Guest post by Susan Philliber of Philliber Research Associates.
The original evaluation of Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program (TOP) showed that the volunteer experience was a critical component in the program’s success—more important than the curriculum content. Outcomes were most impressive when—
- Young people did at least 20 hours of actual volunteer work;
- They had a choice about their assignments, and
- They perceived their work to be important.
Volunteer placements can be either group or individual experiences but when young people actually see and interact with the objects of their charity, the volunteer experience is more meaningful. Young people (like older ones) need to feel needed and like they have something to give others. It must be, in other words, a moving, “spiritual” experience—not boring or busy work.
Over the years, TOP clubs around the country have employed various models to make this happen. Here are some ideas:
Get a partner organization to help you find and implement placements for students.
TOP was originally owned by the Junior League in St. Louis and later by the national Junior League. One or two members of a local League were assigned to TOP as their volunteer placement for the year. In that capacity, they used their community contacts to find placements for students—3 at the hospital, 2 at the veterinarian’s office, 3 at the senior citizens residence and so on. Children were given a list of potential placements at the first or second TOP session and they got to choose. Sometimes the placements were switched during the year to give each child at least one of their preferred spots. Community service learning (CSL) began right away and lasted all year, with students working at their sites at least once a week after school or on weekends.
This could be arranged with other organizations like the Lions Club or Rotary or with a local sorority or fraternity. The help is free, consistent with what these civic groups normally do, and taps into a wealth of community connections. Sometimes these adult partners can also arrange for bus passes or other transportation to a volunteer placement.
Honor and celebrate the contribution of your community partner at the end of the year, along with honoring the work your TOP students completed.
Arrange a series of group activities for students during the year.
Contact local not-for-profits in your community and ask them if they can use your group on a project. In Bradenton, FL, thousands of students are placed each year in such volunteer spots by a group called Manateens (the county is Manatee County). On a website set up for this purpose, agencies post their needs for volunteers and young people sign up. These jobs can be for a day, or a weekend—short—but both the community and the TOP group benefit. Young people also have choice with this system and they get variety.
Use student-led research to define community needs for volunteers.
One of the challenges in organizing meaningful volunteer experiences for young people is transporting them to and from their placements—whether they are group or individual. In some communities, CSL begins with a Saturday of door-to-door research in the community around where TOP is held. Young people do short surveys of local residents about things they may need or things they think young people could do in the community for its improvement. Elderly residents often want gardening help, help with snow shoveling, help with painting, or cleaning. Maybe there is a vacant lot in the community that needs cleaning and landscaping (get the supplies donated). In one dangerous neighborhood in San Diego, elderly women were afraid to go to the grocery store by themselves and so the young men of TOP formed an escort service for safety. The research itself is fun, it makes awesome newspaper publicity about these special young people, and it gets the kids fired up. It is also likely to generate lots of different things to do so that students have that all-important choice.
Individual volunteer placement ideas are as fruitful as your imagination.
Here are just a few ideas of placements for young people.
|The hospitalThe veterinarian
Senior citizens facilities
Older children can tutor younger ones
Children with some talent (e.g., musical, art sports, etc.) teaching younger ones
Paint or repair homes in the community for residents who need help
Wash cars for free
Shovel snowy walks and driveways
Clean snow off cars
Load groceries for people into their cars (take no tips)
Help the Salvation Army ring their bells at Christmas time
If you are close to a rural area, ask farmers or ranchers what help they need
Pass out free cups of lemonade to people on a hot day
|Clean lots, roadsides, graffiti, sidewalks, beaches, parksRead to the blind
Do arts and crafts with elderly people or in child care centers
Participate in “walks for…”
Hold a dinner or other fundraising project for a cause
Visit people who live alone
Run an “on-call” child care or babysitting service
Walk dogs for residents who find that difficult
Wash car windows for people while they shop for groceries (leave a little card on the windshield about TOP)
Work with the Red Cross to organize a blood drive
Participate in wildlife censuses
Ask local environmental people what help they need in cleaning a river, a section of land
A taste of service.
There is currently a TOP replication project in five states in the northwestern US that has over 100 sites. Here they use what they call “a taste of service”—a short project begun in the first week of TOP and completed quickly before more lengthy projects begin. Young people are given t-shirts to decorate with facts and beliefs about some issue that they think is important to young people—bullying, teen pregnancy, friendship—their choices. Then, on the service day, they wear their shirts and start conversations with their peers about their topics. The debriefing is about how service can be many different things—including education.
Other important keys to successful service:
- Facilitators must role model enthusiasm and excitement about service.
- Facilitators must put in some hours to participate in, supervise, and arrange successful service events.
- Use publicity to help insure the kids show up and to reward them.
- Take lots of pictures!
Dr. Susan Philliber, one of the founders and senior partners of Philliber Research Associates, has more than 30 years experience in evaluation and basic research. She has led a number of research evaluations for Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program.