"Strongly Encouraged" Volunteering
For many students, back to school also means it's time to volunteer. There are several courses that require volunteering, or community involvement to be completed in order to successfully complete the class. Everyone sees the irony in forcing someone to volunteer, but there seems to be a shift from simply telling students to go out and perform their required number of service hours to encouraging students to get involved in something that is relevant and meaningful to them, and providing some resources to do so. That said, it's still a big ship to turn around, so there is still room for improvement! There are three groups that can make student volunteering successful:
1. Teachers, Professors and Instructors
It's true that we want to empower youth to find their own answers, to be problem-solvers. It's also true that by the time they are of a certain age, they should be able to do their own research and not be spoon fed information. However, leaders of youth are still in a position of role modeling and providing leadership. After all, people don't know what they don't know!
Take the time to help them to explore their values, interests and skills.
Help them to set goals - and tie that in with what you want them to learn from the experience.
Show them the benefits of volunteering - there is nothing wrong with volunteers of any age being aware of what's in it for them when they are also helping others.
Share resources with them, and give them time to do their own research.
Stress the importance of their commitment to the organization in which they'll be volunteering.
Help them manage their expectations. If they only have to volunteer for 5 hours, it's possible, and probably likely that they will not have a leadership role, or they may get very little interaction with the non-profit's clients, but perhaps something behind the scenes. As well, there may be organizations that will either not have any suitable volunteer opportunities or will not accept them for such a short amount of time.
2. Volunteer Managers
People who lead and engage volunteers are challenged in their work. They often wear many hats in their organizations (you'd be hard pressed to find a volunteer manager who is SOLELY a volunteer manager and does not also look after other areas such as: human resources, event planning, communications, client services, and more). As well, many of these positions are part time, so it can be hard to keep all the balls safely juggled in the air. There is simply not that much time for creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. However, volunteer managers that are not creative problem solvers will have a difficult time engaging youth who are volunteering as part of a school course, and that is a real loss not only to the organization, but to the community as a whole.
Accept that the commitment is short, and try to find ways to engage the students in meaningful and fun ways.
Try to find volunteer roles that will allow them to interact with your clients.
Show them the impact of their work and how that ties to mission of the organization.
See them as a potential future volunteer. They may only be putting in 10 hours now, but they may come back when they need or want to volunteer again.
Remember, this may be their first volunteer experience, so it's of benefit to everyone to make sure its a good experience.
It's true that being "voluntold" is not fair. Doing things you don't really want to do, is unfortunately part of life, and most certainly part of school. The key is to make the most of the situation. If it's something that has to be done - then make it as enjoyable as possible.
Understand the importance of the commitment that's being made. Someone is relying on volunteers to show up for their shift and then to perform tasks to the best of their ability while volunteering.
Figure out what's important to you. Find an organization whose values are aligned with yours. Take the time to do your research and find the right opportunity. You don't have to take the first thing that's offered.
Set some goals. What are you hoping (or expected) to get out of volunteering? Where will you go that will ensure that those goals are met?
Is it possible to volunteer for more than your required hours? Sometimes you might miss an awesome volunteer opportunity that requires only a few more hours commitment. Keep an open mind to possibilities.
Remember that you are representing your school, and an entire age group (as unfair as that may seem, it is true). If you are an unreliable or apathetic volunteer, you may ruin opportunities for future student volunteers.
So, to all involved in education mandated volunteering this year - here's to a successful year. It CAN be a rewarding venture for all involved with a little care and commitment.