Don’t Stop Now! Continuing Volunteer Work

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It’s our last week at James John SUN School, my volunteer placement for Enhancing Youth Literacy. I didn’t realize this until I got there today and one of the kids in my “Friendship Club” alerted me with a big hug and a sad face. Only now – week 8 – do I feel like I’m barely starting to make a difference with these kids. For the first four weeks, they didn’t even know my name. At week five and six, they finally started to listen to me as an authority. And now at week 8, I feel like they finally trust me as a teacher and friend.

If you are able to, I strongly recommend that you continue your volunteer work. “Mentoring: A Promising Strategy for Youth Development” by S.M. Jekilek et Al lists the characteristics of succesful mentor relationships and the first one is,

The longer the mentoring relationship, the better the outcome. .. Relationships of shorter duration (3-6 months) experienced no significant improvements in academic, social and substance use outcomes.

I know first hand how hard it is to give up time, energy and resources to an unpaid volunteer position, especially considering most of us are full time students, broke, and possibly working or pursuing other goals. For this reason, I encourage you to find an easy way to give back doing something you love. Make a fun hobby out of volunteering.

One reason I feel I was most successful at James John was being able to create my own class for the kids. “Friendship Club”, a social skills class, was an idea I had after volunteering this last summer at a social skills day camp for kids with special needs. I wanted to find a way to practice all of the tools and tricks I’ve been learning in my Speech & Hearing studies (I’m a future Speech Language Pathologist) that would also look great on my resume. Since the class was my own creation, I felt extremely motivated to create fun and dynamic lesson plans. The kids (confused at first by the name of the class) quickly realized how much fun “friendship club” could be. By week 8, I was really proud of how well the class turned out. The girls all told me they would be signing up for the next semester and also telling their friends about it. Recieving this positive feedback is what inspired me to continue volunteering. When you find something you love to teach, kids will automatically be drawn to your passion.

However, it’s important to note another piece of advice from S.M. Jekilek et Al’s article,

Mentoring programs that are driven more by the needs and interests of youth – rather than the expectations of the adult volunteers – are more likely to succeed.

It took quite a while (and lots of trial and error) to figure out what activities worked best with the kids and which ones were total failures. With the “Friendship Club”, I realized right away that worksheets were not favorable, especially if it involved a lot of writing. On the flip side, art projects, coloring and open group discussions went over swimmingly. The girls loved talking about everything and opened up to each other fast. We discussed multiple topics (how to tell someone that you don’t like Justin Beiber without hurting their feelings, what to do if a stranger approaches you, what is bullying and how can you stop it). These kids loved sharing their opinions and gave me great advice on my class. Ask a kid what they like, what interests them and what motivates them and create your class plans around that. It’s a surefire way to be successful.

While “Friendship Club” was a great success, some of my other job duties at SUN school weren’t as positive. “Reading Club” was a huge challenge. Most of the kids didn’t want to read or struggled with it and there wasn’t enough time or adults in the room to help all of the kids. Other challenges popped up all over the place (at recess, in homework club, etc.) For these times, I remind you to stay strong! Your precense and commitment are what really matter. These kids have had “mentors” come and go their entire life. Be one who stays even through the hard times! When you make a mistake, brush it off and get back up.

You are just one person – but you can absolutely make a difference. I will finish off my soapbox post with a couple of motivational quotes for you to enjoy, as well as a couple questions for my peers: What experiences volunteering this term have impacted/affected your life? What worked and what failed? Do you plan on continuing your volunteer/community work in some way next term?

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4 thoughts on “Don’t Stop Now! Continuing Volunteer Work

  1. Liz,
    I loved reading your post! I completely agree that it takes time to build relationships and have had the same experience at my placement site, Portland Youth Builders. It sounds like through the friendship club you have created a safe space for the children to develop empathy and discuss important issues they are facing. I really admire your approach. I am glad you have been inspired to continue to volunteer. I have also been inspired throughout the course of this term to stay involved in volunteer work and I am going to continue next term at an elementary school closer to home. I am looking forward to learning more about issues we are facing in my community. Thank you for sharing your experiences this term, it is very inspiring!
    Alisha

  2. Liz, I think we may have talked about this a bit last Tuesday during recess, but i had the exact same experience, where I showed up to the class thinking we still had a few more weeks ahead of us, only to be told by one of the girls in my class that it was the last week of SUN school. I was so bummed! I hadn’t prepared yet for the last week, and felt like I had let them down by not putting together a final class period where we could discuss the good and bad things about the class-what worked, what hadn’t. I would have appreciated doing that. I think that is really great that you are staying on at James John, I would be really interested in doing the same if I had been staying in Portland, but this placement has shown me that I can find something much like this probably in the Kansas City public schools system, and I look forward to finding it!

  3. Liz you are awesome. I applaud you in your efforts to get the reading club going. I know that it wasn’t easy and you were kind of just thrown into this new class. I feel the same about the kids and I are barely getting along and know our names and the term is ending.It was a long difficult process to find out what the kids really enjoyed. I found out that they actually enjoyed being in spelling bees but only if it was for a prize. I didn’t mind that they only participated for the prize. I really loved that no matter how hard the word was they all tried. I gave an 8th grade word and I had 2nd graders trying to figure it out. I always applaud effort. I too am staying on and continuing to work with these kids. I know it is only one day a week but I feel that if I can effect change in just one child I have done my job.

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