I am almost at the 2 year mark for this work. I cannot believe that! It has been a time of reflection. I have finally summarized the results of the survey I conducted from September 2011- October 2012. Please feel free to circulate this and talk about it.
This is all based on the data I collected from 151 Young Adult Friends in NYYM. These are Their words and experiences.
I am excited about where we will take this information.
Peace to you all,
I conducted this survey as the Young Adult Field Secretary (YAFS) for New York Yearly Meeting (NYYM).
· I collected 151 responses from September 2011-October 2012. This does not, at all, cover the entire population of Young Adult Friends in NYYM at this time. The responses represent MANY opinions and experiences, and should not be used to categorize all Young Adult Friends (YAF), the opinions of the Young Adult Field Secretary or NYYM.
· I administered the survey to those who 1. Identified as a Young Adult Friend (I also explained the traditional ages of 18-35, I did not ask their age, but allowed them to self-identify) and 2. Who wanted to take the survey. I carried this survey as I traveled through NYYM.
· There are responses from each of the 9 Regions of New York Yearly Meeting. There are not responses from each meeting. If Friends are interested I can provide a further breakdown of responses from each region.
· In as many cases as I was able, I handed the survey to the participant, and got it back the same day. I had a 100% return rate when I did it in person. I emailed the survey to Many Young Adult Friends (YAF) and when I sent it out, my return rate was extremely low. I only received about 4 this way. I carried the survey with me through my travels in NYYM, larger and smaller gatherings. Some surveys I conducted one on one.
· Not all the fields on the survey were filled out for each survey. Many questions were left unanswered. Some people answered with multiple answers.
· If you have questions, would like to participate in the survey, or would like a copy of all the data, graphs of multiple choice answers, and responses to the queries I posed, please contact Gabi Savory Bailey, Young Adult Field Secretary, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: People may select more than one checkbox, so percentages may add up to more than 100%. Likewise, not everyone answered every question, so the number of responses is not always equal to the percentage of the total of individuals surveyed.
Plus Interesting facts, things that might surprise you, and queries that we can consider as a result.
Please note: The analysis of the data is still evolving and cannot be wholly summed up by me alone. This is the beginning of a process of knowing each other better, serving each other better, and supporting the Young Adult Friends and Families of NYYM better. There are more data than I have noted here, and can supply a copy of all the data if Friends are interested in more details. I have discerned for myself the most pertinent pieces for this report.
· 27% of those surveyed were in the 23-26 age range. The next largest group was 22% in the 27-30 age range. This is notable because I often hear an assumption that YAF are College age, or transitioning out of college. Both of these age groups are out of the college range. Only 21% of those surveyed responded that they are in the 18-22 year age range. Leaving 79% of those surveyed as older than 22. 19% of those surveyed identified as being Young Adult Friends, or having a young family, and yet were older than 35. This struck me as important. This means that it is more likely that these YAF are settling into a job path, family life, or settling geographically. It is also possible that they are establishing long-term relationships, and families. The fact that 49% of the YAF I surveyed are in between 23-30 challenges the notion that all YAF are transient, and without permanence in their life. I have heard this mentioned as a reason why YAF are not able to participate in the life of a Monthly Meeting, or the Yearly Meeting.
I see this more as a challenge to ask ourselves how we can serve them differently. Does this mean that we might do well to look at the life stage that people identify with (college, single, married, homeowners, job established, job seeking, parent, for example) as much as their age? Would these associations with Life stage, rather than numerical age, help us to better identify needs and ways of supporting the individuals? How does this information change our idea of who is a Young Adult Friend?
· It is also notable that the age of YAF who attend Circle of Young Friends, or Young Adults Concerns Committee has traditionally drastically declined after age 24. This statistic is anecdotal, as there were no data taken on it, but the Young Adult Concerns Committee has found this to be the case in their conferences and Committee. So, again…
How can we identify and nurture the needs and gifts of this age group differently, so that they are visibly involved? How early in the life span should this work begin, so that the decline can be avoided?
