Religious Education Corner    Protest Marches with Children    March 2017


“Rather than standing or speaking for children, we need to stand with children speaking for themselves. We don’t need a political movement for children... [we need to] build environments and policies for our collective future.” ~ Sandra Meucci

These are turbulent times that we live in. Millions of families across our nation marched in the Women’s March in Washington DC, New York and many other cities and towns across our nation in January. Whether your family participated in mind, body or spirit, you may have wondered how involved you should let your children become. I want to share some tips to help families decide about their level of protest march involvement.
   1. Let your children know why you are protesting. Families should discuss their family values and our faith values as Unitarian Universalists as well. As described on the UUA website: “We are brave, curious, and compassionate thinkers and doers. We are diverse in faith, ethnicity, history and spirituality, but aligned in our desire to make a difference for the good. We have a track record of standing on the side of love, justice, and peace.” Explain your views in terms of what you are fighting for not what you are fighting against. “We are fighting the president’s immigration policy” can be turned in to “We are marching for love, justice and peace.” Don’t use the word “fight” as children take this literally and envision a physical altercation and may be frightened. Marching for love, justice and peace is much more empowering for a child.
   2. Signage: How many of you remember specific children’s signs you saw from the march? Signs are fun. Children can make signs with their own words. They are easily fashioned with a wooden paint stirrer from a hardware store, some oak tag and duct tape. This also makes them light and easier to carry for small hands. Simple signs like “Take care of our earth” are easy for children to understand. Let them choose the words that are age appropriate and mean something to them. Remember that children get tired and signs get heavy. You may well be holding your sign and theirs by the end of the route.
   3. Plan, plan, plan. Did I say that enough? Plan for the weather and dress appropriately. Plan for bathroom breaks. Bring a backpack (hands-free) and stock it with sunscreen, water and snacks. Leave room for discarded items of clothing as the temperature changes. Bring some cash. Often trinkets, water and snacks are sold by vendors along the route and they won’t be taking credit cards. You may also need cash to get your family back to your starting point from the end of the route. You may need to use public transportation.
   4. Understand that children can get overstimulated or tired. You do not have to participate in the entire march. You can start at the beginning and leave at any point. You can start in the middle and walk to the end. You can take breaks and sit on the sidelines and watch other marchers go by for a bit. No matter what your level of participation, your attendance will be appreciated.
   5. When as a family we plan important events or activities, we have lots of discussion before, during and after the event. This allows everyone to feel like their voices are heard. It allows anyone to ask questions at any point. After many events that our family participates in, we have a family de-brief. We ask questions like: what was the most fun? What do you wish could have been different? Do you have any questions? If as parents you feel comfortable sharing.        6. Remember that marches can attract large crowds. Families need a quick easy way to identify each other. Matching tee shirts or hats in bright colors can make your family members more recognizable in a large crowd. Make a plan in case you are separated. Children should know to seek the help of a uniformed police officer or safety volunteer. They should also know that they can go to a store and speak with a uniformed store employee. Children should also be able to recite two phone numbers: one for someone at the march with them with a cell phone and a land line for someone not at the march with them. For children too young to memorize numbers, you can write the numbers on your child’s arm with a sharpie. If you feel the direction of the protest is becoming uncomfortable, feel free to leave at any time. Trust your instincts!
   7. Lastly, be aware that there are several possible negative outcomes in a political march or protest. A protest could turn violent. An opposing group of protesters could turn violent. A crowd could panic (maybe for no visible reason like someone saw a rat) and people could get hurt or trampled in the melee.

Our children sing the Seven Principle song each week. “Each person is important. Be kind in all you do. We’re free to learn together and search for what is true. All people need a voice. Give everyone a vote. Build a fair and peaceful world. Take care of earth’s lifeboat.” Participating in protest marches with their families empowers children to use their voices to be the change they want to see in the world.

Gretta Johnson-Sally, DRE



 RE Corner February 2017

Is Someone in Your Family Feeling the Winter Blues?

As I sit at my desk on this dreary winter January day, I can't help but think I must be one of those people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. If I don't officially suffer from it, I am on my way. I particularly hate the month of January. The weather is mostly miserable and the month drags on. February is at least helped by winter break - a chance for schoolchildren and teachers to change up the monotony. As I get older, it becomes more and more apparent. That got me to thinking about children and adolescents and researching SAD in that age group.

