reality, adolescence is about forming identity within your own developing community – a new community that both includes and extends beyond the community you grew up knowing.  As adults working with teens, do we point our youth in the direction of where they could find community and a place to serve with their newly developing identities and gifts?

I have found that service, or citizenship, becomes a natural and organic outgrowth of people who have a place to belong.

A few ideas to help guide your teens as they seek to develop their own community:

  1. Create a community of adults that your child can talk to or spend time around. They can be all different ages and life stages, but they need to be a safe place where they are welcome, and loved, and can receive help and advice.
  2. Help youth identify their passion. Tell them what they are good at. Tell them what you see in them.  Encourage them to try out art, or music, or sports, or writing until they find their niche.
  3. Help teens find a place to serve. What are his/her interests? What do they want to explore? Who do they want to be around more? This could be in the context of a local non-profit or serving at a church. It could be a club/community group geared toward their interest. Community is built through service.
  4. Develop relationships with people from various cultures, religious backgrounds, and political belief systems. This allows the teens in your life to see that different people with different life experiences can all be at the same table.

 

Like with adults, community in adolescence doesn’t happen naturally. It takes work and showing up – something we as adults still need help our students with each day. But the benefits are worth it.  Youth who are plugged into a community, and who are serving there, have more opportunities to become successful, do better in school, and are more likely to believe that someone will be there for them if they need it.

Citizenship and Community are intertwined. How can you help the teen in your life find their place to live and serve?

Beth Nichols is Teen Life’s Program Director. With her background in social work and experience as a mom of 4, her perspective is invaluable.

The Power Of Service

The Power Of Service

This past Friday night, we hosted a packing party at the Birdville High School cafeteria. It was an amazing event that is also a fundraiser for Teen Life to keep offering our programs in the schools. For this event, we asked people to reach out to friends and family to sponsor them to come and serve by packing 10,000 meals for hungry kids in our area. This went over extremely well. It was so exciting to see everyone come together to fill bags with rice and nutrients that families without food can benefit from.

 

We were able to capture a time-lapse video of the event that you can watch below! As I put the clips together, watching the hustle and bustle that was going on and thinking about how much effort and dedication went into making this happen, I was blown away at how it all worked together.

 

I am writing this blog as much for me, and us as an organization, as I am to share with you. I believe there are some valuable principles that can be seen from an event like this.

 

In the past, we have hosted a 5K Run/Walk. The benefits of this have been amazing. People were exercising, accomplishing a goal, being outdoors. All of these benefits helped anyone that came feel better about themselves and doing it with others helped build a stong bond. So I am not arguing that this service focused event is better, but it is different and I would recommend it if you are hoping to help people connected to your organization experience some of these benefits.

 

  1. There is power in numbers. We packed 10,000 meals with around 70 people and that means over 1,600 families will receive a bag of food with 6 servings in it. These numbers are great! I am so glad that we could be a small part of providing something meaningful.
  2. It’s not about the recognition. The people that served and the ones that will receive the meals will likely never meet, and that’s exciting to me. The fact that people would put in 3 hours of work for people they don’t know and probably never will says a lot about the human race. We care for each other even from a distance.
  3. Modeling has huge benefits! We had around 20 elementary age kids show up to help pack meals. They were able to scoop the food, weigh it, carry it to the boxes and even tape the box. This is a big deal because it gave them the opportunity to know that the work they do is valuable. These kids packed over 600 meals with just a little help from parents. It was amazing to watch the joy they had working hard to get the job done.
  4. We had some “firsts” at this event. It was the first time we were at a local school. It was the first time we had a current student join us. It was the first time we had an alumni from one of our groups join us. It was the first time over $50,000 was raised! These partnerships, extended relationships, increased funds, and more exposure all mean that Teen Life has more opportunities to reach teenagers and change lives.
It was a process planning this event and it is hard to believe it is already over. Thinking through all of these things gets me excited about what next year could hold.

What is an event you have attended and noticed details that help you live better? Share them with us, we always love learning from you.

Ricky Lewis is our Executive Director and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.