6 Tips for Hosting Youth Volunteers

Kids VolunteeringGuest post by Lacey Helmig

Youth volunteers can be a great way to boost the energy of an organization — and get a lot done.

Youth can provide enthusiasm and excitement while contributing in a large way to the organization’s mission. The youth also benefit by learning new skills, meeting new people, and of course earning those all-important volunteer hours that are now essential for college or job applications.

Has your organization been hesitant to offer youth volunteer opportunities? It can be a win-win situation for both you and the volunteers if you keep these six tips in mind:

  1. First Impression

It’s very likely that this experience may be the first time that a young person volunteers. Keep that in mind when selecting a project and relating to the volunteer. Nothing is worse than a poor initial exposure to volunteerism for a youth volunteer.

  1. Meaningful Work

A meaningful task is the most important aspect of a youth volunteer project. Limit clerical or fundraising projects to a minimum, and try to focus on projects where volunteers can truly see the impact of their work. The most popular projects usually include client-based work since youth appreciate being able to get to know the people or animals they’re helping.

  1. Explain the Purpose

Make sure youth understand the purpose of the activity. Sometimes the most urgent volunteer need can be a mundane task (i.e. preparing litter boxes at an animal shelter). This can be a meaningful activity if you explain well the importance of the task. For example, explain how many litter boxes the shelter uses in a day and how many cats that helps. This helps the youth see that it’s an important task, even if it isn’t the most exciting.

  1. Offer Structure

Make sure to organize youth projects with a lot of structure. Bored youth volunteers can lead to problems for everyone. Many organizations underestimate the amount of work a group of dedicated youth can accomplish. Setting high expectations and making a detailed schedule with plenty of extra tasks can solve this problem.

  1. Think Ahead

Be prepared with materials and space. Unlike adult volunteers who may be happy to go home early from a project if the job is done or weather interrupts an outdoor project, youth often need to tell their parents or guardians exactly when they will be done so they can be picked up. Try to have a back-up idea in case anything in your plan changes or goes wrong so that these youth have something to do until the official project end.

  1. Share Your Passion

Remember what a win-win situation it is to have youth volunteers at your agency! Not only do they bring energy and enthusiasm, but you could be creating a lifelong volunteer and ally for your organization.

Photo credit: hepingting

Lacey Helmig_webLacey Helmig is Communications and Media Coordinator for Youth Volunteer Corps, a youth service organization that creates and supports quality, team-based youth service opportunities throughout the U.S. and Canada.

 

Why I’m Thankful for My Nonprofit Internship

Guest post by Dylan Manderlink

How nonprofit internships can be valuable for young people.Over the course of my four years of college, I had the privilege to intern at five different nonprofit organizations, all of whom were dedicated to different causes. From my tour relations internship position at a human rights nonprofit in LA, to my marketing internship at a nonprofit’s national headquarters in Boston, I gained a depth of insight that has informed my career decisions in the nonprofit sector.

No matter how different my tasks have been at the internships I’ve held, with each one I have gained a meaningful perspective on nonprofit work and the impact the sector can have on our communities. Given my young age, in each internship I was given a considerable amount of responsibility and mobility within the organization. I felt valued, not just as an intern, but as a part of their staff and movement as a whole.

Now that I am a recent post-grad working my first “real world” job, I can step back and really appreciate the professional and personal growth I experienced while interning in various nonprofits. Here are a few ways my nonprofit internships prepared me for my post-grad life and first job:

1. Nonprofits understand that time is precious and deadlines are important to their organization and cause. Because of this, I learned how to optimize the time I had. In my previous internships, whether I was there for a half-day or the full 9-5, I knew I had no time to waste. Now, that’s not to say that I felt rushed or stressed out at all. Instead, I felt additionally motivated by the urgency and importance of our work.

