‘Circle of Support’: UU Youth Learn How to Help Peers in Crisis

‘Circle of Support’: UU Youth Learn How to Help Peers in Crisis

The Peer Pastoral Care for Youth training program empowers young people to nurture themselves and each other.

Margo Moran
Colorful illustration of many silhouettes of young people of different races, genders, and nationalities on a blue background.
Marusya Wrobel/Stocksy United


When Max Solomon-Frye discovered training to provide peer pastoral care for his fellow youth, it changed his life.

"Young men are not really given the tools to care for friends and family in an emotionally vulnerable way," says Solomon-Frye, a 23-year-old who resides in Amherst, Massachusetts, and whose hometown congregation is the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Rockland County, New York. He was so inspired by his experience that he began facilitating trainings and assisting in the growth of the Peer Pastoral Care for Youth program, a new frontier of intra-community support for UU youth.

The program reflects a shift towards equipping more youth with the skills to be good listeners and know who to turn to in a crisis so that responsibility is diffused within a "leaderful" community. The goal is to expand UU communities’ capacity to offer safe spaces for youth in crisis and to provide the next generation of UUs with tools to implement justice, equity, and compassion in human relations.

Jennica Davis-Hockett, Unitarian Universalist Association Youth and Emerging Adult Ministries staff, says peer pastoral care is "thinking of everybody as care providers and care seekers at any given time." Youth who enter into the program seeking to gain peer pastoral skills will learn about active listening, considering cultural contexts, and how to expand the circle of support in a crisis.

This program has emerged from a long history: Formerly, the UUA launched a program called Chrysalis, which facilitated youth chaplain training across the country by deploying trainers and resources to any and all interested congregations. Over time, the capacity and resources dedicated to this program dwindled. When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, the Peer Pastoral Care for Youth program blossomed as a virtual endeavor.

"The content of this iteration . . . teaches a level of power analysis that the care provider needs to be aware of, the identities they bring, and the power they hold in creating space for somebody to be vulnerable with them, and to treat that with real humility," Davis-Hockett says. "This version of peer pastoral care training really speaks to that level of community care, that each one of us has the power to care for the community as a whole."

The Peer Pastoral Care for Youth initiative has reached a handful of congregations so far, and its supporters are eager for it to expand its mission of empowering Unitarian Universalist youth.

Dana Moore, youth program coordinator of the Beacon UU Congregation in Summit, New Jersey, considers peer pastoral care to be a necessity in uplifting our youth. "I truly believe that if we are not doing this and continuing to give our youth opportunities for leadership and youth empowerment, then we are failing them, period."

Learn more about the UUA’s Peer Pastoral Care program at uua.org/peer-pastoral-care.