Q&A: Ben Higgins, Alpha Youth
Alpha Youth has strong alignment with VFFF's Christianity funding goal to provide young people with the opportunity to make life choices informed by an understanding of Christian faith and belief. VFFF’s multi-year core operations grant aims to help Alpha accelerate its encouraging growth trajectory with an ultimate goal of over 100,000 Australian young people participating in Alpha Youth from 2022-2024.
We spoke to Ben Higgins, Alpha's National Youth Director to discuss their work with young people and their forthcoming plans.
VFFF: How does Alpha Youth support young people to explore their faith?
Ben: Alpha Youth encourages teenagers to hold open and honest conversations with their peers, creating a safe and welcoming space where they can share their thoughts, opinions and challenges. Each Alpha Youth course revolves around connection, content and conversation and is open to all young people to participate.
A mix of video content that includes Australian student voices, and
in-person discussions over 8-12 weeks covers a variety of topics, providing space for even the most reserved member of each group
to participate in a way that suits them.
One thing we know is that young people want to genuinely connect
with their peers. They may not always want to hear about faith from their parents, teachers, pastors, or chaplains - but hearing an honest exploration of faith by another of their peers is so appealing. These
in-person moments of connection stand in contrast to the high-paced, surface level engagement that we are all so familiar with in much of our social lives online.
"Whether young people are in cities, rural towns, or
only have the ability to participate online - there is
space for them to be part of Alpha."
How do you centre the voices of young people in your work?
More than ever, Alpha courses are being delivered by young people themselves - creating opportunities for students to be front and
centre in the conversations around the most important topics in life.
Post-pandemic, student-led Alpha Youth groups are assisting school communities in the important work of redeveloping peer to peer relationships, and creating opportunities for students to connect face
to face and foster healthy, positive relationships.
In recognition of the importance of promoting young people’s voices throughout our work, in 2022 Alpha Youth launched a new initiative called ‘Spheres’. This is a student leadership cohort, designed to both listen to young people and give them the tools and support necessary to ﬂourish as student leaders in their own school communities. A
vital part of this program is to facilitate listening exercises to learn from these students’ unique perspectives and experiences.
Over the last 18 months, you have experienced a record growth in Alpha youth participants. Why do you think Alpha is proving so popular among young people?
Young people value authentic connection and an opportunity to discuss the challenges they are facing. Alpha Youth creates safe spaces for these conversations in a huge variety of contexts.
Alpha oﬀers young people a non-judgemental space for open conversations about life's biggest questions, where everyone is welcome and no questions are oﬀ limits. We also facilitate a leadership development pipeline, with various coaching and training resources available at all stages of leadership participation.
Our metrics for success involve being responsive to the ever-evolving needs of young people. Providing resources and platforms to see young people empowered to share their perspectives with friends is what we are all about - we can see this model resonates with young people, and is resulting in upwards of 35,000 student participants each year.
What do you have planned over the next year?
So many things! It’s honestly so exciting to be able to travel and meet in person again. Throughout the pandemic, young people - particularly in NSW and Victoria - have truly had so many challenges to navigate. We are acutely aware of the need for a tool such as Alpha, that connects teens together again to discover more about themselves, their faith, and to ﬁnd greater meaning and hope as they look to the future.
So, we’ll be scaling up ‘Spheres’ as a top priority across more cities and regions around Australia. This will feed into our ongoing work at Alpha, to develop additional resources to support student-led Alpha Youth groups in schools and communities. We’ll also be undertaking a national youth tour featuring student and youth worker voices from around Australia, as well as a series of workshops to support both young people and youth workers across Australia.
Our team can’t wait to meet new and familiar faces around the country as we do this. It’s really such an honour to be part of young people's lives in this way - we think we have the greatest job in the world!