More than 1 million children and adolescents suffer from SAD. Seasonal Affective Disorder is related to seasonal variations in the light during the fall and winter months. Symptoms include depression, fatigue, difficulty in concentrating, irritability, oversleeping, and weight gain. Studies have shown that SAD is related to levels of melatonin in the body. Melatonin is the hormone that affects the body's sleep-wake cycle. In the winter months, when there are less daylight hours, melatonin production increases. Symptoms vary in intensity. When symptoms are mild, parents are encouraged to allow their children to spend more hours outside. When the symptoms are more severe, sometimes light therapy is used. One such therapy has children sitting under a bank of special fluorescent lighting on a regular basis.

SAD is more than just the "winter blues". 10 to 20% of all Americans suffer from SAD (AAP), but most do not feel the onset of it until they are in their 20s. Approximately 3% of kids ages 9 to 17 have SAD. (Dr. Norman E Rosenthal in "Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder"). Older teens and girls are most likely to be affected. After puberty, the percentage of affected girls increases threefold. Children who are already at risk for depression have a higher chance of being affected by SAD.

SAD goes largely undiagnosed. While a pediatrician might screen for depression at a well visit, the depression screening often is not fine-tuned enough to identify SAD. One of the challenges of making a diagnosis is that kids have specific stressors during the fall and winter months that they don't have during the summer, like school, athletics, and new social situations. So, if any of those are the triggers, the episode will be diagnosed as depression not SAD. Often SAD is misdiagnosed as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). One distinct difference, however, is that children with SAD are more likely to be withdrawn and quiet than their ADHD peers who are hyperactive. It is best to look for changes in your child's behavior that only happens during the darker days of fall and winter and seems to be seasonally related.

The good news is that there are treatments that are easily available and successful. Get sunlight. Encourage a healthy diet and exercise plan. Get a spectrum light which distributes daylight inside your home. Spend time outside with friends and family. There are also phototherapy, counseling, and medication treatment options available. If you think Seasonal Affective Disorder is something that your child may have, you are encouraged to seek your pediatrician’s advice. (AAP - American Academy of Pediatrics)

Gretta Johnson-Sally, DRE


Religious Education Corner:   Youth Ministry  January 2017

“Inspire youth to make their life more meaningful and bright for positive impact.”

~ Kishore Bansai

In late January last year, our youth group put together a Sunday morning service for the first time in several years.  In fact, no one in this group had ever worked on a youth service before.  They opened their hearts to our congregation and shared with all of us a little bit about what it was like growing up “UU”. 

I wanted to share with you some of what goes on behind-the-scenes with youth ministry.  Vital youth ministry and resilient Unitarian Universalist youth begin with healthy, spiritually mature adults. Companioning youth on their spiritual journey is an important ministry.  Our youth group has four advisers: Melissa Elliott-Brogan, Judd Kramarcik, Ted Masters and Gretta Johnson-Sally.  Each of us brings different things to our youth group.  We all come from different religious backgrounds.  We have different jobs by day.  We love working together and with the youth.  We are a tight cohesive group. Our youth come together with many different adults to build relationships and live their faith.  These may be religious education leaders, Coming-of-Age (COA) mentors, Our Whole Lives (OWL) leaders, conference leaders, and summer camp staff to name a few. But truly, youth ministry is everyone’s ministry.  A truly multigenerational community welcomes and affirms the voices, gifts and journeys of every person of every age. Adolescence is a time of complexity and youth construct their identities based on their experiences. Meaningful engagement with adults who are living authentically nurtures appreciation of our inherent human diversity. Being a strong role model who acts with integrity, supports youth in their racial and gender identity development and helps them articulate their own belief system and live their lives as Unitarian Universalists.

Our youth have chosen to answer our faith’s call for social action by participating in several social action projects throughout the year.  They are not given a budget line in our congregation’s budget and have to earn any money they use to complete their projects.  Hence, the weekly soup sales after each service.  The youth appreciate the congregation’s enthusiastic participation in this venture.  We support less fortunate families at Christmas time, have done care packages with books, have offered childcare for a Parents Night Out and of course, our largest project, Midnight Run each May when we go into New York City with food and clothing for homeless people. 

The youth group theme for the January 29th youth service is: “The Music that Influences Our Lives”.  It will be a selection of music that speaks to our youth and to their Unitarian Universalist principles.  Please join them for a glimpse into the amazing youth who are part of our beloved community. And, of course, stay for our wonderful breakfast.

~ Gretta Johnson-Sally, DRE