Keeping Your College Students Connected
By ISJL Education Fellow Mackenzie Haun
Through religious school, b’nei mitz’vah, and the end of high school, there are relatively straightforward methods of keeping the kids of your younger congregational members involved. However, when our kids go off to college, many congregations struggle to find ways to stay connected. Here are a few ideas for keeping your college students involved and invested:
Moving away from home for the first time, though exciting, can be incredibly stressful and isolating. It can really help students to know that people back home still think of them and want to know how they are. Putting together care packages to send for the holidays, during finals week, or just random moments throughout the year can be incredibly meaningful. There are many ways to accomplish this task, including putting them together yourself, going through the university’s Hillel, or even sending one from a professional company like this one or this one. If you include a card with postage, many students may even write back and give you an update on how school is going. It is an easy way for you to feel connected to your student and vice versa. Calendar ahead of time so you aren’t missing deadlines last minute!
School Break Events
Many students come home for Thanksgiving or the extended winter break that many schools offer. Particularly during the 3-4 week break in December and January, there is ample time to bring students back to your congregation. After a couple of weeks at home, many students are itching for the chance to spend time out of the house independently, and going to the synagogue is one place that their parents would love to see them go, where they may even see an old friend or two. These events can range from a purely social reuniting of students for a Chanukah party to a panel of recent graduates and clergy available to talk and answer questions that students pose. You can also ask before graduation what types of events they would like to come to while visiting to get a better sense of where they are at in their lives, what they are interested in, and make it so they are more likely to attend.
In the final two years of college, students begin to have a greater focus on what comes next, who they want to be, and where they want to go. This creates an excellent opportunity to connect some of your long-time members with college students. You can send a survey out to college students and members who are willing to have a regular correspondence and relationship with a student to match them up based on similar interests and career paths. This achieves two points of connection, giving the student a valuable resource and allowing older members of your congregation to feel connected to a younger generation. Thinking about your soon-to-be college graduates, you could even organize a job fair or “shadow” day for them to consider different avenues of employment.
Connecting to Local College Students
Keeping students who grew up at your congregation involved is essential, but they may not be the only college students looking for a Jewish home base while in college or even beyond. Reaching out to students at universities near your congregation can be a very welcome sign that they can have a Jewish home away from home. Particularly around the High Holy Days, offering free tickets to any college students that want to come can be the deciding factor for if they celebrate or not. If students become connected to your synagogue throughout their college careers, they may even consider becoming full-time members after graduation.
Consider these ideas to engage a fruitful generation of college students, give them a home away from home or welcome them back, and encourage their continued participation!