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How to lose a volunteer in only 1 week



I recently began volunteering for a ministry at my church called "Los Vecinos." Using my high school level of Spanish, I roughly translated that to mean "The Vaccines," but upon further research, was told it means "The Neighbors."


(All apologies to my high school Spanish teacher, Sra. Rodriquez.)


"Los Vecinos" is a ministry that provides after-school tutoring and mentoring to predominantly Hispanic children in a nearby mobile home park. And let me tell you, the contrast between the trailer park and the surrounding community is jarring. The park is located in the middle of Chesterfield, one of the wealthiest cities in the state of Missouri. Only a stones throw away from the rusty mobile homes are million dollar mansions.


But I don't tell that to the 5th and 6th grade boys I tutor for fear that one of them might actually throw a stone to see if I'm right.


And therein lies one of my greatest challenges: these boys are spirited!


In my first week of volunteering, I found myself sitting in the tiny back room of a trailer owned by the ministry with 6 boys who had just finished an 8-hour day at school. Guess what they didn't want.


More school.


And maybe, in part, that's why they were bouncing off the thin metal walls. More than that, there was one or two of them who just wouldn't listen. They were disrespectful and cussed like Spanish sailors. (They don't think I know what they're saying, but I know more Spanish than what Sra. Rodriquez taught me.) And despite my pleas with them to "listen," or "calm down," or "don't put Marco in a headlock," the scene continued it's downward spiral into chaos.


It's humbling for me to say this, but they were ROLLING OVER ME!


It didn't take long before I had completely lost control of the room. I felt so frustrated and powerless. And it was only the FIRST WEEK!


But then the problem dawned on me--I didn't know what consequences I could give them. I was the new guy, I didn't know the boundaries. What do I do when they won't do what I want them to do? Can I have them sit out? Can I take away privileges? Can I send them home?


I didn't know.


And they knew I didn't know!


And now I have a "Lord of the Flies" situation on my hands.


The kids in your ministry might not be as "spirited" as the boys I tutor, but I know kids. I've worked with them for more than 20 years. They can all be a bit spirited when boundaries don't exist! Kids need boundaries. And they need consequences for when they cross those boundaries. And if you don't help your volunteers establish healthy boundaries and consequences, there's a good chance they're going to get rolled over at some point. Worse than that, there's a good chance they won't be coming back after the 1st week.


And that is "no bueno!" (Sra. Rodriquez would be so proud of me!)


Let me take you back to "Los Vecinos" to illustrate what boundaries and consequences might look like in your KidMin.


After that 1st day, there was no way I was going to quit. I haven't been beat by a group of kids before, and I'm too obstinate to start now. But there was also no way I could survive another pounding like that. I needed a plan.


The next week, we gathered as a volunteer team before the kids arrived. It turns out I wasn't the only one getting run over. Together, we agreed on a 3 strikes system.


Strike 1: you get a warning.

Strike 2: you lose your end-of-the-day treat (ice cream sandwich, etc.)

Strike 3: you go home.


When the boys arrived, it was the first thing we talked about. Before I even got to explaining strike 3, I had already handed out a strike 1.


Now they knew I was serious.


Next, I took the boys outside to throw a football in the street. I figured if I ran them ragged for 15 minutes, they could get their energy out and focus more. One of the boys intentionally threw the football into the back of a girls head. Strike 2.


Now they knew I was really serious.


Afterwards, back in the trailer, the boys and I sat around a table and worked on converting fractions. It was like 2 miracles at once. First, I remembered how to convert fractions. Second, the boys were so well behaved. Don't get me wrong, they weren't angels and there were still some strikes handed out, but oh my--the difference!


And it can make a difference in your KidMin too.


Volunteers (especially brand new ones) usually don't know how to establish and enforce boundaries in your KidMin. Do them a favor, if you haven't already, equip them with a set of age-appropriate rules and consequences they can use. Make sure it's consistent from week to week and across rooms. Go over the rules and consequences with the kids on a regular basis. Otherwise, your KidMin might become a revolving door of volunteers.


And in case you're wondering, since establishing the rules and consequences at "Los Vecinos," only one boy has been sent home. It was for throwing stones. He didn't hit any mansions, but he tagged a few cars. We kindly asked him to go home and told him we looked forward to seeing him next week for another try.


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© 2020 by David Rausch.