By Fr. David Subu and Ron Tucci
Additional Resources: .Sample Forms / Checklist for Outings
What is a youth outing? A youth outing is any activity that involves transporting a group of teens together to a site away from the parish and/or their parents. Typical outings include trips to museums, amusement parks and service projects.
As youth coordinators and event planners, we do something very important: assist our children in experiencing true Orthodox Christian fellowship so that they may share and grow in their faith. They need to learn about their faith and take a more conscious role in the Church. It is our “job” to give them as many opportunities as possible to do just that.
There are tricks to every trade, and the Youth and Young Adult Office would like to share some tips about how to plan and run a successful youth outing. Included at the end of this article is a checklist of things youth will need for your outings as well as a list of “20-Something Ideas for a Youth Outing.” Many blessings and God’s saving grace be with you as you venture into the work of event planning.
First and foremost, it is essential to set dates, contact parents, locate a facility, send out and have parents fill out permission slips and insurance forms. [Note: You need to have emergency medical information handy at all events. This is a must.] Planning ahead can be very time consuming and you may want to break up job responsibilities. Have others help you!
You, as the event coordinator, can appoint a contact person whose main responsibility is to gather names and addresses of possible teens, priests, church school coordinators, and other youth leaders. This will help initially with some of the work.
You can also have a communication person who will draft and distribute flyers, permission and insurance information, articles for parish, diocesan and church-wide publications, in addition to any other communication work. This will give you the freedom to explore the outing place or facility in more detail and to handle your other responsibilities. From here on, the outing facility or place will be referred to as the “site.”
Well before the date of the trip you should be familiar with the site. You will want to know the hours of operation, the cost (if any) - including special group rates and requirements for tax exemption, and any requirements that the site operators may have for incoming groups.
You will need to arrange transportation for your group. Arranging transportation is important, and it must be flexible to accommodate last-minute additions. If you are contracting outside providers, such as a bus company, make sure they are kept aware of the schedule. If you are using volunteer drivers, you should make sure that they have valid driver licenses and are mature (at least 25 years of age or older). You will also need to make sure that the vehicle they will be using is in good condition and has enough seat belts for each youth to be transported. All drivers should have directions to the site in case the group gets split up. You should also have a means of contacting each other if anyone gets lost or breaks down.
Check to make sure all forms are completed and in your possession before going on the trip. This includes a release form (permission slip), insurance information, and emergency contacts. DO NOT leave without having these forms and do not take any child on an event unless these forms are filled out. It will be your responsibility if something goes wrong and a child needs medical attention.
If there is more than one vehicle for transport, then it is necessary to make sure each child’s medical information is in his/her respective vehicle. If you get lost or separated, children will need to have their information with them in their vehicle of transport.
OTHER AREAS OF CONCERN
Any and all staff, volunteer or otherwise who will be involved should also have medical information forms completed. Having this information helps to safeguard both the youth and youth ministers. You should also have some method of keeping track of participants while you are off-site such as a sign-in / check-in, roll call, and/or head- count sheet. Lastly, in case of an injury or accident, you should have an incident report form as well. Examples of each of these are provided at the end of this article.
Have a rules talk ahead of time and on the day of the outing. Establish rules of conduct for the participants and go over them more than once. Recommended rules include the three-buddy system for teens (13-18) and two adults for every ten preteens (7-12). The three-buddy system means that all teens should be in a group of three or more persons at all times. Those who are found without at least two others get to stay with the event coordinator until they can be placed with a suitable group. Tell participants that their adult group leader(s) should know where they are at all times, and trips to the bathroom should be done in groups of at least two for safety. Also, for day-long activities where youth will be spread out, such as at amusement parks, it is useful to have one or more check-in times during the day.
Upon arriving at a site, and before taking youth into the site or even off the “bus,” it is best to first have the coordinator go into the site and confirm a number of things with the site staff (i.e., the schedule for the day, rules of conduct, and so on, and if possible, to settle the bills). Take a head count of all youth and adults before anyone enters the site (you should also have taken one before traveling to the site). All youth and staff should be reminded to take the same vehicle on the return trip to make head counting go quickly and smoothly.
