Why Prisons Need More Volunteers

Guest Post by Mila Sanchez

Volunteering at PrisonsIt’s easy to think about volunteering in places like hospitals, food banks, schools, and animal humane societies, but some places that are commonly overlooked [and could really use volunteers] are prisons.

I know I’m guilty of neglecting prisons when I consider nearby places to volunteer myself. Maybe it’s because I used to think of prison as a place people chose to be, by committing crimes that brought them there in the first place. The thought that they deserve to be there could be in etched in the back of many people’s minds. Even if it is true that people who commit crimes have a debt to pay their society, it’s incredibly important to do our part to help with rehabilitation programs.

My dad has volunteered in prisons for over 20 years. I recently had the chance to attend a volunteer appreciation dinner with him at a prison, where I heard so many stories about inmates’ lives that changed through the rehabilitation programs volunteers helped facilitate. The warden gave a speech where he mentioned the wonders volunteer rehabilitation programs have done for inmates — specifically in helping to rework their mindsets from defaulting to a life of crime.

With prison overcrowding becoming a real concern in the U.S., and some state governments continually cutting funds, volunteer programs focused on rehabilitation have become essential.

Educational Services

Education can be a great tool for rehabilitation.

Many people turn to crime because their lack of education disqualifies them from being successful in most jobs, or they are frustrated by their educational struggles and chose to act out — often the case for juveniles. Through volunteer services that tutor inmates, you can help an inmate learn valuable skills like reading and math, and even assist them with earning their GED.These opportunities give inmates a better chance to find work once they’re released.

You can also support educational services by donating books to prisons, which undoubtedly aid in their learning.

Religious Ministries

Religious ministries are a popular way to volunteer in prisons, too.

My dad has volunteered in prison ministries in our city, and helped many inmates learn to reflect and pray in lieu of turning to crime and violence. Teaching love and forgiveness that comes from a higher power can be great solace, especially for those inmates who feel abandoned by people who they were once close to, or feel they have done too much wrong to change.

Mindfulness

Teaching inmates alternative ways of dealing with anger and finding peace can be essential to their rehabilitation. Many inmates were arrested for violence and anger-related issues; issues that they can learn to channel in different and more constructive ways. Volunteer programs that focus on mindfulness and relaxation, like teaching yoga, are excellent ways to help refocus and rehabilitate inmates.

Any volunteer program that focuses on changing criminal and inmate behavior and mindsets are sure to be extremely beneficial to a prisoner’s rehabilitation process. There are many different programs in different cities, so check VolunteerMatch.org to find a program that matches your skills near you.

Author Bio: Mila Sanchez is a writer and recent college graduate, with a B.A. in Linguistics. She’s passionate about traveling the world, learning new languages, and taking pictures of her dog, Baymax. She and Baymax can often be found hiking in the foothills near her town.

A Big Help to Little People

Editor’s Note: VolunteerMatch participates in Immaculate Conception Academy (ICA)’s Corporate Work Study Program. Michelle, one of our ICA volunteers, wrote the following post to share how volunteering has impacted her life.

Guest post by Michelle Fonseca

Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” The first time I heard this quote was from my University of San Francisco (USF) tutor in middle school. I, at the time, didn’t grasp the deep meaning of the quote. I remember how inspired I was by my USF tutor because of how she had taken time out of her busy life to help me with math homework.

I knew from that moment that when I grew up I wanted to be caring just like her — and I’m not saying this because she gave me ice cream. Above all, I had discovered my passion: to spend my life helping children.

826 Valenica

Outside 826 Valencia, a nonprofit that focuses on providing free services to Bay Area youth.

During my junior year of high school, I was assigned a required service learning project. While some girls were dreading having to volunteer, I, on the other hand, was excited, which is an understatement. I decided to volunteer at 826 Valencia, a nonprofit organization that focuses on providing free services to Bay Area youth, from ages 6-18. My “partner in crime” Sabrina and I decided to volunteer at 826 Valencia’s after school program.

I interviewed my friend Sabrina and the program director Jorge to gain more knowledge on the program and their personal experiences. 

Running a program isn’t easy, but Jorge sure does make it look easy. Jorge has been working at 826 Valencia for many years now. After school programs are where children usually go when parents can’t pick them up right away.

Interview with Jorge:

What makes 826 Valencia’s programs special from other after school programs?

826 Valencia is a place where children have a social space to do their homework — a place where children safely gain knowledge and make new friends. When choosing a job, I think it’s important to love what you do.

Why did you choose to work at 826 Valencia?

I received an art degree in college. I peer tutored my buddies through college. And I resonated with the mission statement from 826 Valencia. As a program director, there is always something new for me to learn.

What have you learned from working with children?

Children are extremely energetic and I have to use my creative side to think of projects that keep them busy after they finish their homework. Being part of a community is one the best things in life because you feel like you are part of a second family.

