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Member Spotlight: Vegreville & District FCSS inspire youth to engage in board governance and nonprofit part 2

Youth engagement has been a hot topic in the nonprofit sector and community for the last several years. Nonprofits want to know how to reach young people and keep them engaged. Especially when it comes to getting young people at decision-making tables to support succession planning for the nonprofit sector.

But, youth engagement goes beyond describing and understanding millennials or generation Z. It’s about creating unique opportunities for youth to have a voice and bring fresh perspectives that fill existing gaps for nonprofits and your community.

This is exactly what Vegreville and District FCSS is doing with their Youth Making A Change program. Youth Making A Change (YMAC) successfully engages students in grades 10 to 12 in board governance, and as a result, encourages succession planning for the future of our sector.

Last year, we covered how Vegreville and District FCSS engages youth in board governance through this program, so we decided to provide an update of how their program is making a difference in their community.

Inspiring youth to get involved in governance and nonprofit

YMAC inspires, equips and mobilizes youth to take action to make changes in their community and learn new skills through service. When Vegreville & District first created YMAC, there were no programs in which youth were taught about leadership and community engagement, and also given a first-hand board and community project experience.

While most youths have the opportunity to join in sports, or other after-school activities, there was not a space for youth who possessed an interest in volunteerism and leadership skills in a more formal setting. YMAC was able to fill that void by creating a safe space for the students to come once a week and take action in bettering themselves and their community.

“The program has been effective for the youth,” says Julie Gottselig, Manager at Vegreville and District FCSS. “When going through their evaluations, 8 out of the 10-youth said that they feel that because of YMAC, they can make a difference in their community. Having this program available in the community is vital to help inspire youth and show them that they can make a difference.”

As a result, many young people that participated in YMAC now volunteer in the Vegreville community. A few students even mentioned that they want to work in human services after they graduate thanks to the program. That is, YMAC inspires young people with a hands-on opportunity to learn and understand the value and impact of the nonprofit sector.

Impact on Vegreville nonprofits

According to Vegreville and District FCSS, YMAC Board Mentors appreciate and see the value of having a youth member on their board as it brings in a fresh face and new ideas. One Board Mentor said this about their experience:

“It’s inspiring to have young people be interested in not only being a part of their community but also giving back to it. It’s great to see them being involved in such an impactful way.” – Joanna Karczmarek, Board Mentor at Vegreville Food Bank

Because of these positive experiences through YMAC, many Vegreville nonprofit boards request to have youth join them for the next YMAC intake. Other Vegreville nonprofit boards even get a second youth member to join them in the following years!

How nonprofits can engage youth in board governance

To engage youth in board governance in your community, Vegreville and District FCSS recommends providing appropriate training for your board. The training must teach board members on how to be mentors for youth.

More specifically, being a mentor means knowing the different ways to make sure youth are comfortable and have an enjoyable experience as a board member themselves.

“This can include not putting the youth on the spot or forcing them to participate in a conversation, warning them when a topic may become intense, and offering them words of encouragement throughout the meetings,” says Emma Murray, FCSS Child Youth and Family Programmer.

According to Vegreville and District FCSS, providing this training is what makes YMAC possible and successful. Beyond training, they also recommend getting youth involved in being a part of events and planning. They find YMAC students enjoy boards more when there are specific events that give them an opportunity to show their more creative side during board meetings.

Vegreville and District FCSS is a nonprofit organization that prevents crisis and takes care of the social well-being of the community by offering low/no cost programs and services to the Town of Vegreville and the western portion of the County of Minburn.

Do you want to learn how to get youth to join your board? Contact Vegreville & District FCSS for more information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Annual weeks of giving: An informal volunteer story

Growing up, December was the season of giving. My family celebrated Christmas by sharing with the community. Early on, my parents instilled the lessons that Christmas was not about the presents under the tree, it was about gifting our time and creating joyful memories for those around us.

I recall many a December preparing shoeboxes for Operation Shoebox, donating our gently used toys and household items to Goodwill, or inviting those who had no one to celebrate with over for a warm meal and conversation. Regardless of my faith or the seasons I celebrate, it is the lessons about community that I carry with me throughout the year and inspires my love for informal volunteering.

