By Miriam Hernandez
Coordinator for Youth Ministry – Salesian Boys and Girls Club Los Angeles
I know youth ministers and teachers alike are all trying to find the best practices to stay connected to the teens in our ministries during this time of quarantine. Many times we might feel so restricted by all the changes happening, I know that I have. The current pandemic has challenged the way we work in order to keep meaningful connections with the youth. For the first couple of weeks I gathered different ideas from other youth ministers in our province about ways they were running online programs, retreats, fellowship, prayers, and meetings to stay connected. I searched the internet, made lots of phone calls, and sent many text messages to all the youth and their parents in our youth ministry. I asked how they were doing, and if there was anything we could do to help. There were many questions about when we would return. I found that most teens were mainly upset about no longer being allowed to see their friends on a daily basis. I asked if they would be interested in a virtual youth night and received a lot positive responses.
I would like to share what I learned about leading the virtual youth group for Boyle Heights. I was excited to see everyone again. First I looked for a platform, Google meets was a suggestion however I was told most LAUSD students were meeting with teachers on Zoom. Instagram live was also brought up but the core team decided on having two way communication for our meetings, so we opted for a Zoom meeting. Palm Sunday was our first meeting. Though we did not have a huge turnout, those that attended had a good time. The feedback I received from those who attended was that although we could not meet in person our virtual meeting was very similar to our weekly meeting. For our next meeting we made sure to have more advertisement. The second meeting we had 41 teens altogether. Students have mastered Zoom, and as a result, some posted funny pictures of themselves instead of sharing their camera, changed their backgrounds with pictures of nature, memes, and others trending celebrities. I had a few technical difficulties sharing my screen to play a virtual “Friendly Feud” which I thought would be a good time for everyone to catch up so I let them talk amongst themselves. “Language!” I kept reminding them. The lesson I learned was to always practice what will be shared before going live. After ten minutes of struggling to share my screen and asking the teens to stop all side conversations, the game began. A teen signed on as Mr. Wong and he was ready to have a good time. Mr. Wong began using the white board function on Zoom to draw over the Friendly Feud. He asked his own questions and got pretty creative. We ended the game early. I did not feel like anyone was listening, the chat was blowing up, and those who were upset that they could not complete the game also began giving Mr. Wong a hard time asking him to show his face. We ended with prayer and logged out. The core team met later on to evaluate and plan for the next meeting. The next meeting ran so much better thanks to the following changes: the host would not let anyone into the Zoom meeting if he did not recognize them which means all teens must now have their first name, last name and cameras on. During the meeting we asked that they keep their microphones muted unless they had something to contribute. Anyone that is talked to more than twice about their behavior will be sent back to the waiting room and will be excluded from whatever activity we are doing at the time. We now have an adult who is managing the group chat. That person answers the youth’s questions and makes sure everyone is respectful towards one another. Finally, we built in a hangout time before we officially begin our meeting and after the meeting ends for those who wish to stay longer. I hope you all continue finding innovated ways to continue to do what you need to during this time.