Is it important to give back to your community?

Absolutely. I believe everyone should give back and help the community, especially if a person once received help from it.

Interview with Sabrina:

826 Valencia Tutors

Inside 826 Valencia

Why did you choose 826 Valencia?

Out of all the places that came to mind, I thought of volunteering at 826 Valencia first, especially since I considered their after school program my second home.

Do you have any special connection to the program?

I technically grew up in this program. It enhanced my academic skills.

How was your experience as a volunteer?

My experience was amazing because I got to know the kids who are the new generation of 826 Valencia. I also saw some old friends from the program that were tutoring just like me and giving back to their community. Little kids could be a handful sometimes.

What have you learned from working with children?

One of the biggest things I learned is to have patience because children are so energetic and can get distracted easily.

Would you recommend volunteering at an after school program?  Why?

Of course! I think it’s great since children always need the extra help, especially since homework is more challenging now than it used to be. Children need an environment other than school and home to do their homework.

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During my time volunteering at 826 Valencia, the children’s energy brought back memories to when I was enthusiastic like them. Each of the children I tutored had a different way of learning. Some memorized their vocabulary words by spelling the word out several times. Others by looking at the word once and memorizing it. One thing they had in common is that they each had a drive to learn.

After each time I kept on going to the after school program, I slowly became attached to the children. Whenever they would see me they would jump for joy and rush to hug me.

This experience made me realize the importance of not only giving back to the community but in also being a mentor to children. The future of the world is dependent on children, therefore, it’s important that they obtain an education in order to accomplish amazing things.

Learn more about tutoring, mentorship, and after school program volunteer opportunities in your community by visiting VolunteerMatch.org.

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About the author:
Michelle is very down to earth. She loves root beer and awesome stand-up comedy. She will be heading off to UC Merced for college this fall, and will be making new friends that Moo! She enjoys helping others with a smile on her face, which is why she became part of the ambassadors club at her school.

Michelle wants to pursue a career in social work to help people become aware of the many benefits our world offers.

How Volunteering with Sick Children Changed Sharon Reasonover’s Life

Sharon Reasonover

Sharon Reasonover, Ronald McDonald House Volunteer

Sharon Reasonover first started volunteering at the age of 16. It was the summer before her junior year of high school, and she hadn’t really understood the meaning behind doing something for others until that day.

Sharon was accompanying a church group to the Ronald McDonald House (RMH) in Dallas, Texas. RMH is a “home-away-from-home” for families so they can stay close by their hospitalized child at little or no cost.

Sharon recalls her first time walking into RMH — nervous and afraid of messing up or saying the wrong thing. After only 5 minutes, she began connecting with families. “That day, I played with kids, laughed with the adults, and heard countless stories — you name it!” says Sharon.

Now a 20-year-old student at the University of North Texas, Sharon has volunteered with RMH ever since. “I have met so many people there that have changed my life.”

Read the rest of Sharon’s story, including the stories of three of the kids she cared for at RMH, and how volunteering has helped Sharon grow into the person she’s always wanted to be.

If you’re a nonprofit looking for ways to effectively engage with younger generations, check out this Engaging Volunteers blog post on 5 ways you could inspire teenagers to take a step toward community service.

 

How To Use Positivity To Attract New Volunteers

Guest post by Kayla Matthews

Finding qualified and capable volunteers for your organization isn’t always easy. Getting the word out is one challenge. Finding people willing to commit to the tasks at hand is another. Once volunteers are recruited, keeping them around and satisfied is a whole other effort.

A great way to make all of this happen is to focus on positivity. The message your organization conveys helps immensely. While these messages are often tailored for potential donors, they can be just as effective for prospective volunteers.

Here’s how to harness the power of positivity to attract new volunteers and keep effective ones around.

Highlight the Work Volunteers Do

How to Use Positivity to Attract New VolunteersTo recruit new volunteers and keep your current volunteers contented, highlight the great work they’re doing. Sharing volunteers’ unique roles, day-to-day tasks and what they like about volunteering go a long way in appealing to new volunteers. Using social media to thank long-time volunteers and welcome new ones is a good way to diversify your marketing efforts.

Highlighting this kind of work is also a great method for sharing the interesting ways volunteers have contributed. Take, for example, how Ford Mustang part dealer CJ Pony Parts teamed up with Make-A-Wish to restore a teen’s vintage Ford Mustang. That’s not an everyday occurrence, so it shows the different ways the volunteers might be able to help.

Sharing a story of a volunteer is a lot more effective than simply sharing a volunteer job description. By presenting volunteers in a positive light, you’ll appeal to both prospective volunteers and those who have no interest in volunteering. Simply posting a volunteer job description won’t get a lot of attention, but a compelling story coupled with a link to your organization’s volunteer page works on multiple levels.

