Staff Run – Youth Led

March 8th, 2007 by bebersghost

One of the most interesting comments I read on Facebook recently was from an advisor in Washington D.C. who posted the following:

One thing to note however (and this is primarily to the CRW people) is that there are only a small number of regions that function like yours where the teens actually do have a large amount of latitude, EGR is one of them, and Mountain Region is another, however as you head east you will find a lot more staff control, and red tape so know that is not just the international staff you are having to deal with but much more conservative teens and parents as well.

This reminds me of a non-BBYO program I attended in Washington D.C. where I got to see first hand the culture clash between the West and East Coasts. As I recall, the arrival of the California group sent as many tremors through the conference as the earthquakes their state is so well known for. Their students were intelligent, engaged, and were outstanding students – but God help the staff person who didn’t treat them with the respect to which they had been accustomed. They did not well tolerate being treated in a condescending or controlling manner. I confess, even their staff did not quite fit in.

BBYO is said to be a staff run and youth lead organization. And frankly, to this day I’m not entirely sure what that means. I suspect it means different things to different regions. On one extreme, you probably have regions and chapters, where youth leadership is more form than substance – where members have titles and get to make small decisions, but their advisors and staff are “running” the show. On the other extreme, you have regions and chapters where the organization is effectively youth run and youth led – and the staff serves primarily as a safety net and a true advisory role.

Personally, I prefer the latter. As a new advisor I was taught that anything the youth can do, they should do. I was also taught that it was my job to allow them to make mistakes. Youth run and youth led was the ideal, and I think we’ve done well on that score.

I’m not suggesting that other regions should follow that trend. Frankly, I’m not sure how one would go about changing a chapter or region’s culture in that manner. But these cultural differences, more than anything else, demonstrate the need for caution in creating national policies – that they should not destroy a successful local culture.

4 Responses to “Staff Run – Youth Led”

  1. Jeff Bennett Says:

    It is even more than “anything the youth can do, they should do”, Adult run and Youth led functions best when you, as the Advisor, push the youth leadership to do more than they think they can. BBYO is a learning experience. The youth you work with today are going to be the Jewish leadership of the future (there’s a scarey thought).

  2. bebersghost Says:


    Absolutely right! Which is not surprising given your years of experience.
    I’ll also bet many of the teens you worked with back when you started are the Jewish leadership of today. Between you and me, the thought of the teens in my region being the Jewish leadership of the future fills me with confidence. Looking at some of the other Jewish youth groups, on the other hand….

    The Ghost

  3. Bryan Levy Says:

    I am the advisor who has been quoted above, and I am from Washington State, not DC, but no big deal. I have been an advisor for about 5 years serving in Tucson during college, and back in washington the last few years. I pride myself on the ‘BBYO’ Machine the functions here locally as much now as 10-15 years ago when I was an active member. I firmly believe that for kids to grow to their potential the organization when possible should be “Youth Led, Youth Run”, Unfortunately as I learned early in my BBYO career, what works in one place may not do as well else where. For anyone who has been to an International event whether during your BBYO time, as Staff, or for another organization, it is very apparent the differences in the teens up bringing.

    My current theory on how the kids have changed is that the current generation of teens’ parents grew up in the 80’s during the rock era, and as such don’t want to see their kids repeat their mistakes, and as such are extremely over protective so much so that kids don’t learn to do things on their own nearly the same way my/our generation did only 10-15 years ago. For better or for worse this leads to more need for programming to be staff supplemented since the kids dont understand that if they don’t do something it fails since their parents have always coddled them rather then letting them learn their lesson.

    Those kids who I seen go through the BBYO machine, and succeed at the highest levels have had to do so on their own, and deserve the respect they’ve earned.

    Long Live BBYO!

  4. bebersghost Says:

    Oops – sorry about the D.C. reference. I’d fix it but then your comment wouldn’t make sense:-)

    I think that’s one of the greatest dilemmas any advisor faces – at what point to we step in, and at what point do we allow them to fail, knowing it will hurt but will benefit them in the long term? I know that for me sitting back and doing nothing is often the hardest job of all.

    The Ghost

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