Reach Out! 12/98 Progress Report: II. Traditional Report C

II. C. Lessons Learned

This is absolutely the best thing about our experiences since the inception of Reach Out! We have learned so much—and almost always in response to adversity!

1. Volunteers need paid staff support behind them

Our primary lesson learned about outreach with volunteers has been that there is a consistent process to it that will repeat with each new group of volunteers and each new program. The lesson is that support levels must be very high at first but can drop off as people become true stakeholders. At the start, they want their hands held both literally and figuratively: we must give a lot of advice, counseling, and stroking either in person or by phone and e-mail. We need to make transportation arrangements, organize attendance and arrange for substitutes when someone can't come, select lessons and shop for materials for science clubs, and generally troubleshoot everything that goes wrong.

Before long, and occasionally with some explicit prompting, they take over these arrangements and pro-actively solve problems as they arise. One group member generally emerges as its next natural coordinator, and the original coordinator can move on to a new program elsewhere. Understanding this process has helped us deal with frustration when we find ourselves back at square one: that's normal and natural with a new group and the process cannot be short-circuited.

This level of support, however, cannot come from volunteers, who will understandably put their personal commitments first when there is a conflict. It requires reliable paid staff, whether work-study, stipend, or temporary. The pay levels do not have to be terribly high, as these jobs attract people who think of it as a community service that they will do for a brief period of their lives, but they do need to be paid in order to assure consistency and reliability of support. We have also found it vital to require some staff meeting time during which we touch base, troubleshoot problems, and help one another improve our communication and leadership skills. It is difficult to require this kind of meeting time of volunteers.

2. Define your mission, to yourself and others

A second big lesson is that it is vital, for volunteers going out into a community that is thirsty for them, to know exactly what they can and cannot do. They will be pulled in all directions by school and community center personnel who see many unmet needs and want to attack them all at once. If we are spread too thin or try to do too many things at once, we get nothing done effectively. We have spent a lot of reflective and interactive time defining our mission and boundaries, and learning and practicing intentional dialogue techniques.

Many of us are women who seem temperamentally inclined to please others; we can easily find ourselves promising more than we can deliver, in our zeal to help. Yet nothing undermines relationships with community groups so commonly or so well as this tendency. One-shot outreach efforts do not have this problem, but continuing programs must have clearly defined and communicated goals.

3. Effective programs require regular communication and reflection time to be built in

We have already referred to this need above, as one reason why volunteer coordinators should be paid. Our coordinators need to spend regular time together with the Reach Out! sponsor, CUOS K–12 Education Outreach director Jeannine LaSovage, communicating exactly what they are experiencing and what they require in terms of support. They need to be periodically refocused on their goals, helped to brainstorm solutions to problems, and able to enjoy the fellowship and camaraderie of others in the same position. If this time is not actually scheduled, it tends never to be found. We get so caught up in being busy that we never sit back and look at our work from an objective perspective. We also, then, fail to appreciate just what we are accomplishing—and this sense of purpose is vital to keeping us going!

I. Anecdotal Report
  A. Grace Kim
  B. Alicia Pinderhughes
  C. Debbie McCartney
  D. Marie Tripp, Jim Birnby & Amy Raudenbush, Aarti Raheja
  E. Yamina Acebo, Karyl Shand
  F. Roselle Herrera, John Nees, Fritz Weihe, Andy Rundquist, Reulonda Norman
  G. Cherita Hunter, Faye Booker-Logan
  H. Veronica Cottingham, Doris Calvert
  I. Erika Arias, Rachel Keefer, Srinivas Sridhara
II. Traditional Report
  A. Expand established programs
    1. Tutoring
    2. Wizards for Hands-On Science Activities
    3. Career Exploration
  B. Support for Michigan Mandate and Agenda for Women Goals
  C. Lessons Learned
  D. Next Steps
Appendix A: Volunteer Mentors from Fall 1997 through Fall 1998
Appendix B: Science Club Volunteers from Fall 1997 through Fall 1998
Appendix C: Outreach Sites from Fall 1997 through Fall 1998

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