Reflections from a “Granimator”

Posted: 2019/01/25

Junior youth Faith Lupick and Dolores Lindsay’s friend Maureen Flynn-Burhoe take part in the service project to help in a local community garden. Photo: Maureen Flynn-Burhoe

Recognizing and responding to the needs of your community can take many forms, like offering space or rides, to help outreach or to facilitate an activity. This grandmother in Calgary had to quickly learn to arise and take on any role that was being asked of her, including that of a junior youth animator.

My husband and I moved to Calgary, Alta., five years ago to provide some support to two of our sons’ young families. We live in a condo complex in a nice neighbourhood, and although an opportunity arose very quickly to provide a children’s class, my efforts to start a junior youth group didn’t seem to get anywhere. One of our sons lives nearby, and I spoke with a couple of his neighbours. I quickly realized that a major obstacle in a relatively affluent neighbourhood is that the kids have piano on Mondays, Scouts on Tuesdays, swimming on Wednesdays, chess club on Thursdays, and so on. So, I focused on my Saturday morning children’s class, which was entirely comprised of Bahá’í kids whose parents made their children’s spiritual education a priority, and I tried to be content. But the idea of starting a junior youth group never left me, especially as message after message from the institutions of the Faith reminded us of the promising nature of junior youth spiritual empowerment programme.

And then, about a year ago, a family moved into the condo across the street. I had seen a need to do a little community building in our complex and have since become the welcoming committee for new residents. So, I trotted over with some cookies and a plant and introduced myself. It turned out that they were from Cali, Colombia, and they had three daughters – 13-year-old twins and a 9-year-old. Within five minutes the mother was talking about the need to provide children, especially girls, with a moral education. I took a deep breath and said that, when they returned from a trip home, I would talk to them about a couple of programs that might interest them.

After they returned, we started inviting each other over for supper and the girls would come over to bake cookies, pies and cakes with me. Their youngest started attending our children’s class and her older sisters were anxious to enrol in a junior youth program. I took them to visit an existing one in our sector, but, since all but one of the participants were boys, the girls weren’t enthused. I decided I’d better try to find some other junior youth in our area.

I hadn’t thought to approach one of our son’s neighbours in my earlier attempts to attract interest in the program, but they also had twin girls the same age as our neighbours’ daughters, so I thought I would talk to them. I rehearsed a presentation about the aims of and rationale for the junior youth program and went down the street to meet their school bus, where their mother was waiting for them to arrive. I started to share about the program and was just at the point of reassuring her that it isn’t a program of religious indoctrination when she interrupted me and said, “If it has anything to do with the Bahá’í Faith, count us in.” When she got home, she announced to her twins that she had enrolled them in a junior youth group.

One was willing, the other was not. The mother, a resourceful woman, phoned the mother of the girl’s best friend and, with the little knowledge she had of the program, managed to convince her to also enrol her daughter. That was enough to get the reluctant twin on board. So, now we had five participants and I needed to find an animator toute de suite!

There was a Feast later that week and I was still preoccupied with finding an animator. I glanced up from my seat and there was a 15-year-old graduate of the junior youth program sitting across from me. I asked her if she had ever considered animating a junior youth group, and she said that she had been looking around for one, actually. Our group started the following week.

Dolores Lindsay and her co-animator Faith Moghaddami busy themselves at the community garden. Photo: Maureen Flynn-Burhoe

Everything went along swimmingly for a few months – my husband and I hosted the group in our home, I made snacks and listened admiringly from the next room while the young animator forged bonds of friendship with and among the junior youth. And then she got busy – very busy – with schoolwork, piano and the swim team, and her parents announced that she no longer had time to animate the group. After much consultation, they agreed that she could animate every second week.

This wasn’t going to be enough, of course. If I have learned anything, it is that core activities need first and foremost to be consistent. I suddenly realized I was about to embark on a new career as an elderly animator, every second week or more depending on my colleague’s homework and exam schedule.

I’m surprised to find that it’s going rather well. My young friend and I are a good blend of skills, experience and styles. I tend to be more directive than the ideal animator should be – I persuaded the girls to try working in a community garden as a service project, which they ended up really enjoying, despite their initial reservations – and I plan every meeting of the group as carefully as I plan a children’s class. My colleague, on the other hand, is an expert at going with the flow and drawing the girls out and giving them the space and freedom to express their true feelings.

The Colombian family suddenly withdrew their girls from both core activities (crisis and victory!) just around the time of the youngest’s First Communion. We have stayed on friendly terms, and two other girls have recently joined the group so there are still six participants around our dining room table on Tuesday evenings.

What is remarkable is the rapid and deep bonds that have formed between the families of the girls. They get together nearly every weekend. And the younger sister of the remaining twins decided to join our children’s class. Truly, this is a program that builds community.

— Dolores Lindsay