The junior youth empowerment program is a Baha’i inspired activity that teaches virtues, the power of serving oneself and ones community to preteens, tweens, whatever you want to call the age between 12-15. They are headed by a person or persons called animators. They are 16 or older who moderate these meetings and help the junior youth with the written material and planning service projects.
This age group is one of the hardest times in a person’s life. Not only are they physically changing faster, their lives are getting more complicated. School work gets harder, their independence is introduced, finding who they are as a person. At the same time while all of this is going, the description of this age group in media doesn’t help. They start worrying if they really just hormone driven, insecure mini teenagers. If people really pay attention to junior youth, they will realize that this age group is the most receptive to equality, justice and unity. Unfortunately, not many adults pay attention to that part of their growth. The junior youth empowerment program is focused to keep that part of their intellect and wonder stay vibrant and help them act on their wishes to make this world a better place.
The program consists of a series of books that concentrate on a set of virtues such as generosity, thankfulness, humbleness, etc. The other part is to do different service projects depending on what the junior youth are passionate about that can help their community.
This is no easy task, it is asking a lot. For five days a week, they are studying, reading text after text, project after project. When they get home, they have more reading and writing to do. For many, the last thing they want to do is take a free time, in my junior youth programs, it means 2 to 3 hours on a weekend to read another text!
As far as service projects, from my experience, there is a legal issue. I have been an animator for two different groups in Chicago then I moved to New Zealand working with two other groups in Auckland. Some examples of what the junior youth wanted to do are work with the homeless, volunteer at a hospital or animal shelter. For all of these, a person had to be at least 16 to do so. How can I as an animator keep their spirits high? While we are on the phone with different organizations, you can hear their wonder and gratitude that these kids actually want to do something productive with their free time and help others. However, they are not allowed to which is understandable. Many of the laws prevent people under a certain age to work for these kinds of organizations for health and safety reasons. Still, it hurts to see their disappointed faces.
Of course there are the other smaller things that can drive even the most patient of animators crazy (which I admit, I am not one of those) . It is quite amusing seeing these 12-15 year olds try to hide their cell phones from my eye line so they can text, surf the internet, etc. Listen here junior youth: your animators come from the time when cell phones were first popular amongst young people. We not only know all the tricks to hiding our cell phones, we INVENTED them so you cannot get away with it!
However, with all these issues, this program has been proven to be such an amazing effective source for the kids, animators, parents and community. This program has been offered in every country in the world since 2006. I never participated as a junior youth since it did not become as popular as it has become until after I graduated high school. I did go through training to be an animator which meant I read all the books for the program with other studying animators and with each other’s help, slowly gained more and more families interested in joining this program. Some of the service projects we did do were volunteer at a soup kitchen, raise money for an ambulance service by making sausage sizzles and cookies. Indeed, despite the challenges, the ideas do keep coming and we do our service projects.
This program is offered for all different backgrounds, it is not just for Baha’is. This age group want to help people, it is not implanted in their brain, it has been there from the beginning. My job as an animator is to expand on this want and make it into a reality.
One of my junior youth groups have turned 15 which means that they are “graduating” from these groups and continue onto the next step. This is called study circles and is also Baha’is inspired where you read texts on topics like life after death, the meaning of religion and so forth. Even though they are getting older, they still and will always be serving.
I have made a few videos about this program, below is a link to a trailer for a 2 part special for Baha’i on Air. I used footage from all different parts of the world, the US, New Zealand, Colombia, Vanuatu, Australia, Democratic Republic of Congo, and many more. If you want to learn more about this program, you can contact your local Baha’is.