How to Stay Connected to Your Youth While They’re Away this Summer

Inside Leadership

How to Stay Connected to Your Youth While They’re Away this Summer

As the academic year comes to a close, our kids are getting ready for summer. Whether they plan to go off to camp, travel to Israel, participate in a service learning program away from home, or even stick around locally, this is a season filled with adventure, learning and transition. While they may physically leave your congregational building, the sense of community you have built with them all year long transitions with them. Here are some suggestions to help your congregation and youth professional team celebrate the many directions our teens’ Jewish journeys take them in the summer months and make your relationships with them even sweeter. 


Before the Summer

  1. Recognize their summer plans and share their joy: Invite kids to the bimah for a send-off blessing. Use a bulletin board to display photos, bios and contact information of teens who are going away to camp or a summer program abroad. See also: A Prayer for Summer Camp
  2. Organize a send-off party: For participants of Israel trips, Mitzvah Corps, and camps to meet new friends from their home congregations. Get them comfortable and excited. Make it a fun “matching” activity by color coding program attendees or listing the summer program they will be attending on their name tags. See also: Is there a Jewish blessing for embarking on an adventure?
  3. Help families get ready: Especially for first-time camp families and families who are experiencing transition in their children’s lives. Assist them in setting up a camp visit or identify a family in your community who can be a resource. Offer support for families that are sending a child off to college. See also: What makes a college campus Jewishly vibrant?

During the Summer

  1. Find your best way to stay in touch: Your congregational clergy, youth director, and board members can all send mail to kids who are travelling this summer. Send personalized postcards, letters, or emails to build relationships with your youth and help them feel connected to their larger synagogue community. See also: A Guide for Sending Letters to Your Kids
  2. Send congregational care packages: Invite parents whose kids are away to join up, meet each other, and stuff care packages. Ask each parent to bring a small item (enough for each kid from the congregation). Include photos from your youth group with a personal note on the back. See also: 10 Tips for Sending Care Packages to Camp
  3. Share letters you receive with the congregation: Encourage your youth to write letters and stay connected during the summer. Include those letters in your temple bulletin, email newsletter, and on your website. It’s a chance for the whole community to celebrate your young people.
  4. Visit Camp: Schedule a visit to camp to serve on faculty, where you’ll be a friendly face and enhance all campers’ growth by deepening learning and building relationships. Take advantage of this opportunity by gathering kids together for a photo, sweet treat, and a feeling of home. Contact your local camp to schedule a visit this summer.
  5. Don’t forget those who are staying local! Check in with youth and teens who are around for the summer via social media, a phone call or text message. Take advantage of summertime schedules to gather smaller groups for coffee or frozen yogurt. Connect teens with opportunities to earn extra cash, and help the older ones think of places they could intern or volunteer. Plan a “summer fun day” for 7th-12th graders with community service, lunch, and an afternoon activity. Host movie nights in the evenings to make your congregation a summer gathering spot for the whole family. The possibilities are endless. 

After the summer

  1. Welcome your youth home and let them share their stories: During a post-summer Shabbat service, invite your teens to share about their summer from the bimah. Recognize those who volunteered, traveled, or took on a leadership role. Your youth are the best ambassadors for summer programs – encourage them to develop a plan for reaching out to friends about their experiences. See also: 5 Ideas for Welcoming them Home
  2. Leverage camp power: Everyone wants to bask in more summer sun and spirit. Reach out to your local camp directors to connect you with camp staff in your area and ask them to come speak to potential campers at your congregation. You can also tap into this powerful cohort of young adult leaders – who are already role models for younger children in your community –to become religious school teachers or youth group advisors.

All year long

As youth professionals, our relationships with our young people transcend synagogue walls. One of the biggest joys of our jobs is getting to know our kids, seeing them grow up, and sharing their milestones. Summertime can be the best time to elevate your connection and remind your teens that they have a place in your community, no matter where they may be.

 

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Miriam T. Chilton is the Union for Reform Judaism's vice president of youth; she previoulsy served as director of strategy, operations, and finance, for URJ Youth, Camp and Israel Programs. Miriam holds a master of arts in business administration and a master of science in information systems from Boston University, as well as a bachelor of arts in political science from Ithaca College. When she's not out in the field trying to engage more young people, Miriam is an active member of Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield, N.J.

Miriam T. Chilton

Published: 5/11/2016

Categories: Youth, Camp

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