“It was a good experience to connect to other 2nd gen in similar phases of life and to be able to hang out and have a good time. Just could have been a little longer” says one participant of last month’s 24+ Singles Retreat in California.
By Wendy Fiala, Program Coordinator
The newly branded 24+ Connect retreat, previously the 24+ Unificationist Singles retreat, was recently held at a rustic campground in a redwood grove just outside of Santa Cruz, California. A total of 88 participants ranging in age from 24-32 flew, drove and trekked in from over 20 states and four countries to spend four days connecting, growing together and preparing for their futures. Below is a full report of the program outlining its history of development, purpose, execution and summary.
The target audience for the retreat was defined as: Anyone who considers themselves a member of the larger Unificationist community who is single, and between the ages of 24 and 39 years of age, including international folks, previously matched/blessed individuals, Jacob generation, blessed children, first generation members, and those who don’t necessarily identify as Unificationist or religious.
Based on data collected from a pre-program survey, the goal of the retreat organizers was to create something that this population would really enjoy attending. The top two concerns from participants were 1) The potential awkwardness of a singles gathering, and 2) any financial challenges in flying out to attend and taking time off work. Their hopes for the retreat were 1) Meeting new singles 2) Time to reflect and evaluate on their goals 3) Spending time in nature 4) Reconnect with their faith/spirituality. The retreat organizers based the retreat objectives on this information.
Objectives for the 2014 August Retreat:
- Connect: Participants will meet and get to know over 60 other 24+ Unificationist singles over the course of four days and three nights. They will have opportunities to connect and create community through engaging in various activities, conversations and discussions.
- Grow Together: Through engaging in activities, presentations and discussions, participants will have opportunities to reflect on their life experiences, and learn more about what they believe and what they want to achieve in their life.
- Prepare for Future Relationships: Participants will leave with new ideas of steps they can take to create the marriage and family they desire.
Location: A remote campground in Aptos, California, about 9 miles away from Santa Cruz was selected because the location was beautifully located in a patch of redwoods, was only 2 miles from the beach, and didn’t require our own meal preparation and cleanup. Another plus was that there was little or no cell phone reception on site and participants could really shut off from the virtual world and focus on creating quality relationships with each other. There were also a whole slew of activities on site, including volleyball, basketball, ping pong, and hiking. Another advantage was that because of the camp’s size, we were able to rent it exclusively.
Staff: For the retreat, the entire staff consisted of myself, Wendy Fiala, as the program coordinator, Crescentia DeGoede as a presenter/coordinator, Justin Matos as logistical support, and Pastor Kevin Thompson as a presenter/counseling resource. We were fortunate to have Rev. Thompson there for the entirety of the retreat and he had a steady stream of participants meeting with him for guidance and support. However, with many last minute sign-ups and a much larger number of participants than anticipated, we were fairly understaffed and have made note of the need for more on site support at future programs.
Ages: 24-27 Range = 71 (81%), 28-31 Range = 16 (18%), 32-35 Range = 1 (1%)
Gender: 41 Males (45%), 48 Females (55%)
Origin: Foreign Countries = 4 (5%), US States = 25
New Hampshire: 1
New Jersey: 2
New Mexico: 5
New York: 11
North Carolina: 1
West Virginia: 2
Daily Summary of the Retreat
Taking the objectives for the retreat into consideration, we strove for a balance of structured and unstructured activities, with time in groups and free time to relax and reflect. These objectives helped dictate the flow and themes of each day. Participants came for a variety of reasons and form various stages in their life. We recognized that while many would like to simply do activities together, a large percentage of attendees were interested in reconnecting with the Unification movement, their spirituality, and getting a better sense of the matching process. We therefore included a variety of speakers and topics that were all optional for those who were interested. In their feedback, participants appreciated this style of optional talks and many did pick and choose which content they attended. However, for the most part, 80%-90% of the participants attended all presentations and discussions. Here are the themes, presentations and activities broken down by day with corresponding participant feedback.
