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Parents: More than checkbooks and chauffeurs

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Leaders GuideThis curriculum sample is taken from Deep Justice Journeys: 50 Activities to Move from Mission Trips to Missional Living, co-authored by Kara Powell and Brad Griffin and released May 2009 through Youth Specialties.

If you’re like most of us in youth ministry, where do you turn when you need money to fund your service events? Your students’ parents.

Who do you assume will transport your students to and from your justice work? Their parents.

While it’s great to have the financial backing of your students’ families, and we all love those families that let us borrow their big SUVs for service events, deeper justice will come only when we view parents as more than just checkbooks and chauffeurs.

One of the best ways to partner with parents in deeper justice is to empower them through good communication. Let’s take some time to think about how we can most effectively engage with parents BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER a mission experience…

Before: The Pre-service Parent Meeting

We encourage you to schedule a 90-minute meeting with students and their parents near the very start of your pre-service events and training meetings. Make sure you set a warm and friendly tone by arranging your chairs in a circle and offering adult snacks (meaning more than a bag of crushed tortilla chips and some stale M&Ms).

There will invariably be students whose parents cannot (or don’t want to) come. Please let these students know they are welcome to invite another adult, and if that doesn’t work out, you can play the part of their parent for the evening.

At some point in this meeting, make sure you provide a thorough description of your work’s logistics, including:

  • Why you chose this place for your service
  • Your partners (any agencies or churches with whom you’re working)
  • What you’ll actually be doing during your justice work
  • Food and lodging arrangements
  • Funding needed and the amount each student/family is expected to contribute
  • Fundraising strategies and how students and families are expected to participate
  • Transportation
  • Safety precautions
  • Medical release forms and insurance (health or otherwise) needed
  • What students need to bring with them
  • A schedule of additional meetings both before and after your service

Here are some other ideas to incorporate in your BEFORE meeting with parents:

1. Share Dreams

Before the meeting begins, hang four large pieces of poster paper along the walls of your meeting space. Write one of the following four headers on each piece of paper:  Kids’ Dreams for Themselves, Parents’ Dreams for Themselves, Our Dreams for Those We Serve, and Our Dreams for Our Family and Our Church Family.  Then as part of your meeting, incorporate an exercise where parents and kids both get to write on the sheets of paper.  Close by sharing and praying about those dreams, and keep the papers for your post-trip meeting.

2. Covenant Together

Create a parent covenant handout that includes some of the following categories.  Ask parents to support your team by brainstorming ways they would be willing to provide:

  • PRAYER SUPPORT (e.g., committing to pray daily for my student’s justice journey; inviting others to pray on their own or join with me for particular prayer times)
  • LOGISTICAL SUPPORT (e.g., driving my kid to meetings; trying to avoid schedule conflicts with meetings)
  • FINANCIAL SUPPORT (e.g., give a certain amount of money before, during, or after my student’s service work)
  • COMMUNICATION SUPPORT (e.g., staying on top of communication from the youth ministry; sharing my own thoughts and concerns directly with youth ministry leadership)
  • POST-SERVICE SUPPORT (e.g., helping my teenager figure out how to be involved in justice work at home; engaging in justice work as a family)

During: Simple but Strategic Ideas That Engage Parents

While your energy during your actual service will be focused on your kids and the locals you’re serving, don’t make the all-too-common mistake of neglecting parents. Here are a few simple but strategic ideas to engage parents during your service work:

  1. Encourage parents to gather together to serve in your community while your team is serving elsewhere. Then be intentional to have parents and students share about their experiences afterward.
  2. During your service experience, invite parents to meet together at your church or a home to pray for your group regularly-maybe even daily.
  3. Create a voice mail account with an outgoing message that you (or a student) change with daily updates and highlights.
  4. Depending on the technology you have available, provide a forum in which students can send e-mail to parents and vice versa. Or designate a contact parent who will receive e-mails and pass them on.
  5. If you have video-conference technology available, invite parents to come together and “call” your group so families can reunite through video.
  6. Consider inviting some parents to come along as leaders (check with their kids first to gauge how comfortable they are with this).
  7. Create a team blog or video channel in which you load daily photos and reflections, and parents can comment with prayers and encouragement.

After: The Post-Service Parent Meeting

When meetings for parents are held after a service experience, many youth workers find that few parents attend-and those who do come are usually the parents who are already committed to the type of conversations you’re hoping to facilitate. (In other words, they’re the ones who least need such a meeting.)

Given that, it’s tempting to give up trying to engage with parents after the service. Please resist that temptation.

Consider the following ideas for engaging parents after the activity:

  • Give some time for students to write letters to parents during your initial debrief and mail those letters to the parents with an accompanying letter from you that celebrates all the Lord (and the kids!) did.
  • Invite parents to some, or all, of your ongoing transformation activities after your justice work.
  • Schedule a local parent/student service activity in which your students and their families can serve side-by-side.
  • Give each parent a copy of any media presentations (e.g., videos, slide shows, PowerPoint presentations) you make.
  • Plan a one-hour post-service parent meeting.  If you followed the pre-service parent meeting suggestions, you saved the four sheets of poster paper full of students’, parents’, and families’/church family dreams.  Have students and parents find their writing/drawings from before the trip and comment on how those dreams matched, or didn’t match, what really happened.  You could also have families share these reflections together.

Want to share more ideas about engaging families in justice and learn from others who are doing the same?  Check out this article on the FYI site,  join the discussion on the FYI Facebook Group discussion board, or leave a comment below!

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