Put God at 
the center of your life.

 

  The Pleasure of Working with Young Friends
      A essay by Zan Lombardo

I have been a middle school art teacher for over two decades and thought I felt comfortable dealing with teens. But when my own daughter crossed the threshold from middle school into high school, I frantically realized it was uncharted territory for me. The only high school experience I had to draw from was my own distant experience, certainly out of date as reference material by more than thirty years. So I made a deal with my daughter and it went like this: If she let me act as a Friendly Adult Presence for her first Young Friends gathering, then she could decide whether or not I would be allowed to come again. I secretly knew that the other half of the bargain would be that if Young Friends (YF) gatherings did not meet with my approval as a parent, I could decide whether or not she would be allowed to attend again. So off we went as first-time Young Friend and first-time Friendly Adult Presence. 

What we found at PYM Young Friends surprised and pleased us both. Not only were Young Friends gatherings loads of fun and well attended, but we both immediately felt welcome and comfortable. Getting-to-know-you activities and games enabled us to learn names and peek into the personalities of everyone present. Cuddle puddles provided opportunities for platonic physical contact without resorting to coupling. Worship sharing helped us develop deeper relationships with Friends in small groups. Workshops and work crews immersed us in learning experiences and made the gatherings meaningful. The balance of work, play, worship, free time, food and sleep were miraculously fine tuned. At each gathering, the theme, structure and guidelines had been painstakingly developed and critiqued by Young Friends under the loving guidance of Cookie Caldwell in planning sessions at Working Groups and during Meetings for Worship with a Concern for Business. 

What I learned about being a Friendly Adult Presence was that it is a balancing act, albeit a very enjoyable one. It helps to be tolerant of teen energy and a certain amount of noise and controlled chaos. But you must also have a good sense of humor and be able to hold your calm center amidst teen angst. Flexibility is helpful and by that I mean having a sense of when to step in and when to step back so as to allow Young Friends to create their own experiences. By the end of my first Young Friends gathering, I felt as much a part of the group as did my daughter. My worship sharing group touched my heart by asking me to return as a Friendly Adult Presence for future gatherings. My daughter felt OK with me being present, too. It was nice for her to have an adult to talk to who really understood what Young Friends was all about. I will allow her to return the YF community time and time again because it is safe and inspirational. We both have vowed never to miss another Young Friends gathering. 

I encourage any adult who secretly wishes to find ways to connect with the younger generation to take that bold step and sign up as a Friendly Adult Presence for a Young Friends gathering. It is a free experience that is rich with rewards—the rewards of getting to know our PYM teens at an intimate level, really finding out what they’re thinking, how they are struggling and what makes them laugh. It is invaluable. They are so much friendlier and more approachable than you ever imagined. As a bonus, you will also be thrilled to find that our youth are totally with us on this spiritual journey, glad for Quaker foundations and ideals, and eager to serve this world in meaningful ways.  

Contact Philadelphia Yearly Meeting's Young Friends Coordinator  if you wish to volunteer as a Friendly Adult Presence for a Young Friends gathering. 
For dates of upcoming Young Friends Gatherings, click here.

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