Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Seven Essential Principles

We have identified seven strategies that individuals, organizations, and businesses can use when working with under-resourced communities to engage and empower local volunteers and to build effective partnerships with the community. By integrating these strategies into planning and implementation of programs, whether it is a short-term volunteer project or a long-term community initiative, we can effect real change!

1. Understand the language and nature of volunteering.
• Learn the language to seek understanding.
o Low-income community, disadvantaged, underserved, disenfranchised
o Block captain, community workers, community leader, community organizer, street walker, neighbor
• Understand the history and culture of the community.
• Include youth, immigrant communities, seniors, faith communities, and refugees.

2. Overcome barriers to volunteering.
• Understand the community obstacles.
o Lack of time and/or financial resources
o Lack of child care
o Lack of transportation
o Low self-esteem or confidence in skills
o Negative perceptions of volunteering or of external volunteer organizations
o Culture and/or language barriers
• Understand the organizational barriers.
o Racism, sexism, classism, ability; agencies’ stereotypes and assumptions
o Cultural blindness, i.e., a belief that differences of color, culture, are irrelevant
o Lack of political support and/or resources and skills to implement change
o Long-standing biased, exclusive system

3. Empower the community.
• Create space for residents to own their issues and develop solutions.
• Support residents to witness the benefits of their involvement.
• Engage residents in the decision-making process.
• Mobilize residents around issues that impact them directly.
• Host community meetings and provide examples of success.

4. Cultivate community members’ skills and talents.
• Acknowledge and build on existing community assets.
• Help members identify their own skills and talents.
• Allow residents to have a real role in the partnership.
• Encourage residents to plan and lead projects. • Show the relationship between residents’ skills and project outcomes.

5. Strengthen existing community leadership.
• Cultivate leadership and the internal capacity of community members to lead and engage in community activities.
• Help develop leadership and recognize different leadership styles.
• Identify volunteer leadership development training.
• Encourage leaders to have a leadership role in the partnership.

6. Acknowledge that volunteering is an exchange.
• Offer volunteers something in exchange for the time, talents, and efforts they contribute to bettering their communities.
• Help people see the benefits.
• Understand that it’s okay to receive something in exchange for volunteering.
• Develop mechanisms by which residents receive tangible outcomes such as tutoring, child care subsidies, and job opportunities.

7. Ensure community readiness.
• Participate in building the internal capacity of communities to partner with outside organizations and engage residents in community activities.
o Organized neighborhoods
o Prioritized issues
o United residents
o Committed leaders
• Be patient; community building and resident involvement takes time.
• Remember that relationship building is a process.
• Be flexible; survival issues demand time and attention.
• Help communities resolve conflict that may be preventing involvement.
• Set your community up for success but accept if it is not ready.

To secure volunteer opportunities contact the Volunteer Center of Cedar Valley at information@vccv.org or (319) 272-2087. Volunteer opportunities may also be accessed at www.vccv.org. 

Thanks to HandsOn

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Preliminary Steps for Neighboring

Now that you have assessed organizational capacity and interest in bringing Neighboring to your community, here are the preliminary steps to help you get started. The most important thing to note here is that these are suggestive steps, not prescribed, and do not need to be completed in a particular chronological order. You and your community will determine together what steps to take and at what time. Keep in mind throughout the process that Neighboring is a framework and that your primary source of volunteers should be from the under-resourced community that the project will serve.

Identify a neighborhood
• Identify a community in your city that can benefit from asset- and empowerment-based service.
• Look at which neighborhoods have projects with resident involvement emerging or already under way.
• Find out what other organizations are already operating there.
• Evaluate the challenges faced by other organizations that try to go into low-income communities for volunteer initiatives.
• Be specific in defining your Neighboring community; starting small often is the best approach.

Explore your organization’s motives for partnering with the community.
• What goals or anticipated outcomes are you pursuing through partnership?
• What do you hope to gain?
• Why is it important that you establish a partnership?
• What is your long-term commitment to the neighborhood?
• What assets do you offer?
• How can you add value to the community’s work?

Build trusting relationships with leaders and residents.
• Learn about and understand the community’s history.
• Ask them what issues they face.
• Find out how and by whom volunteering happens within the community.  
• Get to know both leaders and residents; respect and acknowledge the leaders, but also find out community perception of the leaders.
• Let residents know you care.
• Identify and meet with local stakeholders; determine their interest in partnering and identify synergies for shared outcomes.

