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My Experiences and Advice

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Write here only if you have personal experience of working as a volunteer work organiser. What are the ups and downs of the profession?

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      09.05.2002 06:58
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      This category is here for people to share their experience and advice about organising some aspect of volunteering. Tonight was my first time in charge of the kid’s project I volunteer with at university and although it was hard work first time round I had a good time. A girl called Rachel usually runs the project, she organises everything every week and it is her job I did tonight. How did I end up running it then? To ease the load slightly and provide a bit of insurance if Rachel was ever ill, we (the volunteers) received an e-mail asking if we were interested in becoming a deputy project leader. I replied and as far as I know no-one else wanted the job so I got it. I was told soon after getting the job (I should really say position, job implies work in exchange for money, whereas I don’t get paid) that Rachel wasn’t able to make the last session before we break up for exams and summer so I would be in charge. This is when my heart skipped a beat, I’d had only two sessions to watch carefully what went on and what forms needed filling in for any eventuality. So the “challenge” was set, I had to organise everything for a 3hr session with 14 kids and something for the 8 volunteers (including me) to do with them. As their attention spans are only short I planned 3 different things for the kids to do in rotation (tried and tested method). Out of interest there were chalk drawings, pipe cleaner models and outdoor ball games. The kids loved doing the pipe cleaner models, making animals, names and jewellery and so highly recommend for any volunteers out there reading this. The amount of planning that needs to go into one 3-hour session was the first thing that surprised me. It took me a long time to decide what we were going to do and then all the things that need to be followed up took even longer. I needed to contact all the other volunteers, get a shopping list of the things I would need and talk to Rache
      l about what other things needed doing to name a few. I showed up at 2:00pm that gave me 3 hrs to sort out the things I needed before the volunteers started showing up. This sounds like quite a long time but it flew. Making demonstration samples for each of the activities was my first task; this took me a long time. I had to find all of the stuff to use and then call into power my barely existent art skills. I would have been much more comfortable with a test tube and a lab full of chemicals than with a simple set of scissors and coloured paper I can tell you. I eventually managed to conjure up something resembling sample pieces for each of the activities and then I organised the different trays that would be taken to the hall type thing (Its actually an underground club, basically a big open space with tables and chairs) where we do the activities. I looked up and it was 5:00pm. So how did it all go then? I knew things weren’t going to be easy when the first kid through the door ran into the middle of the room, tripped and cut his finger. We’re not allowed to even put on a plaster unless we are trained first aiders (a bit stupid to me) and so it was a trip up to the first aider before things even got going. Things got messy as usual (lots of cleaning involved at the end) and there was one more trip to deal with. Overall things ran smoothly. Did you enjoy it? Yes I did, I can’t say yet that I would be comfortable doing this every week yet, although I’m sure I would do a much better job next time. So what did you learn, any pearls of wisdom? I have learnt a lot from today, I hope someone reading this might be able to benefit from these: 1.) Give yourself time to do things. Why? There is no-way I would have been able to sort out this activity in one day. It is essential that you start thinking early about what needs to be done and who needs to know what. Try and run th
      rough the event in your mind and imagine what you’ll need for each stage, this I found helps a lot. 2.) Don’t think too rigid or stick too firmly to a plan. Why? I had planned a rotation schedule for kids that would have left them with 30 minutes on each activity. Although I think tonight I was a bit lax in how things ran (and will try and be a bit more structured next time), if I would have insisted that everything was run exactly by my plan the kids wouldn’t have enjoyed themselves. As it turned out more people wanted to make pipe cleaner models more than do chalk drawings and people wanted to play outside at different times to when they should have been. The project is run for kids and so I had to make my plans adapt to them (within reason) to benefit them the most. Although this applies more so to projects including kids this is useful advice for anything. 3.) Thank Volunteers Why? This one is obvious, people are generously giving up their free time to help other people. They don’t have to do this and a thank you is the best way of showing appreciation for what they do. Always say thank you. 4.) Have bin bags handy Why? Anything with kids is going to cause rubbish, it’s just the way things are and so these are vital. I forget this vital piece of kit but will defiantly remember next time. But its not just kids that make mess, for the space a bin bag takes up I think they are worth having around all the time. That’s it, I don’t know when or even if I’ll get to run my project again but I’ve defiantly benefited from the experience of doing so. If you can afford the time and are offered the opportunity of doing something like this, I highly recommend it. Just don’t forget my 4 quite obvious pearls of wisdom.

