By Mindy Lee, NFTY TOR Regional Director | GFC Assistant Director
What is the foundation of a fruitful partnership? What does a healthy relationship look like? These are questions that can be difficult to answer between any group of people. Ultimately, the best partnerships are built from the most trusting and positive relationships where we actively listen to each other and value the other’s strengths and potential. NFTY provides a unique space where we, as adults, push ourselves to challenge our assumptions and work alongside teen leaders to create meaningful experiences for the larger community. Success happens when we engage in an intentional process of building trust to forge a more organic partnership where we simply create meaningful experiences together.
Over my four years as the Director of the NFTY Texas Oklahoma Region (NFTY TOR), no program or weekend has better exemplified this ideal teen-adult partnership more than our region’s Summerpalooza event where more than 160 teens gathered at URJ Greene Family Camp (GFC) over Labor Day Weekend. This event has been a staple of our calendar for over a decade, and we recently re-imagined it into an event that includes five tracks for teens to choose between: Madrichim (teacher’s assistant) Training, Israel, Social Action & Advocacy, Adventure & Sports, and Songleading. In order to provide five unique and concurrent programming experiences, we had to find individual and organizational partners to support our work. It was clear throughout the planning process that teens and adults were learning from each other and enjoying working together. By the end of the long weekend, I felt incredible pride for the work of our teen leaders and adult partners. Our success was reflected not only in the positive feedback that we received in surveys, but also in the lasting relationships we have continued to see between our teen participants and adult partners since.
I value my partnerships with teen leaders AND I value opportunities to facilitate those partnerships for others.
Here are three things I think about when facilitating teen-adult partnerships:
- Shared Interests and Passions
When teens and adults can connect over shared passions, challenging power dynamics and awkward interactions can more easily melt away. For our Songleading track, Zoey Weinstein, NFTY TOR’s Religious and Cultural Vice President and our capable Songleading Chairs, Maya Deol and Caroline Sloter, worked closely with Dan Lee, our long-time GFC Music Director. It’s an incredible opportunity to facilitate a partnership when teens can learn from the years of an adult has had to focus on a skill and to also watch how adults can learn and be re-energized by the passion and intrigue of teens. Together, they identified their goals to develop an engaging program that taught the skills and nuances of effective songleading and created a comfortable environment for teens and adults to play and create music together. The most beautiful moments of the entire weekend came when teens and adults created impromptu jam sessions together. Teens and adults alike brought their creativity and passion to a space and learned from each other along the way. This track has built momentum for the rest of the year with more enthusiastic, confident, and committed teen songleaders than our region has seen in many years.
- Readiness to Invest
With the RAC’s (Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism) Civic Engagement Campaign in full swing and our region’s commitment to empowering teens around the issue of gun violence prevention, our Social Action Vice President, Kaylie James, had a lot to balance. It was a predecessor and activist in her own right, Maddie Newman, who made a great adult partner, helping Kaylie make the social justice programming a success. As a young adult and current college student, Maddie was enthusiastic and could easily connect with Kaylie on a personal level. Plus, her schedule allowed her the time and flexibility to commit. Together, they created, adapted and co-led engaging and informative programming that introduced the RAC’s Civic Engagement initiative to our region, while incorporating NFTY’s most pressing social justice initiatives.
- Commitment to Shared Goals
Over the previous year, we began developing a relationship with Kids4Peace (K4P), a grassroots interfaith youth movement, dedicated to ending conflict and inspiring hope in Jerusalem and other divided societies around the world. With their Executive Director, Fr. Josh Thomas, newly based in Austin, TX, the timing was perfect to bring our organization’s teens together. We were committed to K4P teens to be fully immersed in the weekend’s programming and that they would co-lead programming with NFTY TOR teen leaders. With the help of generous donors, we were able to host 5 teens from Jerusalem, along with 3 K4P staff members. Together with NFTY TOR teen leaders, including our Programming Vice President, Hannah Bender, and URJ Youth Programs Chair, Micah Heilbron, the group created impactful programming based on the K4P model of peace through dialogue, empathy, and advocacy. Teens shared their different perspectives, stories of conflict, and hope while developing skills to create more interfaith opportunities in their home communities.
The best partnerships often begin with shared interests and require trust and commitment. While we developed partnerships for a specific weekend event, our staff, adult partners, and teen leaders continue to feel the positive ripple effects of those meaningful partnerships far beyond the program.