It is the beginning of the year and there are a lot of things changing all around us. People are making new commitments in their life and letting go of things that they feel they need to let go of. Where does that leave those who work with students?
Somehow people have adopted the idea that once a youth worker, always a youth worker. Though there is an aspect of that which is true for some; however, that will not be true for everybody.
So, the question is: how do we or should we handle transitions with volunteers in the youth organization sector? Whether you are a Nonprofit leader, Boys and Girls club Director or local church youth leader—we know that one constant battle you will have with volunteers. That is figuring out when, where and how do volunteers transition and how does that affect students who already have a hard time letting people go.
Our responsibility as a youth leader to urban youth particularly is to be the antidote to their inner issues. We know that none of us are the cure, but we can very much be the factor that helps to neutralize many of their internal dysfunctions by being the opposite of what they have seen consistently in their lives. In order to do this, as the youth leader, we must learn to master transitions in our organizations.
Urban youth often times deal heavily with rejection and abandonment, largely due to father issues and other relationship inconsistencies within their household. However, there is a way that we can transition people, that helps students embrace change and transition and prepare them for the next season without them being stuck and hurt over the fact someone left them.
- Ask volunteers to make a year-long commitment.This gives leaders, volunteers, and those they serve the ability to work beyond their comfort and endure certain frustrations, but ultimately this allows leaders to build trust and consistency with students. This also helps the volunteers to be able to commit beyond how they are feeling at the time. Eventually, you end up with a start and stop time for each volunteer so they do not become a lifelong professional volunteer (though, some of them will become this.)
- Leaders must make sure to not make volunteers feel bad for transitioning, but rather celebrate their decision to either stay for another year or transition out. At the end of each year, we organizations should hold a meeting with all of our volunteers to where they celebrate what has been accomplished together the previous year and dream a little for the next year. Then, you can give the opportunity for volunteers to answer the question, “do you think your time is up?” This allows them to assess their life in that moment and to look for the next year and evaluate if they still have the same commitment to the organization and students as they did in the beginning—or if their season has changed.
- Publicly celebrate your volunteers’ transition in front of the students.The work that most volunteers do is a very visible work. So, their celebration of this work should be visible as well. No organization or ministry wants to be known as the group who never let people go or never transitioned people properly. This also allows us to help students understand the importance of people who are beneficial in their lives for certain seasons. The truth is, some people will be life-long mentors and leaders. The reality is some leaders will be seasonal. However, it is up to us as youth leaders to create opportunities and systems for seasonal people to be just that and this allows for us leaders to teach the students to embrace the people in those seasons.
Helping students to master transition in their life, starting with volunteers is a sure way to help them make the necessary transitions when seasons, relationships and people change in life. During transitions, we celebrate those who are leaving for what they have contributed in the past season. This helps us show students that changes are not bad, but they are celebration worthy! Ultimately, we want to help students understand that transitions are a part of God’s plan and students should not take them personally. You can start your new year by celebrating transitions and by encouraging your volunteers to make a one-year commitment to the organization or ministry.