Learn how members come together to address issues and concerns.
• Meet with key community leaders, or invite community representatives to forums where they can participate and learn about resources for the neighborhood.
• Listen to residents’ voices.
• Develop connections with leaders and residents that foster sustainable activities to address the issues they want to work on in their community.

Identify potential partners.
• Determine which other organizations or individuals in the community to involve in the partnership.
• Determine which partners are essential to the success of the project.
• Include residents and leaders to serve in a planning and decision-making capacity
• Involve the local volunteer center.
• Determine which businesses in the community have an interest in the neighborhood.
• Find out if the community foundation is involved.
• Find out which, if any, other organizations already work with the community.

Establish a partnership plan with a realistic timeline and expectations.
• Develop a shared understanding of the partnership and what you hope to achieve together.
• Decide how each partner will contribute to the overall action plan and, ultimately, to its success.
• Communicate and manage expectations.
• Determine what is required to build a trusting relationship with the community and its leaders and how this will impact your timeline.

Understand the characteristics of an effective partnership
• View the community, its leaders, and its residents as partners, not as clients.
• Develop clear outcomes and roles jointly, with community input.
• Maintain a shared vision; neither impose your views, ideals, and expectations on the community nor allow them to do that to you.
• Understand and respect differing perspectives and diverse voices.
• Be flexible, have patience, and realize that neighborhood efforts take time.
• Extend your resources to help build and enhance the community.
• Help the neighborhood see the benefits of connecting with services that exist along the margins of the community—local services, programs, and providers.
• Have a positive relationship with the community and maintain a continued presence.
• Provide project leader training.

Expect and plan for setbacks
• Identify the likely challenges and barriers that may influence the partnership’s success.
• How will you deal with changes in key project personnel or community leaders?
• What financial and other resources must be secured?

HandsOn Network offers three training curricula that can be beneficial in training partners and community members.

For more information, contact training@pointsoflight.org.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Neighboring vs. Traditional Volunteering

Traditionally, people who live in low-income communities have been viewed primarily as recipients of service rather than providers. Yet it is increasingly clear that many people who live in these communities volunteer and play critical roles in restoring the health and well-being of the neighborhoods in which they live. Volunteering has been, and continues to be, a source of survival.

Much of the volunteering by people in low-income community’s takes place informally: people help each other when they can, and neighbors come together in times of need. It has happened for centuries, in various ways, in communities of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. Community members might purchase food for a neighbor in need, organize block patrols for safe streets, or offer safe places in their homes for neighbors in crisis.

For many residents of low-income communities, the terms volunteering and community service have negative connotations, bringing to mind court-ordered community service. To others, the terms simply do not resonate culturally. Most immigrant and minority communities have a wealth of traditions and values tied to helping others, but the term volunteer does not translate into the terms they use to talk about these activities.

During this initiative, we have decided that the term volunteer is culturally specific and, by definition, excludes many populations. Adopting the terms neighboring and community involvement expands the meaning of volunteering to all segments of society. We recognize, however, that employing new language takes time. Work in low-income communities focuses primarily on educating and shifting the attitudes of traditional volunteer organizations and on raising awareness among other groups that also have shown a commitment to build capacity in low-income communities. We hope that funders, nonprofits, and corporations find the information and models significant to their work in low-income communities and will be inspired to build partnerships.

Traditional volunteerism, which often brings in external resources to under-sourced communities, can be seen as outsiders intervening in to save residents. This model typically focuses on short-term, external support to serve communities, rather than serve with communities. This often relies on external agencies’ perception of what the community needs and not on what local residents identify as their priorities. Programs are typically deficiency focused, and residents are conditioned to see themselves as clients and recipients rather than providers.

Traditional volunteer models may fail to develop community leadership and skills of community residents, and ownership lies with organizations or external volunteers rather than residents. This can make sustainability and long-term impact more challenging.

Points of Light Institute and HandsOn Network

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Importance of Neighboring

By increasing civic participation in and with under-resourced communities—and by encouraging organizations to dedicate financial and human resources to support local volunteer and organizing efforts—the Neighboring initiative works to help improve conditions in these communities. Neighboring is critical in vulnerable communities because it builds self-esteem and stronger ties among community members, empowers them, and encourages them to take ownership for creating safe and supportive neighborhoods. Communities become more connected, safer, more inclusive places to live as resident volunteers lead local change efforts and participate in securing additional resources.

