Opening Words from Sun. February 23 by Ellen Wright

I come before you today a bit ragged as it is the day after the Youth Group Dinner dance. The teens of our community selected a theme, formed committees, made plans and executed those plans to create a space for fantasy, food and fun. Every year a different group of people learn together what it takes to pull off such an event. They try things they have never tried before, reach out of their comfort zones, solve problems and collaborate. This is my favorite part of dinner dance.

I love hearing the compliments on the decorations and food, but what really charges me up is watching these teens in action. They create the plan in their minds and on paper, but when it comes to the execution, there are inevitable obstacles and failures. This is when the magic starts. I stand in awe as our young people put their heads together and come up with new solutions and make decisions about how to proceed. I see leaders arise and take charge.

Sometimes it’s as simple as figuring out how to hang a mural effectively and securely. Sharon improvised a way to reinforce a large poster for hanging and used bundles of crayons to weigh down the bottom to keep it straight. Claire had a vision and painted a beautiful mural, but needed the support of her friends to properly install her art on the wall. Julian, Sharon and Gabrielle formed a tag team of sorts to open very large cans with a very challenging can opener.

Ellory wrote a script and changed it on the fly as needed throughout the evening. He even dressed as a tree at my request without complaint. Addison jumped in while the others were still dancing to clear tables so he could leave early to do his homework before the end of the evening. These are a few very small examples of how our young people came together to put on an event to raise money and hopefully make a pleasant evening for the participants.

But what I saw was skill building and community action. No they weren’t solving the injustices of our society. But they were learning how it works on a scale that is a better fit for them. They learned you sometimes have to improvise when you don’t have what you need. They learned we all need a little help from our friends. They learned to spell each other to keep the work going as people get tired. They learned to be flexible and accept change. They learned to balance priorities. These are lessons they will continue to learn as the world expands for them. As they head off to the YES conference in just two weeks they will be grappling with big ideas and challenges. The theme of the conference is government abuse of power. It’s easy for a young person to feel powerless and frustrated when they learn about such big challenging issues. Goodness knows we all feel a bit powerless. Imagine if you couldn’t even vote.

I see our job as adults is to keep creating a space that will work for them at this time in their lives. Our teens don’t live at the Ethical Society. They enter spaces that are often judgmental, restrictive and non-inclusive. When we create a space for teens in our community, to come together, think together, fail and succeed together, without shame or blame, they grow. Our community grows. Our movement grows. My wish is for our teens to know they always have a home here. They can come to this space for unconditional love, encouragement and inspiration. Our young people are thoughtful, confused, inexperienced, vulnerable, compassionate, distracted, and under pressure.

Our challenge is to keep the space open, provide some safety rails and resources and they will learn and grow in our community.

NOTE: The ideas and opinions in this post do not necessarily express the thoughts or opinions of the Ethical Society of St. Louis or its leadership.