Camps do an amazing job building community. They spend time intentionally thinking of ways to bring cabins, groups and staff members closer. They do teambuilders, icebreakers and songs, and they create shared experiences that bring people closer together. But how are we extending that community to our actual communities?
As an organization sharing resources with a community, it’s a camp’s responsibility to engage with the towns and cities it's in. A great way to start is to find community volunteers and make sure they’re good fits for all the camp needs.
Finding Community Volunteers
The best way to start looking for volunteers is to invite the community. So often camps live as islands within their larger communities (especially true for overnight camps whose campers come primarily from other areas), and this means community members may not know the camp or organization exists. They may even have negative feelings about it not serving their community. If you haven’t already done so, try things like:
- Host community days where members get to do fun activities at camp.
- Invite civic/community groups to meet in your spaces for free/reduced prices.
- Open up areas with internet during certain hours for coffee and WiFi.
- Invite schools to hold teacher luncheons, graduation events, etc. in your space for free/reduced prices.
- Ask local churches to hold volunteer clean-up days at camp.
- Partner with people in the community to do your own version of “Big Event,” and have camp be a worksite.
In addition to inviting the community in, you should also go out into the community. Ask different staff members to join different civic/community groups. Put up booths at fall festivals or other similar events with the aim of meeting community — not recruiting campers. Talk to local schools about how you can support them. Serve on local committees. When representatives of camp engage with the community, the community wants to engage with your camp.
Whether you meet people through inviting them in or joining in the community, really get to know people. Not only will your connections help you build more of them, but knowing people personally will help you connect them with the right volunteer opportunity, increasing the odds that they’ll keep coming back.
Vetting Community Volunteers
Once you’ve found a volunteer pool, it’s time to think about who’s a good fit for your camp or other programs within your organization. Different people may fit different volunteer types: one-time volunteers, off-season volunteers, year-round volunteers and more. When you begin making a plan for vetting volunteers, consider what specific protocols and trainings they’ll need to complete. Do one-time volunteers who won’t be on site with children need the same screenings that year-round volunteers in direct communication with kids need? What level of vetting does a local high school student who wants to do a project for you in the offseason need? Before getting serious about recruiting, these are conversations your team needs to have.
Different vetting techniques include:
- Background checks: The level of the background check is another discussion point for your team.
- National sex offender public registry screenings
- Reference checks
Your camp or organization may also consider a probationary period for volunteers so your team can observe their interactions with campers more closely before loosening the reigns.
During the vetting process, it’s also important to lay out all of your camp’s or organization’s expectations and procedures so volunteers truly understand what they’re signing up for.
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