· Only 20 individuals of those surveyed said they grew up in the meeting where they now worship/belong 83 did not. 72 responded that they grew up as Quaker, 76 did not grow up Quaker. This is significant because we tend to be more aware of the YAF who grew up in our Meeting. We tend to know how old they are, roughly, and have some idea of how much they do or do not know about Quakerism/Quaker process. If 50% did not grow up as a Quaker, I wonder how effective our Religious Education for Adults is, and if the YAF know about the structure of the Yearly Meeting, the committees, the larger Quaker world, and the conference possibilities that are available. Many people I spoke with said that they felt “new” for a very long time. Many noted how long it takes to feel involved, and how hard it is to break into existing social groups.
How do we nurture new attenders, and support their understanding and involvement in the Religious Society of Friends? Do we assume that because someone attends several times, that they have the information to learn and navigate Business Worship, Regional and Yearly meeting, committees, and all of the other information we take for granted? How readily is that information available to all attenders and members?
· 28 of those surveyed said that they were members of a meeting where they regularly worshipped. 64 said that they were attending a meeting regularly, but were not members. 9 responded that they were members, but do not attend regularly. There were a lot of “other” responses. These might include how they would like to, but time does not permit, or how they haven’t found a meeting, or how they just moved, or any number of responses. A question that comes from this is
How do we talk about and understand membership? What are the ways our Meetings inform attenders about membership, and the process? How do our Meetings get to know newcomers? What attracts attenders?
· 46 people responded that they found their meetings on the Internet, 64 through Friends and Family and 5 responded that they saw the sign on the Meetinghouse. 15 said that they have known nothing else. This raises important issues about how we are visible in the world.
What information is on the Internet about our Meetings? Do we have an electronic presence? Do we want one? How do we share who we are and what we believe?
· 14 people responded that they have had experiences that have left them disinterested in worshipping with a meeting. 32 responded that they did not. Not everyone answered this question, obviously, but if people are having unfavorable experiences, and leaving with no one finding out why, this could be a place of exploration.
How do we know how the other attenders and members experience our Meetings? Is there a way to check in with other people, so we can be aware of conflicts, concerns, dissatisfactions, before people leave?
· 33 people surveyed said they have children. I think this is significant because families are not always considered when people are looking to the needs of YAF. It is clear from the long answer questions that there is considerable need for support and nurture of parents.
This issue is in need of great, and urgent, consideration.
· 52 responded that they had attended Powell House Youth Programs. 98 did not attend the Youth Program. 40 responded that they attended Junior Yearly Meeting (JYM), 104 did not. This is significant. Before this survey it was the assumption by many that the Young Adults of the Yearly meeting were largely Powell House graduates. In fact, many of those I spoke to do not even know about Powell House, or the youth program, JYM, or the existence of the Yearly Meeting. This represents many of the YAF who came to Quakerism as adults. It is common that those who were active in Powell House as youth, or in JYM, are more visible at the Yearly Meeting level, simply because they grew up there and are known there.
How do we get to know those YAF who did not grow up in the Yearly Meeting? How do they get their information? How do we design programming that will fill their needs? Who are we missing because we do not know their gifts and needs? Are we consistently tapping the YAF we know through these programs, and contributing to burn out, when there are many other YAF who have a wealth of gifts we do not yet know? How are our youth programs educating and involving youth, so that when they transition to Adulthood, they know what is happening, who to talk to, how to be involved, and WANT to be there?
· The top 4 reasons people gave for not attending Quaker conferences and sessions are Cost (43 respondents), distance (38 respondents), Lack of information and time (22 respondents each). Only 12 responded that they are not interested in the topics. These are each very important to consider.
How can we address these concerns, so that those who want to attend can? How can we disseminate information about events, financial aid, and opportunities more easily so that people can know what is available and how to be able to attend?