2. Nonprofits were forgiving if I made mistakes. My employers would take time to coach me, and by doing so, fostered my personal growth. At each nonprofit I interned with, I felt valued, appreciated and empowered as an employee. I have had several friends who interned at large for-profit companies who felt dissatisfied with how they were treated as an intern. I remember them commenting on always having to run errands, do menial tasks, and not have opportunities to build relationships with the staff they worked alongside. On the contrary, in my nonprofit internships I felt like I was constantly given additional responsibilities. In fact, many of those responsibilities were outside my comfort zone or area of familiarity.

3. I always felt like my higher-ups and co-workers took time to get to know me, my interests and passions, and my life outside of work. I noticed how welcoming, supportive, and empowering the nonprofit work culture is. Now, in my first post-grad job, I take the initiative to relationship-build with my fellow co-workers because I know how important that is in a work environment. I also actively seek areas where I can foster personal growth. I value finding mentors, welcoming opportunities to learn from my mistakes, and asking my co-workers to evaluate my performance.

4. Nonprofits promote and embody the notion that ‘it takes a village.’ I think one of the main reasons why I felt constantly empowered as an intern was because the nonprofit culture understands that each person’s contribution and effort is invaluable. Each employee, no matter your status or job title, is vital in promoting the cause that your organization fights for. Together, we have the power to make a real difference – within the organization, our community, and society at large. In my current job, I try channeling the ‘it takes a village belief’ everyday. I do this by:

  • Asking for help from my co-workers.
  • Vocalizing my appreciation for my co-workers and the hard work they do everyday.
  • Thanking others for their contributions to our staff’s overall goal.

It’s important to remember that we wouldn’t be able to do our jobs effectively without each other. I definitely learned that notion of staff unity from the internship experiences I had in college.

5. Nonprofits value a young voice and recognize the potential and eagerness of 20-somethings. As a recent post-grad, I was nervous about being hired at such a young age, and if organizations would question me given the little experience I’ve had. Even when these job insecurities and worries were overwhelming, I remember how appreciative my nonprofit staffs were when they realized that I was still in college and had so much passion and dedication to social change and nonprofit work. They viewed my age and paired eagerness as a pro, rather than seeing my age as something that signified inexperience.

Although there are many more benefits of having nonprofit internship experience as an undergrad, the advantages and skills I have highlighted are ones that have greatly impacted me in my first job as a college graduate.

The multiplicity of skills and diverse knowledge of the workforce that I have gained through my five nonprofit internships have given me a unique but practical perspective on the nonprofit sector. Rather than experiencing a tidal wave of worries following my college graduation, I felt hopeful, motivated, and ready to enter my first job and start pursuing my desired career.

So, if you’re a nonprofit employee who is thinking about hiring on an intern, I would highly encourage and support your decision to do so. As a previous nonprofit intern, I am tremendously thankful for the personal and professional growth I experienced while interning. The nonprofit internships I held helped inform my post-grad career decisions, and are professional experiences I will always reflect on when looking to better myself as an employee and as a community member.

My charge to nonprofit professionals is to recognize college students’ idealism, passion and fire to spark change. Along with recognizing these things, make room for them to be an asset and part of your organization. The confidence that my nonprofit coworkers encouraged concerning my age, idealism and commitment to social justice, is just what I needed when entering the workforce. This similar notion is something nonprofit professionals can embody within their own staffs and use to inspire young people to get more involved in the nonprofit sector.

Does your organization work with young interns? Tell us about your experiences below!

Dylan Manderlink is a recent graduate of Emerson College in Boston, Mass., who with a self-designed major, Investigative Theatre for Social Change. She is now a Teach for America corps member, teaching high school in rural Arkansas. She is passionate about working in the nonprofit sector and providing educational opportunities for students to creatively inform themselves and others about social justice, community change and human rights.

5 Tips for Engaging Youth Volunteers

Guest post by Susan Ragsdale

5 Tips for Engaging Youth Volunteers

A young lady works on door decorations for Ronald McDonald House during service camp.