Starting a tradition based on community and generosity

Annual weeks of giving is a tradition I started during post-secondary. December is a busy time for students and nonprofits. December is about fundraising campaigns, volunteer drives, and requests for donations because nonprofits rely heavily on the goodwill and charitable nature of others.

Annual weeks of giving became my way of contributing to the cause and giving back when I had limited funds and time. I was able to balance my chaotic schedule with the needs of the community by being an informal volunteer (e.g. food bank donations or gently used winter clothes).

Although I am no longer in post-secondary, my tradition continues! It has even grown over the years – from my original two weeks to six weeks. Now, I see the impact my contributions have on those around me and inspire others to volunteer. And, this year was no exception! I made connections within my neighbourhood and inspired others to keep paying it forward.

Bonding neighbours together by cleaning up shared green spaces

One of my contributions for 2018 was a commitment to clean up shared green spaces – picking up trash, upcycling plastics, and recycling reusable products. A small action had HUGE consequences. Starting with just my bags, a stick, and a wheelbarrow, my single person mission turned into a neighbourhood cleanup.

It started with children being curious about what I was doing, their curiosity gave way to a desire to help, and eventually became a family activity. By the end of the walk, we had cleared two public parks from surface litter and upcycled enough one-time use plastics that I can start my entire garden from seedlings!

This action of cleaning up shared spaces didn’t just end at the park, it allowed me to foster connections in my relatively new neighbourhood. Even though we’ve been in our current home for three years, work schedules and travel made it difficult to get to know our neighbours. Surprisingly, the fastest way to get to know people is by looking like you’re storing plastic for the end of the world. It’s a great ice breaker!

I’ve met several neighbours with an avid love of gardening. We’ve traded tips on maximizing space, what yields the best results in certain spaces, and some new ideas on how to upcycle our old plastics. I even have someone who is willing to teach me the basics of jam and jelly making this fall! I’m excited to learn from a Farmer’s Market master and to have some new friends that live close by.

I hope that I’ve inspired others to join me on the journey or create their own traditions. Supporting community through informal volunteering and random acts of kindness is a win-win. For everyone!

Do you want to spread some kindness? Check out RandomActsofKindness.org for some inspiration and get started!

 

Daniela Seiferling

Volunteer Alberta

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Leading the way: 2018 Member Spotlight rewind

Volunteer Alberta Members are leaders in the nonprofit voluntary sector. Last year, we started a new blog series called Member Spotlight to highlight and share their successes and leading practices in our communities across Alberta.

By sharing each other’s knowledge and expertise, we hope to strengthen, promote and connect the sector. After all, we are better, together.

For January, we thought we’d kick off the New Year by celebrating the amazing work of our members. Here is how our members led the way in their communities in 2018.

Capacity building

Grande Prairie Volunteer Services Bureau (GPVSB) provides a range of services to nonprofits and recognition programs for volunteers in their community. “Our impact on the community becomes more visible as the fruits of our labour become more apparent,” says Carol-Anne Pasemko, Executive Director. “As people become more aware of what we offer, we’re getting busier and busier. When you’re successful with one organization, it brings two more in the door.”

Volunteer Lethbridge helps local nonprofits grow volunteer capacity is by promoting and leveraging the Serving Communities Internship Program (SCiP) in their community. SCiP connects nonprofits with post-secondary students by facilitating internship opportunities for students to apply their skills and knowledge.

Community outreach and services

Cold Lake & District FCSS is building a vibrant community with neighbourhood block parties. “Once somebody has a block party, they’re hooked,” says Leanne Draper, Volunteer Services Program Facilitator at Cold Lake & District FCSS. “Individuals and families get to meet each other and form social bonds that they might not have otherwise.”

The Information Volunteer Centre (IVC) for Strathcona County generously gives back to their community through their various programs and services. But, one program, in particular, is unique in how it supports other nonprofits in the community. The ‘We Care… so We Share!’ program helps to enhance the effectiveness of other nonprofits by providing much-needed equipment or items free of charge.

Through its various outreach programs, Stony Plain FCSS builds a local network that supports and establishes community resilience. Stony Plain FCSS’s most recent program, Cut it Out, leverages existing community relationships to create a safe haven for victims of family violence.

The Voice of Albertans with Disabilities is a provincial organization actively working to reduce barriers by encouraging and advocating for full participation, accessibility and equality. Through their programs and services, they are dedicated to improving the quality of life of people with disabilities, as well as ensuring people with disabilities’ voices are heard.