Neighboring is not a program, policy, or service; it is a grounding philosophy. Because it grows out of individual communities, it can be applied to any program or project.

Neighboring will occur whether or not it is supported; it is the proverbial casserole that appears on the doorstep of an ill neighbor. Imagine, however, the potential when organizations and associations change mindsets and systems to allow Neighboring to become part of the everyday course of action. 

HandsOn Corps VISTA

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Neighboring - Neighbors helping neighbors

Neighbors help neighbors. Every day, they use their time and their gifts to strengthen families and communities. Many, especially those living in under-resourced communities, work hard to deal with the challenges of communities where unemployment, violence, and drugs are taking their toll. In the face of these obstacles, community residents look for the connections to vital resources that will improve their odds of succeeding.

There may be no better example of neighbor helping neighbor—volunteering—than the time-honored American tradition of barn-raising. From the earliest days of our country, neighbors would gather at a homestead and work together to build a barn, often in a single day. Neighbors lent a hand when they became aware of neighbors they could help. They took responsibility for one another. More than barns were built in the process. True bonds of community spirit were forged.

You might not think you’ve seen a good barn-raising lately, but they are happening around you all the time. The tools have changed, and what is built may not actually be a barn, but the spirit of volunteerism is alive and well in cities, towns, and rural communities everywhere. We need to tap into that irrepressible volunteer spirit to address some of the most entrenched challenges in America's most challenged communities. You can provide a renewed sense of hope and the means to build a better future for individuals and families based on connections forged through common goals, mutual respect, responsibility, and ownership. Provide the tools, and use people’s skills and talents to find collective solutions to create family-supportive communities, networks, and opportunities necessary to bring neighbors together.

The good news is that volunteering is not only already present in under-resourced communities, it is crucial to the lives of everyone in them. People may not be building barns, but they are practicing tried-and-true barn-raising principles that you can tap into and encourage. Some quick snapshots tell the story: A neighbor guides children across a busy intersection on the way to school. A young friend makes meals for an elderly woman confined to a wheelchair. A next-door neighbor takes care of a single mom’s small children while she attends night school. Neighbors are helping neighbors in communities everywhere. The service that takes place in low-income communities, however, is often informal, organic, not recognized as volunteering—even by those who do it. The term we used for stepping in to take care of others in our community is Neighboring.

Mainstream volunteering, in which agencies swoop in to “rescue” residents, does not recognize Neighboring. It does not capitalize on the good deeds already being done in the community or use them to make lasting changes. And often members of vulnerable communities don’t respond well to those efforts. That is why it is imperative that organizations seeking to work in under-resourced 3 communities see residents not merely as recipients but as equal partners and viable agents of change. With this new understanding, organizations from grassroots to national groups can empower communities, engage residents, and build the capacity of residents to find creative solutions to local issues.

Points of Light Institute and HandsOn Network have embraced Neighboring as a strategy to strengthen families since 1996. Through Neighboring, natural neighbor-to-neighbor helping that strengthens children, families, and communities is encouraged and supported. This type of help does not replace the assistance provided by traditional volunteers. Instead, Neighboring underscores that help need not come from outside a community but can come from within.

The goal is to inspire, equip, and mobilize more nonprofit organizations to see their most challenged communities as places of promise—places where resident skills, talents, and desires are seen as wealth on which to capitalize in order to create sustained, lasting change.

Points of Light Institute and HandsOn Network

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

3 Summer Events to Engage Volunteers

What does summer mean to you? For some, it means vacations and relaxing warm days. Why not bring some summer activities to your nonprofit? Show your team and volunteers some appreciation by hosting fun summer events everyone can enjoy.
Throughout the year, your team is busy planning fundraising events for your organization. Taking the time to plan social events for your team can show them your true appreciation. Try a few of these events in order to bring your team closer together and make them feel valued.