“[The world’s hope] is to rely on youth . . . not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.” — U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy

When I was young, I watched the Wonder Twins on Saturday morning cartoons. These youth worked with superhero adults to make a difference in the world. They assessed situations, made decisions and took action to try to make things better.

Sometimes their plans worked; sometimes they didn’t. But, that didn’t stop them from using their minds, hearts, time and energy to do what they could.

Today, there are many youth who want to make that difference and yet are often overlooked as possible resources in the volunteer pool. Working with various youth groups over the past 22 years, I’ve seen youth dig in and happily do what they can to make things right, better and more just and come up with viable solutions.

In engaging youth as volunteers, I recommend these tips from my book Groups, Troops, Clubs and Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth:

  1. First, recognize youth are resources in your own thinking. Acknowledge that they have a perspective you don’t but that you need.Young people’s brains are often unfettered by “no”. Adults have often been told too many times that there ideas won’t work; systems are too hard to change. But youth haven’t repeatedly heard that message, thus they often have more freedom to tackle problems with enthusiasm, courage and out-of-the-box thinking. Use that resource!
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  3. Ask them to do good. Ask them to make the world better. Ask them what they think; ask them to get involved, to help, and to share their gifts.
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  5. Look for and engage youth from their sparks (their interests and talents). When a youth is actively involved in his spark, he is following his innate purpose and will be fully engaged in what’s going on. Challenge them to tap into their powers and use them for good.
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  7. Mix it up. Involve youth volunteers in a variety of opportunities. Expose them to different community needs and ways to contribute. Help them find their passion and voice.
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  9. Let youth work side-by-side with adults. Working next to adults expands youths’ perspectives and feeds into their own sense of purpose as they hear why adults are giving of their time.

We can’t afford to wait until young people are grown up before they understand or learn about society’s problems, find their voice, take action, and have an impact. We need to harness their energies, perspectives, gifts, and understandings today as actors in finding solutions for today’s challenges. We need them and they need us. Take a chance and start seeking young people out as volunteers.

See how these youth are serving: http://bit.ly/1thSvDh then send me how you’re engaging youth. We’ll tell your story on our blog.

Susan Ragsdale is a nationally recognized trainer in positive youth development, service-learning, and play with purpose as well as the co-author of 7 books including her latest, Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth, (published in September 2014 by Search Institute Press). Learn more through her website and her blog, or reach her at cad@TheAssetEdge.net or Twitter @TheAssetEdge.

How and Why to Make Volunteering a Family Affair

Guest post by Beth Steinhorn, JFFixler Group

A mother and daughter volunteer together with the Sacramento Tree Foundation.

A mother and daughter volunteer together with the Sacramento Tree Foundation.

Whether you represent a food pantry, youth program, senior center, theater, or other organization or agency, families are likely a key constituent of yours. They may be welcomed as members, program attendees, visitors, or clients. They may be cultivated as donors or participants. Rarely, however, do families easily and readily find ways to volunteer at these organizations – to volunteer together.

Meanwhile, families are as busy as they have ever been and finding time together is a priority. Parents are seeking to spend meaningful family time together, to live out the values they want to instill in their children, and to make a positive difference in their community. In response, many organizations are beginning to actively engage families as volunteers, whether for a one-time event or in an ongoing relationship. Many different factors have inspired that new commitment to engaging families.

Last year, our firm shared a case study about one family volunteering program at the Aquarium of the Pacific. That institution was inspired, in part, by the powerful connection between young visitors and young volunteers. Sean Devereaux, the Manager of Volunteer Services, described the interaction between an 8-year old volunteer and a visitor of similar age:

“The interaction was truly magical. The young visitor was able to get so much more depth of knowledge than if he had interacted with an adult because the kids spoke to each other in a common language. It was remarkable. I wasn’t the only one who was noticing that magic. The Aquarium as a whole recognized the value of peer-to-peer learning. So we began marketing family volunteering as a valuable and integral program for our volunteer corps.”

