It is wonderful that so many people want to volunteer these days! Community service seems to cross all boundaries today, age, gender, religion, race. It’s a wonderful opportunity to do something outside of your career or normal routine. I currently use several volunteers per week, and I am constantly thinking and planning to expand volunteerism.
How I use volunteers in Street Youth Ministry
First let me say that my ministry is a very hands on ministry and some training is required to interact with the homeless folks on a regular basis in counselling and Christian ministry. I haven’t yet invited volunteers into this part of the ministry directly. I plan to one day but I’m just not equipped yet to be able to do that. Volunteers interested in doing hands on work should be insatiably curious, very non-judgmental, and have a gift of mission–that is, the ability to cross cultural barriers easily. I continue to prepare for the day that I am equipped to supervise volunteers directly in the field. In the meantime, I can refer interested parties to places you can volunteer in similar service.
So how do I use volunteers today? I ask volunteers to help provide most of the direct service items that go to help street youth. I ask for socks, I ask for bus passes and other items, and I ask for sandwiches and snacks. This might not sound rewarding at first and might get passed up by some volunteers. However, I work very hard to personalize the experience for each and every volunteer.
First, I provide education and awareness training. I will explain what is needed and why. This invites the volunteer into a world that they haven’t probably encountered. The volunteer will learn what the street youth need and why.
Second, I tell stories to the youth about the volunteers. I don’t reveal anything personal but I explain how the volunteer lives, what they do, and why they chose to be involved. This really helps the youth to get out of their own skins and think about other people in new ways. And it causes them to think about why the volunteer cares. This helps me get through to the youth in both my social ministry and my Christian ministry.
Finally, when I can do so with permission, I take a photo of a youth receiving the services of the volunteer. Then I send the volunteer the photo along with a detailed description of what was accomplished on the day I used their item. They get a pretty vivid picture of how their volunteerism made a difference today. And they get a accurate picture of one of the people who received their services. This helps the volunteer to understand and recognize who their neighbors are. I think it is difficult to love your neighbor if you don’t know them, and it is hard not to love your neighbor once you do know them.
So far this year, the ministry has received in-kind donations and volunteerism from 77 people. That’s a lot of activism. That’s a lot of stories told to the youth about the people who share Austin with them. And that’s a lot of photos and thank you notes explaining how each volunteer made a difference. It’s not really about value, but the estimated value of all these in-kind donations totals about $6,500 this year! And that means great help to me in being good stewardship of the limited cash donations for the ministry as well.
Below is an excerpt from a volunteer newsletter I sent out recently that gives a snapshot of how one day last week went:
If you want to become a volunteer, please click “Volunteer” on this web site (http://sites.google.com/site/streetyouth/volunteers). If you don’t get excited about what you find there, please contact me and let me know ideas that might stretch and grow the volunteer program of Street Youth Ministry. We care for about 70 youth every week, making about 120 contacts per week with 60 old friends and about 10 new friends. You are invited to be involved in this ministry. I think it will be personally rewarding and I know it makes a difference.