Ice Cream Social
The summer heat can be exhausting. Why not cool down with a little ice cream? Having an ice cream social can be simple. It can give your team a break from the hectic work day and a chance to bond over some cool treats. Be sure to include your volunteers when picking a time. You can use this event in many ways, such as:
·       Sundae building contest
·       Make it simple 

Field Day
There is nothing like a little 90-degree heat to build team moral. Create a field day with group activities to encourage team building and engagement with your volunteers. Individuals enjoy doing fun activities for a good cause. Try to think outside the box when planning your event. Here are a few examples to use at your own field day:
·       Build a boat 
·       Get outdoors 
·       DIY outdoor games

Theme Day
Who doesn’t like to dress up and visit another place and time? This could entail an entire day of themed activities or just a lunch break feast. Have everyone bring a dish and wear their favorite themed attire. Send out an email to all volunteers and include them in the festivities.
Giving your volunteers the chance to showcase their creativity encourages them to bond with the team. It can be a conversation starter and may even lead to a few laughs. Here are a few ideas to consider:
·       Hawaiian luau
·       Pool party
·       Country BBQ

Hosting social events can promote team spirit and excitement about your organization. This also encourages volunteers to share their experiences with those they care about the most. By hosting special summer events, it gives your team a much needed break from daily tasks as well as improving your recruitment efforts. Take some time this summer to enjoy the sun and show your team appreciation.
For assistance, contact the Volunteer Center of Cedar Valley at (319) 272-2087, information@vccv.org, or visit www.vccv.org.
Thanks to Ashley Chorpenning

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Summer Volunteering - Connecting with Community

Youth and Teens:

The summer is here and so are many volunteering opportunities for youth and teenagers out of school. Through volunteerism, teens have the power to positively impact their community! Youth may want to consider volunteering their time to a community organization. There are many different reasons for you to start volunteering:
  • Volunteering provides professional experience for teenagers. It can provide an opportunity to see potential career paths and options.
  • Summer volunteering looks good on resumes for future jobs. Employers like to see what you've done between jobs, after graduation and during your free time.
  • Teenagers who volunteer in the summer can use this valuable experience and include it in their applications for college.
  • Volunteering also promotes personal growth. It can help youth and teens grow as individuals. They can discover hidden talents they might not know they had.
  • Summer volunteering provides a learning experience. Youth can learn more about community needs. It can help you learn about different organizations and different parts of our government.
  • When people volunteer it can gets them out of their comfort zone. It brings people together from diverse backgrounds. Everyone builds fellowship and team working skills.


During the summer season families move away from the hectic pace of their everyday lives. Any vacation is a chance for families to reconnect. There are no soccer games, no piano recitals, and no working late, so families finally have precious time together.

Families can volunteer in their community. The Volunteer Center of Cedar Valley represents 153 nonprofits with over 140 active volunteer opportunities. Families can benefit significantly by sharing their time and compassion with a group in need. 

If families really want a meaningful break from their usual schedule, consider an option that might be outside of your comfort level by changing the way your children view the world. Consider a volunteer vacation.

With some planning, families have the potential to get a rare opportunity to be immersed in another culture, help a community build houses, or learn English. If volunteering in Guatemala is too much for your family, consider a learning vacation, where your family is involved in an archaeological dig in Colorado or numerous additional volunteer vacations.

Many organizations feature opportunities for children, but be sure to check minimum age.

Older Adults:

Older Iowans looking for volunteer opportunities have a range to select from. Whatever their interests and abilities, they can put their time, skills and experience to good use.

Volunteering can be a fulfilling and enjoyable activity for people of any age. For older adults in particular, volunteering can help keep their body and mind active after retirement, while providing an opportunity to get out of the house and socialize with others.

Retirement is the time to live out your passion; feed the homeless, get involved in the neighborhood, teach youth about art at a local art museum, or volunteer in other countries. Older adults should do what they’ve always wanted to do and didn’t have time to do before.

Volunteering can increase the quality of life for older adults. 98% of older adults who volunteer stay active and feel better physically and emotionally. Recent research shows that giving back results in increased activity, which often results in improved health. Service also gives volunteers a purpose, which many find to be important.

The Volunteer Center of Cedar Valley works to promote and support effective volunteerism and to serve as the resource and coordination center for volunteers and community partnerships.

To secure volunteer opportunities contact the Volunteer Center of Cedar Valley at information@vccv.org or (319) 272-2087. Volunteer opportunities may also be accessed at www.vccv.org.