Organizations can harness the energy of families working together, and, as seen in the “magic” observed at that aquarium, the benefits add up to far more than just the hours contributed by the family volunteers. Everyone benefits – the volunteers, the organization, the visitors or clients, and even the community-at-large.

When organizational leaders are strategic and careful about the roles they create for family volunteers, they can expect tangible contributions from family members of all ages. Creating meaningful and appropriate roles takes time, but is possible. In their book, Doing Good Together, Jenny Friedman and Jolene Roehlkepartain share seven “keys” to a successful family service project. They are:

  1. Purpose; impact on a real need
  2. Simplicity
  3. Creativity
  4. Intergenerational appeal
  5. Relationship building
  6. Reflection
  7. A next step

This list is a great starting point to discuss what makes family volunteering effective for all involved. Discuss what each of those seven key elements means to you and your constituents and what they might “look like” at your organization.

There are meaningful roles for families at most organizations. The challenge is to surface them. Here are a few suggestions to get the ideas flowing:

Social Service Agencies: Families can organize food drives, unload and shelve donations to a pantry, raise funds by organizing family-friendly events, and host information sessions at their homes or schools to educate others about the pressing needs in their own communities.

Community Centers: Families can help with facilities projects like building or painting playground meals to seniors, tutor children, or brainstorm, plan, and run events to bring new members to the Center.

Farms and Community Supported Agriculture: Families can tend crops and harvest food to be donated to a local food pantry, thus helping the environment, learning new skills, learning about issues related to hunger, and feeding the hungry all at the same time.

Museums and Cultural Organizations: Families can serve as tour guides, interpreters, greeters, or program ushers.

These are just a few examples of successful family-friendly volunteer roles. What can families do for your organization?

To learn more about family volunteering, join guest blogger Beth Steinhorn, JFFixler Group President, for a free webinar at September 3. Click here to register!

Beth Steinhorn is a nationally recognized leader, writer, and innovator in volunteer engagement and nonprofit management. As President of JFFixler Group, she leads consultations, facilitates workshops, directs research, presents keynote addresses, and publishes blogs and articles. Throughout her 25+ year career with nonprofit organizations, Beth has worked to help organizations and their leadership to achieve their missions through strategic and innovative engagement.

What I Learned from Volunteering

Guest post by Dylan Manderlink

Dylan Manderlink shares what she learned volunteering - and how nonprofits can and should increase outreach to young people.

Dylan volunteering in Boston, Mass.

This post should really be called: “How I learned more about my community and humanity once I stepped outside my college classroom.” You see, going to college in the heart of a city has an abundance of advantages, and many students are quick to take a big gulp of all the opportunities presented by the fast-paced, busy, and unique city landscape.

While internship opportunities, professional networking events for soon-to-be post grads, company hosted events at local restaurants and bars, and higher education possibilities are readily available and most likely taken advantage of by eager 20-somethings, taking time to volunteer at the many nonprofit social/environmental justice organizations, homeless shelters, advocacy centers, philanthropic fundraisers, local schools and child care facilities that complete the city of Boston are not always at the forefront of young people’s minds while navigating through their college experiences.

But, with a little push from student organizations, local nonprofits and passionate individuals, volunteerism and community change can start to take a front seat and become not just an opportunity, but also a priority in the lives of young people.

Volunteerism, civic engagement and advocacy are the driving forces for creating change and making a positive impact in your community and society at large. While gaining internship and job experience can lead to community impact and social change, it’s important for us to remember that before we start advocating for change and informing others about issues we care about, we need to fully understand the complexity and depth of the social, environmental, or economic issue we are passionate about.

