Crisis in Our YALs?
A few weeks ago at St. Katherine's last YAL meeting, something unexpected happened. It was an election day, a day where everyone thought that a new slate of officers were going to come in and lead one of the DC areas most active YALs into 2002. But by the end of the meeting, no one had stepped up to assume the vital leadership roles, and thus St. Katherine's YAL was left with no choice but to postpone elections until January 13th, next Sunday. One suggestion was put in to scrap the YAL altogether, that like a phoenix (to use a secular metaphor), the YAL had to die, to be reborn again. According to this theory, all the old YAL members should basically leave, let the YAL pretty much disintegrate for a couple of years and then let a new, younger, more enthusiastic group of people come in and start a new YAL. No one at that meeting wanted to even think about such a possibility, leaving that day with the hope that someone would emerge to assume the reins of the YAL come January.
This crisis is not just occurring at St. Katherine's but it is just one example of what's happening with our YALs not just here, but all over the country. Participation in YAL is falling and it has been falling for several years now. Just this past summer the YAL Conference for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, which was to be held in Seattle, was cancelled due to poor attendance. Locally you hear of stories of years past where you used to get 100 people at a simple YAL party or other gathering and now there are events where you get a handful of people showing up. There are some churches in the DC area that don't even have a YAL anymore. In many instances these people grew up and grew out of their YALs. Some continue their service to their churches and the Greek community in other ways. They become the Parish Council members, the Sunday School teachers, or the younger members of their church's Philoptochos or AHEPA. YAL is therefore sustained by younger people coming in and taking their place, but unfortunately in many cases, especially in recent years, this hasn't happened.
Why does this all matter? So no one is doing YAL things, but the Greek community is still as strong as ever, right? There are plenty of opportunities to meet and to hang out with Greeks in the DC area. I don't need to be a part of a YAL to meet other Greeks or to stay involved with the Greek community. There are plenty of Greek Nights and other happy hours going on for that.
Before there were Greek Nights and before other excuses for Greeks to get together, there were YALs. If you were in your mid-to-late 20s or early 30s and were looking to meet other Greeks, especially Greeks of the opposite sex, YAL was pretty much your only option. Of course YAL was, is, and always will be, much more than just a way for guys to meet girls and vice-versa, but it is not like YALs have ever tried to pretend that finding someone isn't a big part of it. Along with religious and cultural aspects of every YAL Conference there is usually also a semi-formal or other party at the same time. It is not uncommon to hear your friends who are married or engaged say that they met each other at some YAL Conference a few years back or through participation in their own church's YAL. And it's pretty much understood and accepted that when you get married, you're going to disappear from YAL, sooner if not later.
So even with all these other methods of meeting people in the DC Greek community, YAL still has a purpose, even if you throw the whole "wholesome meet market" aspect of YAL out of the equation. It's the one place where you can meet other Greeks in a relaxed situation without all the pressures of going out in this town. There are no cover charges, no cell phones, no screaming in a person's ear over loud music, no lines to get in, and no reminder to dress to impress. For one Sunday a month and at a few volunteer opportunities and some low-key social gatherings, you know that you'll be hanging out with a small group of nice young adults from your church who are looking to make some friendships, have a few laughs, and do some good things for their church and the community around them. And the best part is that when you have a good group of people like this, the volunteering doesn't even feel like work. Sure, making sandwiches or helping out at your church's Greek festival will never replace the allure of a cold beer or that feeling you get from having a couple of rum & cokes, immersed in the soundtrack of a good Greek Night or party as you stare at the beautiful people in the DC Greek community, but when Saturday night rolls into Sunday and you badly need a cup of coffee after church to keep you going, it's the people you meet in YAL with whom you'll be sharing both the coffee and the story of where you were the night before.
By joining and staying active in your church's YAL you are continuing a great tradition of our collective Greek-American experience. Certainly YAL isn't designed to be a major time commitment, considering it strives for a membership of 18-35 year-olds that couldn't be living in a busier time of their lives. Yet for those out there who make even the smallest of commitments, the rewards of fellowship and service are well worth it. It's never too late to join your church's YAL seeing as most people don't get active until their mid to late-20s. By the same token, it's never too early to get involved in your YAL either. If you're going to school locally, a YAL is a great way to keep you grounded by meeting Greeks in the "real world," who more than likely were sitting where you were just a few years earlier. If you're just out of school or new to DC, your local YAL is a great way to meet Greeks in the area or to reconnect with the Greeks you knew from before you left for school. The YALs in this area could certainly benefit from the infusion of some young enthusiastic blood.
With all that said, isn't it time you check out a YAL meeting for the first time, or come out of hiding if you were once involved but not anymore? Most of the YALs in town are good about having a meeting once a month. Don't worry about not knowing anyone, because it will be some of the same people you see at young adult events around this town anyway. If you can't see yourself making the commitment to go to a meeting just yet, then go to a YAL social function, and slowly work your way up to a meeting. They'll be happy to see more people at their events and even more happier to see them at their meetings.