USY: Pivoting In A Changing World

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One of the most quoted TV shows in my household is definitely Friends. While we can find almost any circumstance to relate back to an episode of Friends, there is one that sticks out in my mind during this time, more than any other. “Pivot! Pivot!” In The One With the Cop, Ross is trying to bring his new couch upstairs to his apartment and in guiding Rachel and Chandler in navigating the couch up the stairs he yells “pivot.” What makes this so funny is that there is no room to actually pivot, but he is convinced that with just a little movement they will make the turn.

This is what the world has done in the last 5 weeks. We have had to pivot and then pivot again and we will continue to pivot each week as the rules change and the needs of our community change. The biggest pivot has been the creation of our virtual world. We look to the online world to keep our daily routine. Online classes for school, extra-curricular activities, story time with famous authors and actors, learning opportunities for new skills, and the list keeps on growing.

Introducing USYfi

From our pivot came USYfi, an online forum of programs for middle school and high school students and alumni. The world dove into filling every minute of the day with options to engage the masses and USY was part of that. While the first priority was finding a way to hold elections for the new regional boards and find a way to engage with the teens that were planning on being in person for spring convention, the pivot to this new focus opened the minds of the staff and USYers to expand their ideas of programming and engagement. All of sudden we are all stuck in our homes all day with distractions like Netflix, games, social media, how can we provide programming to compete with all of the options?

Many of us quickly became overwhelmed by the amount of online programs being offered. How do we balance all of it in this new reality? What did teens really want or more importantly need? What were USYers needing specifically from us?

Balancing Contact and Inclusive Content

USYfi has created an incredible balance between contact and content. What is most important during these times is looking out for one another and making sure we are connecting with each other. Kahoot games, recyclable art projects, movie nights and cook-offs are just a few of the fun ways we have offered the contact and connection. However, providing content is also important in order to give meaning to the massive hours spent online. From programs like book clubs, alumni series, online debates, education sessions, Zikaron B’Salon and Earth Day programming, USYfi has found a way to bring content to teens looking for niche programs that connect with their interests. They are attending these programs and connecting with others with common interests.

One value that USY is proud to exude is inclusivity. USYfi has found a way to connect teens across North America based on their interests and passions. We have offered a weekly LGBQT+ meetup that has connected teens in a safe space. For the first time ever, we are offering International Kadima programs to connect middle school students across North America. We are seeing participants in our online groups that have not attended regional or international conventions before. They are forming relationships with other teens and looking forward to seeing each other again.

“Gam zu l'tova. This too is for the good.” – Nachum Ish Gamzu, Talmud, Taanit, 21a

While even with all of the pivoting, Ross was not able to get his new couch up the stairs, we have seen a positive outcome from our pivots. Our end of the year celebrations honoring our teens and chapters may have looked and felt different, but it brought us all closer in other ways. These pivots have helped us create the foundation for continual online engagement. The vast amounts of programs offered now have developed a framework for moving forward. In planning the calendar for the 2020-2021 year, virtual programs to connect and provide additional content are part of the process. In a way, the world was telling us we need a shmita, a period of rest from our daily routine. Taking a step back has allowed us to focus on creativity and connection while we plan ahead for a new normal.

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