Not only do we need to understand the ‘issue’ or ‘societal problem’ that many people face and are impacted by every day, but we need to meet and work alongside those whose daily realities are shaped by injustices, while not creating any divides or barriers in the process. Everyday people are affected by the issues that organizations fight for or against, and once we realize how people-centered things like advocacy, outreach and service are, I believe young people will realize their call to action and their potential in their local landscapes to really affect change.

My Experience

How can nonprofits appeal to more young people in order to get them more involved in community issues?

Dylan volunteering in Boston, Mass.

For example: Recently I had a very unique volunteer gig. A few times a semester I would take the Red Line to Quincy to volunteer at the Prison Book Program, where I would read letters from incarcerated individuals from all over the country and find 2-3 books that match their interests and reading criteria. Opening each letter and hearing people’s stories reminded me of the harsh realities of our world today, and the difficulty many people face in preserving their human dignity and self-worth.

Whether guilty of crimes or innocent, our incarceration system is an issue that many activists rally around in terms of its success and promise in correcting and rehabilitating criminal behavior. So, to read letters and hear the voices of those who are living on the marginalized edges of our society, but who rarely have a voice in the issue that’s being nationally rallied around, is an uncommon circumstance that should be noted and have more attention and action drawn to. Their desire to educate themselves within the confines of a prison wall is real and heard by those of us who take time to spend their weekday evenings in the bottom of a church basement, sorting through donated books, and reading literary wish-lists of those who are incarcerated.

Another meaningful experience that sticks out to me is when I regularly volunteered at a children’s homeless shelter in Roxbury, Mass. for two years, and was reminded of the fact that the statistics we hear every day about homelessness are real people – not just numbers. Every child I played alongside, made a puzzle with, and created art work for, reminded me that the largest percentage of people who are homeless is in fact, not the men people see on the street who are waiting in line for the soup kitchen, but families: Mothers, children of all ages, infants, and fathers.

I was reminded that every human and every family deserves a place to call a home, a place to grow up, and a place to feel safe and comfortable. Helping the shelter to provide an afternoon of safety, comfort, respect, and joy for children who don’t have a home or much stability was a small but meaningful contribution to a much greater familial and societal obstacle.

What I Learned

I learned from my volunteer experiences in Boston that people are not powerless; in fact, we have a great deal of power and potential, despite sometimes being told we may not have any because of the zip code we were born in, economic status, family life, sexual orientation, or employment status. Through the volunteering I made as a priority and a cornerstone of my life in college, I learned how empowering it is to realize how much agency you have in your own life and how beautiful it is to share that with others in hopes of them discovering it themselves.

I learned how giving human beings are, even when they don’t have much to give. I learned how one of the biggest equalizers of our society is storytelling and the sharing of self. We open countless doors of understanding, compassion, education, and empathy when we let the chaos and speed of the cityscape subside, and take time to actively listen and communicate with our community members. Our community is a diverse fabric of human beings, and we all have a voice in enacting change, improving the lives of our neighbors, and promoting a more just and verdant world.

I learned that local nonprofit organizations have the potential to amplify their outreach to colleges, and young people in general, through matching passions with skills. You as organizations need to purposefully identify for us why promoting service and civic engagement is not only important, but necessary if we want to improve our lives, the lives of others, and the dilemmas and misfortunes our world faces every day.

The relationship between young people and nonprofits can be the start of a significant change in our community, and should be a reciprocal and powerful educational experience. An open-minded and encouraging flow of communication between organizations and community members can be the launchpad for the social and environmental change organizations talk about and try for every day. Together, we can make change – not just a semblance of idealism, but reality, as well.

How does your organization engage with college students and young adults? Share what you’ve learned in the comments!

Dylan Manderlink is a recent graduate of Emerson College in Boston, Mass., who with a self-designed major, Investigative Theatre for Social Change. She is now a Teach for America corps member, teaching high school in rural Arkansas. She is passionate about working in the nonprofit sector and providing educational opportunities for students to creatively inform themselves and others about social justice, community change and human rights.