Youth engagement

carya encourages youth engagement by hosting a full day leadership conference for 12-18- year-old girls, called ‘HERstory’. Last December, HERstory provided young women the opportunity to connect with each other outside of their regular social circle and explore their power to make a positive difference in their community.

Vegreville and District FCSS takes a unique approach to encourage youth to volunteer through a program called, Youth Making a Change. The program successfully engages students in grades 10-12 in board governance, and as a result, encourages succession planning for the future of our sector.

Volunteer Airdrie breaks down barriers for youth engagement through the Leadership Empowerment and Achieving a Difference (LEAD) program. LEAD is a ten-week program that is free of charge for youth grades 7-12 with ten in-class sessions and 20 hours of community service or volunteering.

We hope our members’ stories from 2018 encourage and affirm your own organization’s initiatives and community outreach. Stay tuned for more inspiration and feel-good stories as we will continue to spotlight Volunteer Alberta Members in 2019.

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Guest blog: Five ways nonprofits can impart soft skills to volunteers

A big part of retaining volunteers is finding new and innovative ways to engage them. By helping volunteers to develop soft skills, nonprofits can enrich volunteers’ experiences.

Soft skills such as the ability to gel well in a team, make sound and/or quick decisions and communicate effectively are important for any nonprofit volunteer to successfully contribute to your organization’s cause, initiatives and activities.

While some volunteers intrinsically possess these skills, others need to hone them. Luckily, these are abilities which can be taught. In this blog, we look at how your nonprofit can impart soft skills to their volunteers.

1. Hold training sessions and workshops

Volunteers, especially first-timers, may find it difficult to work in a new environment due to their lack of experience. A simple way to fix this is to periodically organize training sessions and workshops for volunteers to develop skills like effective communication, time-management, and decision making.

Through talks by senior members, games focusing on building teamwork, interactive discussions and role-playing situations, your nonprofit can help its volunteers improve their interpersonal skills while boosting their confidence. And the best part is everyone can learn while bonding with each other and having fun!

2. Let volunteers take ownership

While soft skills can be taught, there is no better teacher than experiential self-learning. Give volunteers opportunities to take charge of tasks, while gently guiding them along the way if required. It makes sense to give responsibility based on the volunteer’s experience and comfort level.

For instance, give new volunteers the opportunity to represent your nonprofit’s stall during one of your events; as they gain more experience, perhaps they could take up bigger tasks like organizing an entire event.

Letting volunteers take the initiative helps them hone their interpersonal skills while giving them a taste of real-life leadership and accountability; important skills you helped them learn by themselves!

3. Encourage teamwork

Team up volunteers of different age groups and backgrounds on tasks and watch the learning flow from within! When grouped together to achieve a common goal, volunteers inevitably end up learning from one another.

Doing so allows them to gain new perspectives, listen to diverse experiences, and feel a collective sense of thrill from overcoming obstacles together.

Pro-tip: Assign a mentor to each team to monitor work and defuse any conflicts if they arise.

4. Promote creativity

By performing creative tasks, volunteers can improve their problem-solving skills. Encourage volunteers to take up activities which require exercising the inventive side of their brain.

When volunteers get creative and learn a new skill-set or grow an existing skill-set, it becomes a stepping stone for them to become a skilled volunteer or apply their newly developed skills in other volunteer positions.

From designing posters for rallies and creating catchy event invites, to shooting and producing a ‘behind-the-scenes’ nonprofit video, the creative possibilities are endless!

Pro-tip: Whatever the activity happens to be, ensure that it’s in sync with your nonprofit’s voice and tone by sharing the necessary guidelines beforehand.

5. Organize get-togethers and similar events

Depending on the size of your nonprofit and the number of volunteers, there is a fair chance that not everyone has spoken to each other. Perhaps first-time volunteers didn’t get a chance to interact with senior staff or board members due to a lack of opportunity or a lack of confidence.

By organizing get-togethers, outdoor barbeques, or parties exclusively for staff, board members and volunteers, everyone loosens up and learns to bond with each other. Volunteers can interact with everybody in a relaxed setting, resulting in a cooperative environment which boosts their communication skills and confidence.

Pro-tip: These networking opportunities also help volunteers get to know your organization from the inside out, gain new perspectives and see how their efforts contribute to your organization’s cause and mission. And when they understand their impact, they are more likely to continue volunteering for your nonprofit.

