New Volunteer Youth Worker?

14 Sep

Are you a new volunteer youth worker? Here are some words of advice from my friend Dennis

a. Determine to last through the awkwardness

Even secure people who are stable in every way can feel self-conscious when they begin working with students. Stepping into youth culture to care for students is about as natural a feeling for adult leaders as the feeling a student gets when his doting parent friends him on Facebook. The desire to step in and make a difference is rivaled by the uneasiness of reaching out to a youth culture much different than the one you left years ago.

This awkwardness is natural and healthy. It’s a new beginning both for the volunteer and the students alike. As leaders patiently work through the awkwardness and unfamiliarity of working with students (sometimes for weeks), students get accustomed to having him or her around. During this time, familiarity and trust can develop. There are exceptions to this. Some new volunteers will be able to work the room and know every student the first day. That person is not the volunteer who needs the content in this article. I’m writing this for the rest of us.

b. Participate in a trip

It’s common for new volunteers to confide in me their discomfort and feelings of inadequacy when they first join our volunteer team. My pat response to them is to not only be patient, but to go on the next student retreat. This is the fastest way to break out of the cloud of unfamiliarity associated with newbie volunteers.

During a long bus ride, daily cabin times and many meals together, youth leaders will naturally develop deep connections with students. My first 3 months as a volunteer at Saddleback Church’s High School Ministry were a desert of awkwardness. Serving for a week in Mexico with our students was the first time I felt traction as a leader in the ministry. Ten years later, even though I’m still on the volunteer staff, I am the go-to youth pastor to the students under my care.

c. Build on relationships

We recently came off two weeks of summer camp. I had several guys in my cabin each week who I never met before. Many of them are not in a small group. To build on these budding relationships, I’m gently shoving them toward joining my small group. My goal is to continue the spiritual progress they experienced at camp.

Some simple ways I’ve continued connecting with them:
– Friending them on Facebook (EVERY volunteer should have a Facebook profile and encourage students to do the same – I suggest staying away from My Space)
– Post photos and videos of your events with them on Facebook. This should be a requirement for every volunteer because the return on the investment of time is astronomical
– Meeting one of them for yogurt
– Having a reunion event – I’m taking them to 6 Flags. That’s a little over the top. A reunion could be much simpler. Anything that gets them together building new experiences is key to taking the relationships deeper
– Following up on their life issues. At camp some of my guys shared pain they are going through. This provides a great platform for a mentor relationship with them. My role, then, is to give them a safe place to talk through problems and work toward health

Check out more from Dennis Beckner

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