Invested in Their Future

PJ Our Way Tweens Talk Earth Day

By Saskia Swenson Moss



Today’s tweens are not quite what you’d expect. And I should know: I’ve had my ear to the ground listening to tweens for almost a decade. In my work at the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, I have the joy of engaging with tweens on the PJ Our Way National Design Team and Kid Advisory Committee, both of which help inform the books we select for the PJ Our Way program, as well as the programming offered to this unique age group. I’ve learned that 9- to 12-year-olds are ready to have fun and use their imaginations, love challenges, and enjoy chances to chat with one another. They are also well-informed about current events. They see that their world needs help, and at this point in their lives, they deeply care.

This was evident in an online workshop we held for PJ Our Way tweens in April for Earth Day in collaboration with the Jane Goodall Institute.

The conversation hit the ground running with the following question: “You have one day of magical powers! You must use your powers to help in some way. What will you do?” In an instant, hands shot up, and the chat function began to roll as 87 participants from across the US and Canada shared their answers.

More than half said they wanted to stop COVID-19, which makes sense given how much their lives have been changed by our new reality. Livnat from Michigan responded, “Make food, water, houses, and clothes appear and give to people who need them.” A minute later, Ben from Colorado asked, “Is it humanly possible to save the earth at this point?”

The conversation flowed like waves in the ocean. Between prompts, kids announced their upcoming birthdays, talked about where they were from, and looked for others from their favorite Jewish camps.

As they learned more about the Jane Goodall Institute, they shared their own thoughtful steps for making the world a better place. Matthew has started a petition to make Google more eco-friendly. Hili picks up trash in her neighborhood. Irene donates her tzedakah to petting zoos. Zoe tries not to eat processed foods.

The turnout and enthusiasm the tweens had for this workshop are evidence of how much they care about their future. We weren’t surprised; we knew they would have plenty of practical ideas and the energy needed to implement them. In 2018, PJ Our Way launched a national leadership initiative in local communities to support kid-initiated programming; 75% of the programs created by kids were geared toward improving the world.

Jonah, who lives in Maine, worked with the local PJ Our Way program professional on a partnership with Whole Foods to create soup kits for those experiencing hunger. In Delaware, Jenna, who has been hospitalized in the past and understands how difficult it can be, gathered local PJ Our Way members to make care packages for families with chronically ill children.

To support PJ Our Way tweens who want to create positive change, we held another national workshop called “Tell Your Own Story with PJ Our Way” with Donna Gephart, author of PJ Our Way favorite Death by Toilet Paper. And with support from their local communities, PJ Our Way kids and their families have been sending emails, videos, and cards to elders who are isolated due to the coronavirus. With planning, encouragement, and assistance, these PJ Our Way kids are making an invaluable difference in their communities.

Even as I don my mask to go outside, I am overwhelmed by a feeling of hope. Is it, as Ben asked, humanly possible to save the earth at this point? Based on the energy I see in these PJ Our Way kids, I believe it is.