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For Staff: Group Activities for Youth
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Preparing to Live on Your Own

Brainstorm and Discussion: 20 minutes

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Ask the group to think about living on their own for the first time. What are they looking forward to? What is scary? How do they imagine it will feel to be in their own place? What can they do to make their home feel like home and make their life feel like it’s in their control?

Then give everyone a blank sheet of paper. Ask them to draw a line down the middle and label one side: Ways to Prepare Before I Age Out, and the other: Things I Can Do Once I Live on My Own. Have them take five minutes to list both practical things, like getting their NYCHA application submitted two years in advance and learning to cook and clean, or social-emotional things, like learning to reach out for support when they need it, manage stress and negative emotions, and resolve conflicts (e.g., with roommates). When most students are done writing, invite everyone to share. Write their suggestions on the board or easel paper.

Read the Story: 10 minutes
Have the group read “Unexpected Emotions” by J.G. Go around the room, taking turns reading aloud. Let group members pass if they want to.

Discussion: 10 minutes
Ask the group if anything surprised them about J.G.’s experience. If nobody says it, point out that instead of feeling free and happy to be out of the system and in a nice apartment, she felt bad about her years in care and unprepared to take care of herself.

Have them turn to the first list: Ways to Prepare. Can they add anything based on what J.G. wished she had done? (Learn how to apply for welfare, how to get health insurance and choose doctors, pay bills, and keep track of appointments.) Then go to the other list and do the same thing—add things from the story. (Put up a wall calendar; figure out what sort of job suits your personality; be polite to workers at public assistance and other offices as well as roommates; take the initiative to figure out what medication works for you rather than waiting for adults to decide for you; help other people by sharing your experiences.) Ask if anyone has any other suggestions to share with the group about how to feel in charge of your life.

Closing Activity: 5 minutes
Ask everyone to look at their “Ways to Prepare Before I Age Out” list, and circle one item that they can get started on this month. Go around the room and ask each teen to share the item they are going to focus on this month.


Playing House—Art Activity

Provide construction paper, old magazines, markers, scissors, and tape for everyone in the group. Before the group arrives, draw a big empty room on the board or chart paper, with a few windows.

Planning and Decorating: 15 minutes
Tell the group they’re going to decorate this living room together, and they’ll have to cooperate the way they would if they lived with roommates or family members. Go in a circle and have each person name one item for the room that they will draw or collage. That could include furniture, art, plants, a pet, TV, stereo, computer, curtains—whatever objects make the room feel like a place they’d like to be (not a person). If, toward the end, people can’t think of anything, let the others help them.

Once everyone has their assignments, have them draw or collage their item and tape it up in the room.

Read and Discuss the Story: 15 minutes
Have them read “Living on Your Own.” Go around the room, taking turns reading aloud. Let group members pass if they want to. Afterwards, ask the group what they think of the advice given in the story. What stands out to them? What sounds hard about what the therapists are suggesting? Do they have other advice they’d give a friend who is living on her own for the first time?

Inhabit the Room: 10 minutes
Have everyone go around and say one thing they would do in the room to make it feel like home (for example, inviting a friend over for dinner, or finding a spot to draw or write or listen to music). They can take suggestions from the story, or share a new thing they like doing. Point out that by doing this, they’re sharing tips with each other on how to enjoy living on their own.


Looking Further Into the Future

Tell the teens that their first apartment is just that—their first. They will learn and grow as they grow older, and we’re going to read a story about that.

Before reading, ask the students to close their eyes and breathe deeply. When everyone is quiet, ask them to imagine where they will be in 10 years. Who will they be living with? How will they afford it? How will they get emotional support? Will it be a place of their own, or with roommates?

After the teens have silently imagined the far future, tell them you’re going to read a story by a young women who is now 28 and has found a place that suits her.

Have the group read “Not Just a Group House, A Way of Life” by Natasha Santos. Go around the room, taking turns. Let youth pass if they want. At appropriate points, stop to ask teens what they like or don’t like about Natasha’s situation. Ask what skills they think she needs to make this place work.

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(FCYU-2017-01-31)