By Lisl Hacker, Director of Training and TA at the Massachusetts Service Alliance, Gretchen Arntz, Director of Philanthropy at Emmaus Inc. and Kaitlyn Berry, former Program Developer at Emmaus, Inc.
The Volunteer Generation Fund was created as part of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act with the purpose of “boosting the impact of volunteers in addressing critical community needs. The fund will focus investments on volunteer management practices that increase both volunteer recruitment and retention.” As the home state Service Commission of Senator Kennedy, the Massachusetts Service Alliance (MSA) couldn’t be more determined to put these funds to the most impactful use possible. One of the ways that we do this is through our Youth Development Volunteer Initiative. This initiative awards VGF funds as mini-grants to nonprofits in MA of up to $10,000 and these funds are available for the following:
- Establishment of a new youth development program within a youth-serving agency that will utilize new or existing volunteers;
- Expansion of a current youth development program within a youth-serving agency in order to serve a geographic area not currently served or to increase the number of youth served through the engagement of volunteers; and/or
- Creation or enhancement of a youth development program at a Volunteer Connector Organization (VCO).
In this post, I would like to share one of our biggest success stories with this initiative. The Emmaus Explores program was established with the 2014-2015 Youth Development Volunteer Initiative Grant and expanded with 2015-2016 mini-grant. Emmaus Inc., located in Haverhill, MA, was started in 1986 with the goal of enhancing societal and personal advancement through provision of housing and support services that empower individuals and families to reach their fullest potential. Their programs include: emergency shelters, affordable housing, homelessness prevention, housing stabilization services, case management, and education and job training to help people overcome barriers and achieve success. However, overtime the organization realized that there was a major gap in programming for the youth of the homeless families that they were serving. The instability associated with homelessness can have a devastating impact on the education of children living in emergency shelter. According to the Institute for Children & Poverty, homeless children are nine times more likely to repeat a grade and four times more likely to drop out than their peers. Over 75% of homeless children perform below grade level in reading and math. Additionally, during the summer, many youth, especially those from low-income families, experience learning loss that can affect their academic performance. Over half of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth is attributed to unequal access to summer learning opportunities.
The 2014-2015 Youth Development Volunteer Initiative allowed Emmaus to create the original Emmaus Explorers summer session to serve the homeless children living in the Emmaus Family Shelter in Haverhill. The program included six Arts & Science days, six Health & Wellness days, five Math & Reading days, four family enrichment evenings, and three family field trips. In total, 24 families participated and 36 homeless children were served. On average, daily sessions served 13 children, and over 890 hours of instruction and activities were provided throughout the summer. Additionally, 206 healthy snacks and 120 field trip lunches were served. On average, parents surveyed gave Emmaus Explorers an overall satisfaction rating of 9 out of 10. Additionally, 37 volunteers served a total of 795 hours during the summer session.
The continued funding from the 2015-2016 min-grant allowed Emmaus to maintain the summer session as well as add an after-school enrichment program that focuses on tutoring, self-esteem, and exploring the arts. Additionally, continued MSA/VGF support enabled Emmaus to develop a Volunteer Leadership Program which provided volunteers with additional training to enhance their roles and responsibilities in the program. With this expansion, Emmaus was able to provide 20 weeks of programming totaling 1,520 learning hours and serve an additional 46 families and 65 homeless youth with 65 volunteers. This program would not be possible without the involvement of dedicated volunteers as they use volunteers for all aspects of the programming from daily sessions to family enrichment nights to field trips. Understanding of the importance of volunteer retention, Emmaus has also used this funding to perfect their volunteer management systems and processes. They have a proactive strategy to recruit 20-30 volunteers for each term and each volunteer goes through a comprehensive 3 hour training and receives a comprehensive newly designed Volunteer Handbook. Volunteers are also carefully tracked by program staff so absences are noted and followed up on. The Volunteer Leadership Program has also helped with retention as it strengthens relationships with volunteers by empowering them to assist with designing curriculum and leading daily activities.
“The Explorers Program has brought so much joy to the children at the shelter,” said Director of Family Support Services, Cindy Malynn, adding that the educational programs and field trips reinforced and enhanced skills they already had gained from school. “The children were able to go back to school this fall and be excited when asked, ‘What did you do over the summer?”
In addition to providing a rich and experiential learning opportunity for the youth, there is also a clear benefit for the volunteer as well which is a key to retention. Cindy Nguyen, a Volunteer Leader, who has been with the program from the start, has not only brought a high level of excitement, energy and creativity to the program, but her experience in the program has influenced her future goals to pursue a pre-med degree so that she can help people who are struggling to afford health care. “I am grateful Emmaus has given me this opportunity. It has let me grow as a person and become more well-rounded.”
About Volunteer Generation Fund
The Volunteer Generation Fund (VGF) is a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service. There are 17 state service commissions administering VGF grants to expand volunteer infrastructure by supporting volunteer management practices that increase volunteer recruitment and retention. Learn more atwww.statecommissions.org.