November 16, 2018
So John, the Title I coordinator in your school district, enthusiastically agreed to share his expertise as a Master Gardener. He’s working with students to build a community garden in a nearby spot that was formerly an eyesore. The local newspaper did a story about it last week.
Mari, an insurance agent, meets with students once a week to prep for a beginner’s rock-climbing expedition in the spring. They’re learning about equipment, rope work, climbing techniques and safety checks. Mari works with each student on a customized physical and mental training program. As a result, some are trying yoga or weight training for the first time. Mari has a knack for getting even the most reluctant students to try new things.
Everyone agrees that things are going great! Your work as a volunteer coordinator is done, right? Not so fast.
Don’t assume that once you’ve recruited expert volunteers, they won’t need or appreciate your support. Support from the 21st CCLC program is vital to maintaining volunteers’ commitment, energy and momentum over time. Try the Triple-A approach: ask, assist and acknowledge.
Ask what you can do to support volunteers. Do they need more flexibility in scheduling? What about supplies, equipment or extra help from other adults?
Assist and assess to ensure success. Being a Master Gardener doesn’t mean being a master teacher, activity planner and youth developer. Being a rock-climbing enthusiast doesn’t mean knowing how to address behavioral issues or modify activities for students with disabilities. Meet with volunteers up front to share specific information about your students, their interests and ways to engage them, and use the Y4Y Sample Volunteer Skills Grid. Invite volunteers to share their ideas and input. Agree on a plan, then observe and participate in activities. Assess what’s working, what could be improved, and what’s needed to keep things on track. Offer encouragement and feedback. The Y4Y Working With Volunteers Training Plan can help you and your staff ensure volunteers’ success.
Acknowledge volunteers’ contributions. Be specific when you recognize these valuable members of the 21st CCLC team. At a public event, you might say, “Before our students worked on the garden, some thought potatoes grew on trees. Others didn’t know what organic meant. This project has opened up a new world for them, and raised interest in healthful eating, too.” Privately, you might say, “Samantha uses your mental training tips from rock climbing to manage her anxiety better. Even her teachers at school have noticed a difference!” Acknowledgements like this go beyond “thank you.” They appeal to people’s desire to contribute something useful and meaningful.
These are just a few ways to support volunteers who share their expertise. Add your own ideas, and put them to work!