At a recent Jersey Mike's Subs meeting, I talked with franchisee and area director Dan Burrell about a creative project he was working on that, as both a parent and a writer, just blew me away. I asked him if he’d share details with us about this project “Teens Talk…Will You Listen?,” an original play produced in Ojai Valley (California) designed to get teens and parents talking. Here Dan discusses how the project, created with the Ojai Valley Youth Foundation, came to be…while juggling his day job.
News Splash (NS): Tell us about the Teen Forum Night project.
Dan: The Teen Forum Night started with a challenge: how do we get parents more involved and educated about what the Youth Foundation does for teens in Ojai? My thought was that we would have to get the real truth out so the parents can really understand what issues face teens, and what is important to them. That would mean putting teens on stage, with material anonymously submitted from other kids, so the truth can be told but no teen would be responsible. I also thought the parents should have a chance to ask questions they would have a hard time asking their own teens about, again anonymously. Beginning this process, and moving through it, we never strayed far from my first vision, and in the end, we had an amazing, real, truthful presentation of actual teen concerns, without any teen having to take responsibility. The night accomplished so much, and I know from reactions that some relationships started changing right away.
NS: What were some of the questions asked by parents?
Dan: Why do you hate me? Should I read your texts? How can I support you in appreciating the arts? Why do you have to smoke pot? Why don't you confide in me like you do your friends?
NS: How did you transform so much data into a cohesive and moving story?
Dan: We asked English teachers in the eight local high schools to give their kids an assignment: “Dear Mom and Dad” letters. We asked the kids to be honest, and tell their parents about who they are and what problems they are having themselves, with friends, or with their parents. We collected over 400 responses, some one or two words, some fully written double sided letters, some poems, some free writes. These were molded into responses. Remember two or three teens can think differently and answer questions differently, so there could sometimes be 4 to 5 different answers to the same question.
NS: What did you learn from this project?
Dan: I learned how amazing teens really are, that they can go as deep as adults. I learned that we, as adults, have a lot to learn from teens. I learned that teens understand us better than we understand them. I learned that every adult has been a teen, yet every teen has yet to be an adult, so why do we expect so much from them? I learned that teens want to be treated as individuals, and yelling and screaming and always trying to be right does nothing for your relationship with your teens. I also learned that teens will come and contribute, and that bringing Jersey Mike's Subs to every meeting is perfect for attracting teens to be on time.
NS: How did you fit this creative project into your daily routine?
Dan: This project became my daily routine. Actually, because this was a 6 week project from start to finish, it made it easier that it came about so quickly. It was worth the long days, and nights, and I received 20x more than I gave out.
NS: What inspires you?
Dan: What inspires me? Any opportunity to make a difference in someone else's life. I love to see people laugh. I love to see people treat each other with respect. I love happy endings. That inspires me.
[Full Disclosure: Jersey Mike’s is a client.]