Youth Volunteer Corps programs look a little different in every community they’re in. The most successful programs use the resources on hand and specific to their host to create collaborations and connect the most youth possible to meaningful service.
For our Spotlight this month, we’re headed to Racine, WI, to learn about their YVC program and see how they have built a transformative youth service program by capitalizing on their strengths.
Often one of the biggest challenges to running a youth service program is securing the staff to plan and supervise projects. Since YVC of Racine is hosted by the Volunteer Center of Racine County, they have direct access to community members interested in volunteering.
“If they mention the word youth, they get directed to me,” says Michelle Ortwein, Program Director of YVC of Racine.
Michelle talks with adults interested in working with youth and helps decipher whether they would be interested in helping to supervise YVC projects and discusses what time commitment they are able to make. She does everything she can to make it a positive experience for both the volunteer and YVC.
“My first instinct is to say yes then see if I can figure it out to make it work,” she says.
Customizing Volunteer Opportunities
This means she’s worked with volunteers from all walks of life on various levels of commitment—all interested in empowering youth to serve their communities.
A college student who was living in Racine for the summer was interested in getting some real-world experience relevant to her psychology degree and helped develop a new YVC project working with people with mental health issues. A mom who was interested in getting her kids involved added extra supervision for projects they served on. A new Racine resident interested in getting involved in the community and working with youth helped lead one of their most popular summer projects.
Michelle works with each potential volunteer to see how they would fit best and also ensures that they have adequate training. She sends adult volunteers as support to trained YVC Team Leaders, but she still makes sure that they have as much training as possible, including meeting with the agency before a project and being aware of best practices to leading a project.
New Ideas Produce Creative Projects
Creatively strategizing ways to use adult volunteers to help lead projects not only helps YVC of Racine offer more projects than they otherwise would be able to, they have seen other benefits from having new leaders involved in their program.
Enrique was new to the area and interested in volunteering with youth, so he connected with YVC of Racine. He ended up leading a project at the Eco-Justice Center, the most popular summer project. The team spent the week helping at the urban farm, caring for all kinds of animals from ducks to alpaca and cultivating the community gardens. When their plans got rained out one afternoon, Enrique led the youth in a brainstorming discussion to think about what else they could do to help the Eco-Justice Center.
The group decided that one thing that would make the center even better would be a treehouse. Enrique and the youth spent the afternoon designing the treehouse, then presented the idea to the center’s leadership. The organization loved the idea and decided to take action. Next summer when YVC of Racine was back at the center, the treehouse—just like they had designed—had been built.
Helping Volunteers Develop Job Skills
When adult volunteers help out with the YVC program, they in turn are able to offer these skill-building volunteer opportunities for youth to make a difference while building their resumes.
“A lot of students are finding volunteer work essential for jobs and resume skills,” Michelle says. “Those little jobs that kids used to get in our communities are hard to find now.”
With even more youth needing volunteer hours to help build these skills and prepare them for the future, YVC of Racine will depend even more on adult volunteers willing to give of their time to empower the next generation to make a difference.