Exploration in a Safe Space
Model Programs for Tweens/Teens/Young Adults
by Vicki Garlock
My hope is we can reach this generation and leave things better than we found them, that we can make a positive impact moving forward. I’ve got four kids and we have got to do better than this for them.
– Katina Sharp, Co-founder of Seeds of Abraham
The changes that occur during adolescence and young adulthood are considerable, and most developmental psychologists acknowledge this important phase in a person’s life. For example, Erik Erikson (Childhood and Society, reissue, 1993), a well-known developmental psychologist in the 20th century, proposed that this developmental period is characterized by Identity vs. Role Confusion – a time when adolescents explore personal values and beliefs as they begin to establish a sense of self.
Developmentalists with more focused interests in faith formation also highlight the importance of this time in a young person’s life. For example, Bruce Powers (Growing Faith, 1982) has suggested that the adolescence/early adulthood period is marked by a transition from “indoctrination” in one’s own faith to “reality testing” — a time when individuals begin to compare their perception of life with the belief system in which they were raised.
Increasingly, caregivers and religious educators are recognizing the importance of supporting tweens, teens, and young adults as they move through this developmental phase. This article focuses on two programs – Seeds of Abraham in Knoxville, TN and The Green Room in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada – where the importance of exploration outshines the insecurity of fear.
Seeds of Abraham in Knoxville
Seeds of Abraham is a relatively new interfaith initiative that provides a straight-forward blueprint for bringing together young people from various faith traditions. The group was co-founded in Knoxville, Tennessee in the summer of 2017 by Amira Hamed, a Muslim mother of two, and Katina Sharp, a Christian mother of four. Both women have experience facilitating youth groups in their respective faith communities, but Seeds of Abraham is open to all interested young people.
The group, designed for kids in middle-school and high school, meets once or twice a month for community service, fellowship, and fun. So far, their community service projects have focused on helping the homeless community in Knoxville. In addition to distributing blankets and clothing, Seeds of Abraham kids have already served up hundreds of hot meals to those in need. The group has also gathered for a poetry slam, hosted by the Knoxville Jewish Alliance, and a playback theater event where actors produced on-the-spot portrayals of stories shared by audience members.
Both Hamed and Sharp are clear about the goals of the group. “The only thing we want to change about people is their preconceptions,” said Sharp, which means that kids of any faith or no faith are welcome. Thus far, most of their participants have come from the Abrahamic traditions, but they are hoping to continue branching out to other faith communities in the Knoxville area. They also have lots of ideas for future events. As Hamed put it, “We want to help bridge the gap and bring peace in an era where there is a lot of misunderstanding and hate.”
When it comes to the interfaith world, there is always more work to be done, but Seeds of Abraham is already making headway in meeting some of its objectives. According to both Hamed and Sharp, the kids repeatedly remark that they “feel like we are more similar than different” as they work together, build friendships, and overcome unnecessary divisions.
The Green Room in Edmonton
The Green Room also provides unique programming for young adults. Founded in 2013 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, The Green Room is primarily geared toward Muslim youth aged 16-24; however, they welcome all young adults regardless of faith or ethnicity.
The Green Room offers a range of programs designed to support social networking, community-building, spiritual growth, and intellectual development. Green Room participants might host dinners for the homeless, assist refugee families, or enjoy an outdoor activity in the city of Edmonton. They are also given opportunities to explore contemporary issues. For example, as part of The Green Room’s new Outspoken program, young adults explored the topic of domestic violence through story, reflection, and sharing.
Playlist, a program still in the works, will soon provide opportunities for young adults to discuss how Islam and Muslims are depicted in pop-culture and the media. Finally, the Green Room helps support Muslims observing the holy month of Ramadan by matching host families with both Muslims and non-Muslims who wish to attend an iftar (the daily break-the-fast meal).
One of the Green Room’s most ambitious initiatives is the Leadership Team – a year-long program where Muslim youth explore community concerns through the creative arts and prepare themselves to take action on local issues. The Home Project, completed by the 2016 Leadership Team, is an impressive example of how the program works.
Team members were first asked to reflect on the meaning of “home” as people of color living in a time of fear-mongering, as members of a minority religion in a multicultural society, and as individuals living on land that once belonged to indigenous tribes. After weeks of reflection through storytelling, journaling, and creating collages, each team member was given a disposable camera to photograph portraits of “home.” The end result was a gallery exhibit in mid-2017 that was open to the general public.
The Green Room’s range of programs provides a safe space for Muslim youth to delve into issues of both faith and culture. As program manager, Kamran Dadi, points out, “Many of the conversations happening in the broader culture about Islam are also happening within the Muslim community.” The Green Room does an excellent job of facilitating those conversations by using approaches that are both challenging and relevant to today’s youth.
Providing the Rich Soil
Tweens, teens, and young adults need opportunities to explore their relationship with the world around them while still resting in the faith traditions of their childhood. By offering a variety of activities – community service, creative expression, and just-plain-fun – Seeds of Abraham and The Green Room acknowledge the realities of this developmental stage while providing the rich soil kids need to blossom into the adults they were meant to be.
To keep up with Seeds of Abraham, like them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter (@SeedsAbraham) or Instagram (SeedsofAbrahamKnoxville).
To keep up with The Green Room, like them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter (@the greenroomyeg) or Instagram (thegreenroomyeg).
Header Photo: The Green Room