We know that one of the elements of a high-quality program is building in opportunities for youth to get to know each other. Why is this important? According to the Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality, a strong, welcome community can help young people feel safe, a sense of belonging, and build their sense of self within the group, as well as creating an environment where learning and skill-building can better occur. All things that we want to happen within our Club spaces! While these opportunities for youth to get to know each other can happen in a few different ways, including by sharing experiences during discussions, most often we think of structured Community Builder activities.
Early in a program or at the start of a new school year, Community Builders may focus on things like name games or basic introductions. These are great for starting out, but as youth spend more time together, or if you are working with groups where youth have been together for a long time, they lose some of their fun. (Although don’t ever assume everyone knows each other, and when new youth join then bring them back!) With established groups, Community Builders can go a step deeper, with emphases on team-building, sharing, or deepening relationships. They often come at the start of a session, but depending on the kind of Community Builder you run, it may even be the main activity of the session itself, or come in the form of a personal reflection at the end. Setting up youth in pairs or groups with others they may not know as well is another way. There are a ton of possibilities, but the focus should always be on empowering youth to share more about themselves and their experiences.
BGCA has a few ways for Club staff to learn more about community building with youth. The Weikart Youth Work Method Building Community is literally perfect for this! This training session teaches staff to create avenues for community building, be involved and mindful, how to make sure nobody is left out, and how to promote respect for diversity. Building Community is available as a two-hour in-person learning experience facilitated by a certified Methods trainer or as a virtual self-guided session on Spillett Leadership University. You can find the online version by searching for “Building Community” on SLU and more about how to get certified as a Youth Work Methods trainer on BGCA.net.
The GREAT news is that we’ve got a library of Community Builder activities that anyone can access in the Staff Practices portion of Club Programs! These ideas that largely need little to no preparation are perfect for engaging youth in fun and meaningful ways. Club staff can log into ClubPrograms.org to save their favorites, but everyone can access the activities. There are over a bunch available now on the site, but here are three of my favorites:
Pieces of Me does require prep, but it is perfect for a main activity in an Art or Education space. Youth create self-portrait collages out of mixed materials, which allows for a ton of creativity.
Food Moods is an emotional check-in that is done in a really fun and non-intimidating way.
TP Talk is one of my favorites! It works best with older youth, and gives them a chance to choose what they share about themselves.
Browse Club Programs to find more that work for varying ages and group sizes. And if you have a favorite Community Builder, let us know! We are always looking for great ideas to add to the site.
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