Years ago, a camp participant told me, “I was so nervous when I got here, but the minute I walked in the door, I knew I’d be okay.”
Think for a moment about the mix of emotions that emerge when you enter a new group…anxiety, fear, insecurity, curiosity, excitement. The beginning of a program is often the most awkward time for youth and adults. Here are some things you can do to smooth the transition and help your program get off to a good start:
- Before your program, take a good look at your list of students or participants. Become familiar with their names and look for any associations that might help you remember the names. Is a participant from your same town? Do they work for an organization you admire? Have they asked a provocative question in their registration form? Tuck these associations away to bring out later.
- Set your room up with beautiful hand-made signs and obvious places for coats and bags. Have coffee and tea ready. This will make your participants feel cared for.
- Greet people as they arrive with a smile. Meet them where they are at by being friendly but not overwhelmingly excited. When they tell you their name, if associations come to you, use that information. “Oh you are the program director of Youth Power! I’d love to learn more about your organization.” Or, “You’re from Barcelona. I visited there last year.” People are inevitably surprised by this recognition. They relax and feel welcome.
- Participate in your community building activities along with your participants. If they are making creative nametags, jump in and join the casual conversation. Appreciate the nametags as they emerge. If you lead name games play them as well. This will help you learn the names along with everyone else.
A warm, safe learning community is built on many small acts carried out with care and consideration. Don’t overlook the small stuff. It will make all the difference.
Author: Peggy Taylor, MEd is the Co-founder and Creative Director of Partners for Youth Empowerment