It is important to know what schedule the site has for your group, since it may not be the same as your own! Some tours, for example, will require you to split up a large group into two or more smaller groups. Be prepared to offer alternative activities for any who have to wait for the next turn. If the site is offering a mix of structured and non-structured activities, then all staff and youth need to know when and where they should be for the structured activities. For example, many museums may offer special programs, such as Omnimax/Imax theaters, that are available only at certain times. Your group may be scheduled for this, but may have the rest of the time for exploring the museums’ exhibits. All participants and staff will need to know when and where they should be. If the outing site is not one with professional operators such as many public or state parks have, then you as the event coordinator must fill that role.
First, select a central, stationary point as home base for your group. This may be a pavilion at a park, an area of a museum, etc. This should be the first place you bring the group before separating into groups and going off. This base must be staffed at all times by one, preferably two, of your staff. They can then help anyone who comes in with problems or questions. If the group will be eating onsite, this station should be the place for that. This should also be the place for check ins and reassembling the group in time of bad weather and departure.
You may want to do head counts during the day at specific times. They could take place when meals are scheduled. You may want to schedule other times when all could meet for a head count. It will all depend on the length of your stay at the site.
In addition to the stationary staff, one or two wandering staff should be assigned to make rounds and check on youth as needed. If the site is exceptionally large, as are some amusement parks, an additional stationary staff member on the other side of the park is advisable. In order to really facilitate the use and placement of staff on site, it’s a good idea to invest in portable two-way radios. These are also useful if more than one vehicle is being used. Cellular phones are also useful, but primarily for communicating with people back home.
Some trips require that meals be a part of the activity, either on-site or en route. In any case, make sure that the food is kept and served at the proper temperatures and by the proper sanitary means. If you rely on a caterer or restaurant, make sure that you have confirmed meal times and the number of people to be served. REMINDER: if the meal requires participants to return to a central location at a certain time, they need to be told this clearly before setting off on their activity.
Even if there is no meal planned, bring water and some small snacks. During summertime activities, heat, sun, and dehydration must be protected against with drinks, hats, sunblock and other means of cooling off. Likewise in winter, outdoor activities require children to be properly dressed and staff should have warm drinks, some blankets, and hand warmers readily available. Overnight activities likewise need extra planning and equipment, especially when outdoors. And, of course, bad weather can change any schedule, so be prepared.
LEAVING THE SITE
When your group is ready to leave the site, gather at your central meeting point and take a head count. It’s better to do this at home base and before you leave the site. There is always the possibility that someone may end up missing and you want to avoid having some people in the site and some outside of it. Ending up with a person missing is, of course, the greatest concern. Keeping your group together as much as possible is the best way to prevent such situations.
Once in the vehicles, take another head count. Once everyone is accounted for, set off for home! You should try to return as closely to the scheduled time as possible, especially if parents will be waiting to pickup their kids at a set time. This is why pleas to stay a little longer cannot be accommodated in most situations. Once you return to the parish or starting point of the outing, make sure that all participants are picked up. Staff may need to stay behind to wait for late parents who need to pick up their children.
Later on, make sure to file the forms, attendance sheets, and any incident reports. You may want to make copies of any incident reports and file them at the Diocesan center level so that all levels of administration can have that information in case of any questions or concerns that might arise. This is typically not the case, but it is good for everyone involved to be properly informed. For more info, see Doing the Right Thing, available from the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, PO Box 675, Syosset, NY 11791 or on the OCA youth page.
Those of us who have been working with and planning outings for youth and children know very well that good planning is essential. We also know, however, that only in rare instances do the outings proceed exactly as planned. It seems that no matter how many plans and backup plans we may have, something challenging always comes along. Relax and know that many of us have and can share incredible stories of when an event went differently than expected.
Fr. David Subu from the OCA Romanian Episcopate and Ron Tucci from the Diocese of the Midwest were the first Summer Interns for the OCA Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries. Both are recent graduates of St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Seminary.