Day 1: Sharing Your Story – Thursday Aug. 21
The first day was focused on getting participants to the retreat site safely, checking them in, and setting the tone for the retreat. We wanted to make participants feel as relaxed as possible from day 1 and had structured icebreakers and activities to get people talking and connecting. They worked very well as participants were already starting to feel comfortable with each other and the energy of the room was very positive and open.
Day 2: Your Best Self – Friday Aug. 22
The earlier part of the second day was focused on team-building activities, led by the campsite staff. The campsite brought in a team of facilitators that led participant groups through a series of team building activities, also known as low ropes courses. The purpose behind this activity was to give participants an opportunity to get to know each other through achieving a common goal or task, while learning about their selves in the context of a team. During the free time in the afternoon, we opened up the high ropes courses as optional activities for participants to challenge themselves, in addition to the other available activities such as basketball, volleyball, ping pong, or hiking.
For the afternoon, we invited a University professor in psychology and political science, Robert Brem, to give a presentation on “Your Best Self.” He shared models on topics such as the Johari Window, the Shockras of Love, and Free Will in the universe. We felt participants would appreciate having a non-Unificationist presenter share a new perspective on individual growth, partnership and love, and the feedback from the workshop strongly demonstrated that they did. Many listed the “Professor Talk” as the most helpful and “thought-provoking” presentation throughout the retreat.
“I appreciated how someone from outside the church came and spoke. He was a professor so he was very good at capturing the hearts of young adults. He did throw a lot of terminology that a lot of us didn’t know and had a hard time following, but nonetheless, great start!”
After his talk and throughout the retreat, we divided participants up into new discussion groups with the intention of them 1) Hearing more perspectives and 2) Meeting and getting to know as many new people as possible. The evening portion involved a reflective exercise followed by group discussions. Once the day’s events concluded, Rev. Thompson facilitated an optional Q & A dialogue/discussion on Unification Church issues. A surprising 45-55 participants attended and stayed for the duration of the 2-hour talk. For some, this was deeply healing.
“It was very clarifying and inspiring for me.”
“I appreciated Rev. Thompson’s talk on his thoughts of the UC with honesty and openness. We need more of that from UC officials.”
“Clarification of church insight with Rev. Thompson – Thank you! I really needed to hear some of those things.”
Day 3: Envisioning Your Future – Saturday Aug. 23
The third day was focused on envisioning what type of future you want, and what steps you can take to get there. Rev. Thompson gave a very well received talk on Conscious Dating, how to prepare for being in a relationship, and what you need to know about yourself in order to find a partner. Overall, participants listed this presentation as the most impactful of the retreat.
“Conscious Dating- good practical advice on relationship preparation.”
“I enjoyed both Rev. Thompson’s talk as well as Professor Brem’s talk – I thought it was really cool to have an “outside” perspective. Rev. Thompson is always funny, wise and thought provoking.”
“I found that the presentation on deal breakers was very helpful and the talk from that professor refreshing and interesting”
“Everything was valuable to me. I honestly thought every topic was very appropriate.”
The afternoon was spent at the Santa Cruz Beach and Boardwalk for an outing day, which was thoroughly enjoyed by participants, followed by an optional talk on Matching Resources by Crescentia DeGoede.
“The most helpful presentation for me was the Matching Resources presentation. I had no idea it was so involved and there was such a process.”
“I appreciated Crescentia’s talk with BFM info. I think this was well thought out and exactly what I needed at this time.”
Day 4: Staying Connected – Sunday, Aug. 24
The last day of the retreat was focused on making sure participants reflected on what they had gained over the past few days through several reflective and goal-setting exercises. Participants could then volunteer to share their personal insights or reflections with the group before closing the program and heading home. One participant shared about how she was proud of all of the participants for taking the risk to show up to something like this. Others shared encouraging words to each other, and by the time we had had lunch and we were scheduled to leave, people didn’t want to go. It really felt like the end of a summer camp where you had made a bunch of new friends and wanted to continue hanging out. I had to threaten my van would leave without people to get them to sit down in the van. It was great.