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        23.04.2002 15:11
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        Don’t worry – this op isn’t going to be a pile of piffle about what a fantastic person I am because I volunteer, or why you’re all a bunch of lazy lay-abouts because you don’t, so please, read on. A UCAS form started it all, or rather the dread of an impending one did. In order to have something impressive to write (along with the fabulous grades, dancing accolades and part time job, naturally ;-) ) I came up with the idea that I should be doing some voluntary work. A quick word in the ear of my mother, who was working for a local charity at the time, and lo and behold, Zoë the volunteer was born. Since that day I’ve worked with people of all ages, upbringings and nationalities in a voluntary capacity. I currently work with an organisation called Community Action (have a look at the most un-read op on it) which is a locally run branch of a much larger concern, Student Volunteering UK. When I’m not studying, working, hanging out with my friends or sweating it out at the gym these days, I’m usually volunteering. SVUK is our “boss”. Or not. They offer training and seminars and help and advice, but the type of projects we run and in what capacity is totally up to us. At present we run schemes looking after / helping young, old, homeless and disabled people in the Greater Manchester area, but the one I’m most involved in is a play scheme for school age children. What does being a volunteer mean? In my case the work is very similar to childcare for “normal” children, but with a slightly different focus. If you were on campus early evening one day last week, you might have seen a dozen children racing around the grass outside the maths building, with 3 teenage students puffing along after them. You might have heard them laughing on our bouncy castle while we supervised from the grass (not our choice, I might add, but we’re too old to have a go). You might have see
        n a different group making crayon rubbings of bins and paths and walls and trees in the area opposite. You might have seen yet another group making balled up tissue paper fish for a huge aquarium project we had on last week. From a distance, you might not have realised that this was anything other than an afterschool club for nice, well behaved, middle class children, run by kind, caring, paid students. But it was. This op is about being a volunteer in general, but includes certain references to working in an organiser capacity, since I’ve also had experience in this area. To start with (even though I’m already over 400 words into this thing, so it’s a bit late to be “starting”), let’s have a look at the difference between what I do on a Wednesday evening, and what someone running a normal after school does: ~~ APPLICATION PROCESS ~~ To start volunteering with our group, there’s not all that much red tape. You fill in a form and provide details of references. Our manager (who is a paid adult, as apposed to a volunteer student) chases up these, and deals with the police checks, and assuming you pass, you’re in. Technically we probably could have too many volunteers, but so far it’s never happened. If we have more workers we can take more kids, if one semester we only have 4 or 5 volunteers, we have to take fewer. We don’t demand previous experience with kids although it is preferred. Most people who have never babysat etc before, either pick it up quickly or drop out, so it’s generally not a problem. ~~ PAY~~ Easy enough, we don’t get any. Zilch. Nada. That’s the whole “voluntary” aspect of it – we volunteer our time for no monetary return. In contrast, I’d expect someone doing this for a job to be earning, say, £5 per hour. That means that even only doing a few hours a week, I’m already down £20 or so. Which, i
