In late 2011, when I was living in Artarmon, a lovely young lady by the name of Carmel knocked on my door to ask if I’d be interested in volunteering for a youth oriented program to be run in my area. As a serial volunteer, I’d been looking for a more community based role (much of my experience is event based), so I jumped at the chance.
When I speak to people, even my friends, I find it quite hard to explain what the program is without first going through some concepts, so I thought I’d try to capture it through a Q&A style dialogue.
FAQs for parents/guardians
What is a ‘junior’ youth?
A junior youth, also commonly known as an adolescent, is aged 11-14.
What is the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program?
In recognising that 11-14 is a key transitional phase for many youth, the JY program aims to help members establish an identity, work with each other to foster a positive peer group and develop a social conscience that will enable them to service the community. The program is divided into three main areas: study, recreation and service.
- Study consists of reading through a series of books that present moral issues through stories and questions for discussion. These fables also help with reading comprehension and numeracy, and have been adopted in some countries as part of the school syllabus, making this activity an extension or complement to school, while also enhancing members’ moral and spiritual perception.
- Recreation consists of group-led activities that may range from sport and games to arts and crafts as decided by the members.
- Service consists of a change project in the community. The objectives and scope of the project/s are decided and acted upon by the group.
‘Spiritual’? Is this program religious?
No. But you should know that the material is Baha’i inspired, which means that the books do mention God and do include prayers. We understand that not everyone will be comfortable with this.
The youth need not be from a family of the Baha’i faith (most JY members are not) and there is no expectation that they become Baha’i following the program as there is no doctrine throughout. Many members from other religions—Hinduism, Christianity, Islam—find that the program complements their faith.
If you would like a preview of the books, you can arrange for a member of the Baha’i community to visit you and take you through them.
Who runs the program?
Accredited* volunteers known as ‘animators’ run the program. Animators can be as young as 15 (usually graduates of the program), but many are adults, from university students to professionals. It is important to note that animators do not lead the group but facilitate the program through enabling the youth to undertake the activities using their own motivation and initiative.
* Accreditation is provided after participants undergo Working with Children training and pass a mandatory police check.
Are there any costs involved?
It is free to attend JY meetings. There may be incidental costs along the way with regard to social activities (going to the movies, for example) but in the interests of keeping the activities accessible to families of all incomes, these will be kept to a minimum.
Where can I go for further information?
The Australian Baha’i website has further information about the program.
About JY Ashfield
Who animates this group?
Adeline Teoh (that’s me) is an education writer who doesn’t identify as Baha’i but recognises the value of moral guidance and youth empowerment that comes from this program. I became an animator because I believe youth need a place outside of home and school to strengthen their identity and engage with others without judgement.
In addition to being accredited to work with minors, I also have a current Apply First Aid certificate.
Past animators have been Taraneh Misaghi, who is currently undergoing service in the Marshall Islands, and Navid Afshar, who has moved to Melbourne to pursue his studies.
When does the group meet?
JY Ashfield meets weekly on Wednesdays from 4-6pm. Occasionally we may meet at other times, generally on weekends, when doing service projects or undergoing social activities.
Where does the group meet?
Ashfield Park (that’s New South Wales, Australia) or a member’s household near the park. Most members attend school in the area and/or live nearby and find it easy to walk to the meeting point.
How can my son/daughter join?
Call animator Adeline Teoh on 0421 655 234 and I’ll talk to you about the program.
Where can I get updates?
The program encourages animators to check in with parents/guardians regularly.