Wednesday 4 June 2014

Embracing Young Volunteers

Volunteering is an integral part of the Award Programme, it is not only an important part for our participants to complete their Awards but also an important factor for smooth running of the programme. Below is an article first published in The Guardian talking about ways to embrace young volunteers.

There has never been a better time for charities to embrace a generation of school-aged volunteers, so why do so many young people and children find it so hard to locate meaningful volunteering opportunities?

Young volunteers have a vast amount to give, and yet a lot of charities are missing out on this vital opportunity, citing a number of common myths surrounding youth volunteering. If charities don't support young volunteers, then we are not safeguarding our own futures by supporting the next generation of volunteers and, more importantly, we're missing out on all the benefits that young volunteers can bring to our organisations.

At the JLGB (Jewish Lads' & Girls' Brigade), we have worked hard to remove barriers to participation for young Jewish people in a whole host of national award schemes, most notably the Duke of Edinburgh Award. As a result, we have seen an enormous increase in participation with 50% of young Jewish people in faith schools now taking part in this award. However, 65% indicated that they required extra support in finding a suitable volunteering placement.

The same topics arise in every discussion of under-16s volunteering: insurance won't cover this age group, young people would need too much training, there's no one to supervise them, or perhaps they've had bad experiences with young volunteers before. Some of these are valid worries, many are urban myths, but more often than not, it's just been easier for many charities to stick to the status quo than tackle the (sometimes remarkably simple) changes that are needed in order to embrace young volunteers.

Of course, many charities lack vital resources and capacity so key to this initiative will be helping more charities to look at their current approaches and understanding of young volunteers. It is encouraging that, with some simple steps, a great amount can be achieved.

A short guide to embracing young volunteers
1. Think about how current voluntary roles might be adapted for a young person
Remember to take in to account commitments that young people might have, for example school work or faith barriers such as not volunteering on the Sabbath. Perhaps it isn't appropriate for young people to work one-to-one with your beneficiaries, but they could always help out under the supervision of a senior volunteer, or even as a small group of young people.
2. Use technology to create new opportunities
Almost all young people are familiar with new technology, software and social media. A huge range of volunteering opportunities can be created easily with this as a springboard, such as getting a young person to manage social media sites, blog regularly or make and edit videos, photos and publicity – all of which can even be done remotely.
3. Don't be put off by tricky stuff like insurance or youth policies
Sometimes, all it takes is a small tweak of your charity's current policy to include under-16s, and if not then perhaps they will be covered by their school or youth group's policy or award scheme. It's also worth identifying charities in your area which you know work with young volunteers and approaching them for advice – vInspired has an exhaustive list of local charities that accept young volunteers.
4. Get young people and staff prepared
By developing training sessions with young people in mind, you can easily cover lots of potential issues, such as confidentiality, what it means to be a responsible volunteer, and what to do if they have any issues. Why not approach your local voluntary youth organization, and see if they run any sort of training for young volunteers? Don't forget to prepare current staff and volunteers for working with young people – sometimes a bad experience with other volunteers can put young people off.
5. Don't forget rewards
Sounds obvious, but we all like to be appreciated. Does your organization have an awards evening in which you could include young people? Could you support a young person's participation in a nationally recognized volunteering award?
6. Shout about it
If we all shout about what we are doing to support young volunteers, it will gradually become more acceptable to include young volunteers, and we can learn from one another's experiences. Use newsletters, social media and local schools or youth groups to publicize your good work – and let's get British charities talking about how we can support a new generation of volunteers.

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