        n Zoë terms, is about 10 magazines, 6 books, 13 trips to the gym, 60 bars of chocolate or 2 weeks’ grocery shopping. So quite a lot then. ~~ HOURS ~~ Unlike with a regular job, I do not have to turn up each week, although I must let people know. We have set hours that we stick to to make it easier for the parents and kids involved, and when booking rooms and minibuses. I try to go every week, but sometimes something comes up (coursework deadline, exam, holiday) and I can’t make it. It’s not a problem because we usually get enough volunteers anyway, and I’m not losing money if I don’t go, but I do try to turn up as often as possible. It’s the best way to establish a relationship with the kids, and there’s no real point in doing it if you don’t do it regularly. Last year I was more involved in the organising side of things as well, which involved more hours and definitely going each week, but also, in a way, more rewards. ~~ TRAINING ~~ We get a lot of training for the job we do, but although it’s free, we also have to give up our free time to do it. Our organiser this year is very big on training. As well as general first aid info, we have courses on how to deal with disruptive behaviour and bullying, and abuse training with the focus on preventing it but also on spotting the signs and how to deal with it. ~~ SKILLS ~~ Since the jobs are fundamentally the same, the skills needed for paid and unpaid positions are pretty similar. When working with kids you need to be relaxed but responsible, full of common sense but able to take a joke, and most importantly, independent and able to think on your feet. The person organising the thing – our project leader as we call them – needs to be able to work within a very limited budget, and to be able to liase with all types of people – the staff at the centre where our children live, their p
        arents, the other volunteers, our exec committee and so on. ~~ PERKS ~~ This is where my job comes into its own in a way only voluntary work can. We receive donations through out the year, and any which are unsuitable for our clients, or of which we have a never-ending supply, get passed on to us. Over the last year and a half I’ve had Disney Store PJs, chocolate, shampoo, stationary and books among other things. While we’ll never receive cash as a bonus, at least we don’t have to pay tax on the things we do get :-) At certain times of year we’ll also get “appreciation” presents – a small Easter egg or goodie bag to make us feel valued and encourage us to carry on. This may not be the best way to operate, but it’s not my doing and while it continues I’m not going to complain. The kids can be tough, but there’s always the odd one who makes it worth it. They are often so much more grateful than “normal” kids because someone is, for once, there just to look after them. Play with them. Entertain them. Take them on trips. In a sense, just be there. For them and them alone. Thank you cards decorate our office, and these are always received with a smile and a kinda feeling that, yeah, we helped. ~~ REPUTATION ~~ Ah, the dreaded rep. To some boring, small-minded people, “community work” conjures up sad, pathetic people with no lives, helping those less fortunate because either they have an un-dieing urge to do good, or because they have nothing better to do. Being the organiser is worse still, since this implies (correctly) a greater time commitment and devotion to the cause. They’re wrong. While I enjoy it, I don’t spend all my life volunteering. Like I said at the start, I go out with my friends, I work, I spend hours on this site, I supposedly study. Sure, I devote maybe 10 hours a week to the V word, but that’s not all
        that much when you sit down and think about it. We have a wide range of volunteers from all social and economic backgrounds, and all races and orientations, studying all manner of subjects. There is no “typical” volunteer – you can be old or young, white, black or skyblue pink with yellow dots on for all we care, so long as you’re dedicated. ~~ DOWNSIDE ~~ There are numerous downsides to the job I do, but none all that major. The lack of funding can, at times, be depressing, when we need new equipment and so on but simply cannot afford it. Some of the kids have a lot of problems which are made evident by their somewhat less than acceptable behaviour at times. The staff at the place they live could also occasionally do with a kick up the backside to get them into order. So after all that, why don’t I just get myself a paid job doing the same thing? Why do I bother giving up time I could spend relaxing or studying or whatever, in order to work for no wage? It’s a tough question, and one to which I’m not sure I know the answer. I enjoy the work I do with the kids, and I have the time to spare if I organize myself. I’m not going to leave you with some waffle about how I feel that by working with the under-privileged, I can change the world. I’m simply going to say this. Volunteering? It’s fun. It’s varied. It’s tough at times, but it’s also immensely enjoyable. You should try it sometime.

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