Ten Rules of the Road for Schools and Other Groups
Figure out your goal. There are tons of excellent reasons to engage a youth group into action. They could be educational, religious, spiritual, philanthropic, neighborly or even financial. They’re all good reasons. Yet your experience is likely to be more fruitful – and more fun – if you take a moment beforehand and consider exactly why your group has taken on this project and what they are hoping to get out of it. Be honest. Then, convey this info to the group, even if they’re kids; it will help their sense of mission. After all, it’s always great to know why you’re doing something!
Make sure you get buy-in from the boss. Whatever group you’re with – school, faith, club – there is someone who runs the organization. The principal, the clergyman, the president. Before you take on a project, it is extremely important that that person is on board. He or she doesn’t have to be there with a paintbrush or a frying pan (though it is nice if they are). However, since it is being done under the auspices of their institution do try and get their support. If, for some reason, they don’t want to give their blessing, ask why. There’s probably a good reason.
Check other schedules. Whether you’re a school, a faith group, a team, or any other group, please be mindful that there are probably many other competing events at your institution. You or your family may even be involved in some of these events. But, whether you are, or not – and whether you even like the other events going on or think they’re worthwhile – someone else has worked hard on it, and it is important to them. Make sure yours doesn’t conflict.
Make sure the nonprofit you’re helping has the same agenda as you. Many nonprofits are faith-based or have a particular political agenda. Many of them serve people of all faiths and persuasions. These groups almost always welcome groups of all faiths, and keep volunteering a secular experience. However, if you are bringing a group, especially a group with children, please make sure beforehand that the nonprofit has an agenda that is in synch with yours. This is true in all cases, but especially if you are bringing a secular group from a school or club. The last thing you want to do is to make a child feel unwelcome or uncomfortable – especially when they’ve come to help!
Remember that not everyone in your community may agree. Are you planning to do a volunteer project for a cause or candidate that may be controversial? This could include gun control, the war in Iraq, gay marriage, health care, immigration, abortion, political candidates and countless other issues. While there are certain communities that agree 100 percent on an issue, that is not always the case. And, even if it seems that everyone in your community is like-minded, that may not be the case. Two good rules: Do not put children in the middle of a political fight, whether your own or others; and if your community is going to take a stand, be aware that you might hurt or offend some of your members.
Decide if this a service learning project. Many schools and groups that cater to children now include service learning as part of their curriculum. Service learning integrates meaningful community service with instruction designed to enrich the experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities. If this is what your group is doing, make a plan for what you are teaching before the event, what you expect to get out of the event and how you’d like to follow up. And then be prepared for the unexpected. If something unforeseen happens, be willing to modify your plan. The fact is, sometimes the surprising event can provide the most interesting and beneficial lessons of all!
Make sure your group knows what to expect. One of the best ways to ensure that people have a good experience volunteering is to make sure they know what they’re getting into. There’s a big difference, for example, between going to an animal shelter and petting sweet little kittens or hosing down filthy cages of snarling rottweilers. Both can be important and worthwhile activities, but your group will be more helpful, more engaged and happier if they are prepared physically and emotionally for the task at hand.
Think about whether this project is to fulfill a religious mission. Many people are inspired by their religious beliefs to help others, and that’s wonderful. But before your group signs on to help, you need to be clear about whether you’re doing this because your religion urges you to give back, or because you want to spread the word. Either is fine. However, if your mission is a religious one, please make sure the nonprofit you’re working with knows and is all right with that. They may well be. But there may be sensitivities involving their clients, other volunteers, or even their funding that may preclude any form of preaching or proselytizing. You want to help, so make sure that you’re helping in a way that will be welcome!
Determine ahead of time if there are any costs involved. Who is paying for this? If your school, house of worship or other group is covering the cost, great. If individuals are expected to help by making donations or raising funds, that can be great, too – or not. Just make sure your volunteers know ahead of time exactly what’s expected so they can decide if they want to make a monetary donation and if the project is for them. Money is tight for many people, and you don’t want to embarrass someone while helping someone else.
Have fun! Just because you’re bringing your group out in the name of volunteering, education, religion, helping or any combination of the above, doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be fun. If you’re reading this, you are someone who works with youth, so you know that girls and boys just wanna have fun. And why shouldn’t they? They’re kids. Don’t try and fight it. Just remember, the more fun kids have helping others, the more they’ll want to continue to help not only when they’re with you, but for the rest of their lives.
[Thanksgiving Stuffing Event] “Our Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without you guys. It warms my heart and replenishes my faith to witness such kindness in action.”
- -A.Z., Los Angeles
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