Our initial goal was to attract at least 40-60 participants and the 88 that registered and attended demonstrated a greater interest and need than we had imagined. However, we know that 80 is just a fraction of the individuals in this demographic and that by continuing these retreats and making them the norm, we will only see more and more new faces. With such a large and diverse group, the challenge is definitely creating a program that appeals to a wide variety of character types, levels of faith, etc., but one in which everyone feels they have something to gain or take away. The main feedback we received from this retreat was positive, but included many suggestions for improvement. Among the top was a request for more structured 1-on-1 connections or speed dating, and more support for those who are more introverted or quiet in group settings. Additionally, there were many requests to extend this retreat to a week to provide more time for individuals to get to know each other on a deeper level. While this may be good in theory, we have to consider attendance implications if we were to extend the time (and essentially cost) of this program.
This retreat was a great start to building up this unique and diverse community and we hope to take the suggestions and feedback we received and improve upon it year after year. Over 80% of the participants strongly agreed that they would attend another retreat (if still eligible), and had many suggestions for how it could become even greater. We also now have a pool of individuals to survey for future events, locations, content, speakers, etc. Since the retreat, Rev. Thompson has been assisting some matching discussions amongst some of the participants, as well as, a process for connecting those with mutual interests in one another.
This retreat was highly subsidized by headquarters (about $180 per participant), which we believe was an important investment for getting this program off the ground. However, with such positive feedback from this retreat, we know that in the future, the word will spread on its own and participants will be more willing to more fully pay to participate. While we still have momentum from this retreat, we would already like to start planning the next one so that participants will know that it wasn’t just a one-time thing but a true community of support and event to look forward to. Our goal is to perfect this program to be a complete balance between resourcefulness, socializing, and fun so that all 24+ Unificationist singles will want to attend. Thank you for your support.
“I loved how the retreat was pulled off. It was an unforgettable experience, and I am soooo grateful to all the organizers efforts to put it together. It is inspiration to get to meet and know 2nd gen of a similar and older age.”
“I felt the retreat was very structured and organized, which I know isn’t easy and I’m sure really made a difference. Thank you.”
“This workshop was amazing. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy lives to hold this workshop for all of us singles out here. It’s hard being single now that we are all getting so old. People in the church always think it’s weird that I’m older and not blessed. Some people just assume that you’re weird or something is wrong with you because you’re still single. I feel like everyone just started becoming very close and that if it were a week long, everyone would have really gotten to know each other on a deep level. It’s just so nice to be able to relate to others in the same situation. It’s nice, I feel the love. Please keep this going, and let’s get this 24+ established all over the country. p.s i’ll be back.”
“Awesome! Loved it, had so much fun, learned so much about myself, where I want to go and how to get there. Thank you!!!”
“Very energetic, enjoyable, and informative, met with people I’ve never seen”
“Thank you all so much for putting this together for us singles. I feel so much more hope now, and it has made the biggest difference.”
“Overall a great success as the first retreat in what I hope becomes a regular series for our community.”
“This was my first time to feel normal in this church in a while. If things happened more often and there were more activities/retreats/events then it would be less awkward and singles would feel more included in this church (so couple-centric).”
“Thank you for the experience – I definitely sorted through a lot of unresolved issues.”
“It was a good experience to connect to other 2nd gen in similar phases of life and to be able to hang out and have a good time. Just could have been a little longer.”
“It’s nice to know I’m not alone, I feel I still need more self-reflecting but I also am clearer.”
“I truly enjoyed this retreat. It was my first one and I still don’t want it to end. Thank you so much for this wonderful opportunity.”
“Thank you again. I’m so grateful this exists. I will definitely be recommending this 24+ Connect to other of-age Unificationists.”