Final thoughts

When nonprofits impart soft skills to their volunteers, it not only fosters volunteer engagement, but it also equips your volunteers to carry out your mission. In this sense, it is an investment back into your organization’s operational plan and strategic directions.

Nurturing soft skills in your volunteers also provides your volunteers the opportunity to transfer their skills to different volunteer positions in your organization, and even to their careers or everyday life.

Final pro-tip: Ask your volunteers what skills they want to develop or use to match them to the appropriate volunteer position and/or activity that suits their wants and needs. Feedback is important. Be sure to find out what your volunteers thought about the opportunities your nonprofit offered so your nonprofit can learn and adjust as needed.

Guest blog author bio: Shaunak Wanikar is part of the Marketing team at CallHub, a cloud telephony company which connects campaigns with their supporters through its voice and SMS software. He helps deliver compelling content which bridges knowledge gaps for nonprofit organizations, political campaigns, advocacy groups, and businesses. An engineering graduate, Shaunak is passionate about seeing the world improve through the medium of technology. Movies, football, and books keep him sane.

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Member Spotlight: Volunteer Airdrie breaks down barriers to volunteerism in their community

Finding solutions that suit your community may not be easy. But, when you approach solving complex issues with a mindset of abundance versus scarcity, multiple solutions tend to present themselves.

This is how Volunteer Airdrie approached redesigning their programs and services within the past few years. By looking at what opportunities were available and identifying gaps in their community, Volunteer Airdrie realized they needed to shift their focus to serving Airdrie residents.

“We really started focusing on where can we fit in and came to the conclusion that a lot of residents struggle to find the right volunteer opportunity quickly and efficiently,” says Dave Maffitt, Chair of Volunteer Airdrie’s Board of Directors. “So, we redesigned our focus to help our residents to break down barriers.”

Creating a user-friendly way to find volunteer opportunities

One way Volunteer Airdrie is helping residents break down barriers to volunteering is through the development of the Better Impact MVP Software; a free online tool that allows residents to create a profile on the website based on their age, availability, interests, qualifications and much more.

“The system allows Airdrie residents to do searches based on those criteria. For youth, somebody under 18, the system isn’t going to show them volunteer opportunities that are restricted to adults,” says Dave. “It’s growing rapidly and it’s starting to get additional members on a daily basis.”

Engaging youth in Airdrie’s nonprofit community with LEAD

In their community, Volunteer Airdrie is also breaking down barriers for youth engagement through the Leadership Empowerment and Achieving a Difference (LEAD) program. LEAD is a ten-week program that is free of charge for youth grades 7-12 with ten in-class sessions and 20 hours of community service or volunteering.

In LEAD’s in-class sessions, young people learn about topics like problem-solving, organizing and planning, teamwork, conflict management skills and personal wellbeing to help them develop youth leadership skills to use while volunteering or out in their community in other ways.

“Kids often get exposure to a number of different opportunities and causes, and start to get an appreciation for the needs in Airdrie and some of the causes that are may be more meaningful to them,” says Dave. “In the long term, it attracts them to come back and continue to volunteer with that organization after they have finished LEAD. It’s been a big, big success!”

Overcoming volunteer age restrictions for youth

Despite nonprofits’ minimum age requirement policies, Volunteer Airdrie has also been able to match young teens with group volunteer opportunities successfully at local nonprofits by providing appropriate adult supervision.

“So, that’s where we step in because we can open a lot of doors for these youth, especially the 12-14 year age group,” says Dave. “It’s really difficult for them to find meaningful volunteer opportunities since most nonprofit organizations have policies in minimum age requirements that are in that 15-16 year range.”

Volunteer Airdrie will continue their youth engagement initiative by opening a youth volunteer centre next year. They hope the centre creates a caring environment for kids that provides them with community service opportunities that are meaningful to them.

Located in Airdrie, Alberta, Volunteer Airdrie is the recognized volunteer centre for the City of Airdrie and the immediate surrounding area of Rocky View County, Alberta. Volunteer Airdrie’s mission is to empower Airdrie residents to invest in themselves and their community through volunteerism.

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

Special thanks to our summer intern, Navi Bhullar, for sourcing and helping to storyboard this Member Spotlight.

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