Focus on the Outcomes

Volunteering is proven to be rewarding and satisfying, but maintaining positive messaging can be a challenge if your organization is dealing with grim subject matter. Organizations that oppose trafficking, domestic abuse, and other societal ills aren’t able to post the warm and happy images that other organizations might be able to.

That’s why you should focus on the positive outcomes your organization creates. People love a happy ending, and your organization can share those despite how difficult the path to that ending may have been.

It’s these positive outcomes that are especially motivating when the work is difficult, so share as many as you can.

Keep Positive Messages Simple

It’s important to highlight the varied work that your organization is doing, but be sure to focus on the key messaging. Distil all the work into a simple and compelling message that easily explains what your organization is all about. Potential volunteers are overloaded with distractions and often aren’t willing to dig through extensive messaging to see if the nonprofit is right for them.

Make Sharing Positivity Easy

Charity: Water, a nonprofit dedicated to providing access to clean water, has some of the best marketing in the nonprofit sector. They’re at the forefront of digital marketing trends, and their mission is easy to convey. What makes their marketing so effective is just how easy it is for supporters to share their personal experiences. This helps get the word out organically, as Charity: Water doesn’t have to pursue active outreach. The supporters do it for them.

Think of ways to encourage your volunteers and supporters to share their thoughts and feelings about your organization. Personal recommendations are far more useful than any form of advertising, so make it as easy as possible for existing volunteers to spread the word.

Positivity is a powerful tool, yet it’s most effective when you know exactly what your audience wants. Finding that balance between informative and positive can help you reach more potential volunteers.

To find what works best, fine-tune your messaging as needed and ask yourself important questions about demographics and communications channels. Following these steps will help you bring in new volunteers that can help fulfill your organization’s mission.

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About the author:
Kayla Matthews is a writer and blogger. Her work has appeared on Nonprofit Hub and The Caregiver Space, along with The Huffington Post.

Image credit: Kaboompics

How to Boost Your Local Volunteers’ Motivation

Guest post by David Grover

teamworkThe ability to motivate local volunteers is a vital but challenging task. Volunteer organizations are notoriously fluid, people come and go, and very often, those who are very enthusiastic at the start lose steam as time passes.

Here are 6 useful tips on successfully motivating local volunteers.

Tip 1: Acknowledge and praise

Acknowledgement and praise are keystones of volunteer motivation. Volunteers get paid in acknowledgement, not money. Even paid workers are motivated by more than just money, according to behavioral economist Dan Ariely. When people are not paid for their work, “abstract” rewards become ever more important, so make sure you create an environment that fosters them. For example, never pass up an opportunity to put a figurative gold star on the forehead of a volunteer.

Tip 2: Create a happy environment filled with fun

“Happiness research”, which has become all the rage in the past few years, indicates that happy people are more productive. And good social relationships improve people’s happiness. Encourage teamwork amongst volunteers, create community, and host frequent “get-to-know-you” activities. Play games together, eat together, and most importantly, have fun. Leaders of charitable organizations very often get caught up in the overwhelming needs of those whom they have to help. Take some distance and connect in fun ways with the volunteers who help you.

Tip 3: Match individual volunteers’ strengths to your needs

Don’t give the child care job to someone in IT who’s socially reticent and not particularly fond of children, and don’t give the computer network backup job to someone who’s technophobic yet loves children. This example is extreme, of course, but it illustrates the importance of getting to know your volunteers well enough to establish their passions and interests as soon as they join.

Tip 4: Provide training

Sometimes you are not going to get the IT volunteer you need, or the shy person who loves babies may not know how to change diapers. Where necessary, provide training to volunteers. If the required skills are not available in your organization, identify and approach knowledgeable members of the community to provide one-off training to members of your volunteer corps. Learning new skills will motivate most people to engage with an activity or your organization.

Tip 5: Give feedback

Have regular feedback sessions where you share the successes of the organization with your volunteers. Encourage people who have benefited from the organization’s work to share their stories first-hand. Create colourful PowerPoint or Prezi presentations in which you detail the number of meals served, or the number of terminal patients cared for, or the number of adults who’ve been taught to read. Also share future plans with volunteers so that they become aware of the strategic goals of your organization.

Tip 6: Be flexible

Understand that volunteers are not full-time employees. A sure-fire way to chase them away and demotivate them is to treat them as such. Adapt to the schedules of your volunteers; try to allow them to volunteer at times that are convenient for them and accommodate their lives. Explain the tasks that need to be done and allow them to indicate when they will be available.

In conclusion, volunteering is a two-way street. Volunteers give of their time and efforts to others; however, they also get something back: meaningful engagement with others, a sense of worth and worthiness, new challenges, personal development, skills training and a sense of community. An organization that manages to serve the community and serve its volunteers at the same time will be a successful one.

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About the author:
David Grover is a Communications Manager at Timeo, a useful tool for business in the UK. He’s also a freelance career coach, who’s always eager to share his experience. In his free time David enjoys traveling.