· The information about Committees is complicated. It is harder to quantify the information. Of those who participate on committees, there were many favorable responses, the highest number of responses were that they feel heard and respected, Feel good about their work, feel satisfied, feel their gifts are well used. (21, 17, 17, 12 respondents respectively.) There were 13 that responded that they felt they were asked because of their age. Only 2 said NEVER AGAIN. 11 responded that they know why they were asked to do this work. 4 noted they have no idea how they got there. 10 responded that they feel overwhelmed. We have an opportunity to encourage conversation about the work that we do on committees. 64 people said they did not participate because of time. 32 responded that they do not know what they are led to do. 31 responded that they were intimidated. 35 do not want to sign up for too much. 31 responded that they do no know what is available. Only 15 said they were not interested. And only 4 responded that they had a bad experience, 5 that are burned out from committee work. This appears encouraging and is an area that I see as addressable. It is encouraging that people are largely staying away because of concerns about time and over commitment, vs having had bad experiences.
How do we let people know what work is being done at a yearly, Regional and Monthly Meeting level? How do we convey the work being done on committees? How do we talk about our experiences? . What forums exist for us to communicate about our committee experience? How is committee work perceived?
· When I asked how I can serve YAF best the answers pretty evenly distributed, but a few things stood out. 55 People said they wanted me to get them information. Others wanted local opportunities to gather with other YAF, and wanted opportunities for conferences and to get involved. 24 responded that they wanted me to help them discern their gifts. 16 wanted me to sit and listen. 15 wanted me to explain things like membership, meeting for business, committees etc. These are significant needs. It speaks that the hunger is there. It tells me that this is an individual movement. It is a movement based on personal relationships and Spiritual Friendships. The road to including everyone and growing involvement on all levels is in the one-on-one Opportunities. Our strength is knowing each other, being gathered together. People want to know more. They want to be connected. This gives good information that there is much that can be done at a Monthly Meeting level.
The question is how do Meetings understand their role? Are there opportunities for fellowship, and learning? How do we discern, name and nurture the gifts of those in our Meetings? Are YAF looking to their meetings as places where this spiritual work can be done?
I asked several long answer questions on the survey:
- What do you see as needs for YAF in NYYM? In your experience, what particular gifts do YAF have to offer the rest of NYYM?
- Where are you Spiritually hungry? For what do you yearn?
- What is something that you have experienced, done or attended in Quakerism that made a positive impact on you? How did it impact you?
- What is something that you have experienced, done or attended in Quakerism that made a negative impact on you? How did it impact you?
- Is there anything else you would like the YAFS to know?
- What are some themes/topics that you would be interesting to you?
The answers to these queries were varied, and are not easily summed up here. If you would like to read them I can provide you a copy if you email me (email@example.com) They provide a narrative that is extremely important, and that has rarely been heard. There are strengths, needs, hopes, and disappointments. It is an act of faith to ask people to speak openly. It is an even bigger act of faith to actually speak one’s experience. It is the biggest act of faith to listen openly, take in what is being said, and to respond lovingly, and openly. This listening is ideally done with the expectation that we will necessarily have to change, grow, and know each other better as a result. There are many deeply committed, faithful, and active YAF in our Yearly Meeting. The news is not bad; in fact, the life that is in these responses is impressive. These responses show us that there is a hunger for MORE. There is a desire to be heard, seen, connected, and engaged. People long to discern what their gifts are and how to deepen their experiences. There is a deep desire to include and engage families and all people, regardless of age. I hope that we can examine the assumptions that are held by each individual about age and Spiritual experience.
How often do these assumptions hold us back and keep us from engaging in the deep way that we yearn to? Do we assume that someone’s interests, experiences, theological beliefs and yearnings will be different from our own because of their age?
I am deeply grateful to all the Young Adult Friends who opened up to me. I am honored to have been able to participate in this deep listening.