Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Mound Bayou-University of Mississippi Youth Summit Planning Session Two

This beautiful and sunny--if slightly chilly and breezy--Saturday found us back in Mound Bayou again, with these terrific youth and their terrific adult sponsors for our follow up planning session for the summer Youth Summit to be held at the University of Mississippi. 

 Although they had been in Saturday school all morning, they said they wanted to "work first, then play."  We had some finalizing to do on the planning of the Youth Summit activities, but on the last planning session, we had promised to do some activities this trip as well.  While they are always attentive and participate, notice the difference when adults are facilitating, and when they are facilitating.

They are definitely more engaged in creating their plans and determining what is important to them...
...and, seem to have a lot more fun doing it!  These youth have incredible ideas.  We tell them to ask for what they want to see in their community: We can't guarantee it will happen, but you have to have a vision of what you want to have a place to start working.
After we finalized the Youth Summit plans and the requests for what they wanted for the summer recreation programs, it was time for some fun.  Many years ago when I was doing psychiatric social work, I went to a workshop on Adventure Based Counseling, New Games, and Challenge by Choice Activities.  I spent a week in intensive training on how to integrate adventure into counseling, but over the years, I have worked on how to adapt it to any setting.  I have facilitated leadership activities, team building in the community and for corporations, educational activities, and in general used this approach in a variety of settings, and taught it in several workshops for other helping professionals.  I am sold on the approach.

 It is based on the concept of experiential learning--the idea that when we are engaged in an activity, and it is unfolding around us right then, that is the best opportunity for us to learn about ourselves: our behavior, our choices, our responses to situations.  You strive to make it fun and adventurous, but a key part is the processing after the activity.  You have to ask "what" [was that experience like for you], "so what" [does that mean for you in your life or other experiences], and "now what" [can you/should you/will you do now that you recognize this?  There are a variety of ways to approach getting at that understanding, but I have never seen it fail that participants always learn and can identify that learning.  The best approaches are when you can do a day, or several days, continuing to build on the learning, including the opportunity to re-try the activity after you have some awareness of what worked and what did not work.  As Jimmy Durante used to say, "I got a million of 'em."
 It is important to build in that it is challenge by choice, and recognize that not everyone is ready to be blindfolded or in close proximity with others or trust others.  There must be roles for each person within his or her comfort zone.  The absolute number one rule is no one can get hurt (physically or emotionally) and that we respect each other and our choices.  That is another thing I find is consistent: when you put that out there at the beginning, people will do that, and rarely, a gentle reminder might be required.
 You build in some challenges, but with a safety net: spotters who watch to make sure no one walks into a wall for example, but also with enough challenge to help them figure out on their own what they need to do, or what they need to ask for--both of those are important things to know how to do in life.
 The processing after each activity is where the growth comes in: "leadership".."followship"..what would you change?  "Be in the middle."  Then we can talk about the times in life it is better not to go first or last, or surrounding ourselves with people we trust to have our best interests at heart, or to "have our back."  There is something about this process (and I have been using it for 22 years (I know, I can't believe that either!) where it makes sense as you apply what just happened in "fun" to your own life.
 It is also about adaptation, and it's okay to make mistakes, and that we always make mistakes.  There are variations on activities, and the more you do it, the more variations you figure out.  In this activity, one person in each group of 3-4 was supposed to be the mummy.  This activity uses toilet tissue to wrap one member of the team; others are blindfolded, or can't talk, or are in some way limited in their ability.
 You race through an obstacle course, but winning is not based on getting there first; winning is based on getting there--completing the course.  We had stopped at the local store to pick up the toilet tissue for the game.  (One of my philosophies when doing community work is to support the local economy as much as possible).  As we checked the various types of tissue, we decided on the "in between" brand--not top quality, but not the cheapest.  What we could not/did not know was that it just would not hold up to the activity.  It kept tearing apart and we were chasing it down in the breezy day, so finally, I called a halt and we collected all the tissue and disposed of it, and revamped the game.
 But first...yep, we had to process.  When is it okay, or even necessary, to change the rules?  What about trying something that does not work?  What then?  Even before I said anything, one of the students said, "Why don't we tie our legs together instead?"  They are one step ahead of me.
 When one looks at the analogies, it is life we are doing here.  Aren't there times when you can't see what's coming, but you know it is out there?  You try to feel your way through the process, leaning on and depending on those who support you?
 And, like in real life, you can give coaching.  "I wonder what would happen if...?  What else could you try?"
 And always, inclusion and caring.  One of the students had to leave briefly to go pick up a younger family member.  It is so easy in our "planned" events in life to exclude people who do not fit the target.  What I love about this community and these youth is that they live out what is on the website of the city: we have never practiced discrimination within our borders.  I did not take this photo; I did not take any of the photos except for the first three.  (And a big thank you to the JFK High School English teacher, Keisha--please forgive me if that is not how to spell your name--who joined with us today and graciously took the pictures).  But to me, this photo is exactly how I wish life could be for all of us: hold on to each other so we can make it through, get where we want to go and need to go, and don't forget the joy.


Gigi said...

Oh, this reminds me of Peace Camp, and workshops, and all the experiences we've had. I miss it! Looks like a great group and a wonderful time.

Suzassippi said...

It truly is. I have the greatest colleagues working with me on it, the greatest support from the Outreach Team, and am about to begin writing the first of the scholarly articles that will be an ongoing documentation of our work there.

It isn't just the opportunity to do the work, it is the blessing of the relationships with these people, and the opportunity to see it through their lives and experience, and to be an asset on their team. It is humbling, but incredible exciting. It makes me feel happy all of the time.