Guest Post: A New Volunteer’s (Beautiful) Perspective

IMG_0627.JPGWe were thrilled to hear about Lainie Morgan’s experiences during her first volunteer experience with SCAN. Enjoy her story — we hope it inspires you to volunteer, too!

As someone who used to teach children and families in Baltimore but now supports educators from a national office and misses being in the classroom, I sought out the opportunity to work directly with my new community through www.volunteermatch.org. SCAN’s mission and activities seemed to align well with what I’d learned supporting family resiliency strengthening for 15 years, so I signed up after attending one of SCAN’s monthly volunteer orientations.

Paired with the class of children five years and older, I assumed that the kids would come begrudgingly, antsy after a day of school, and be completely uninterested in the curriculum. Instead, students asked if they could come more than once a week, ran to the door each evening excited to start, greeted me with a big smile and stories of their week, and for the most part, engaged fully with our class. I was truly taken aback by how much the kids opened up and shared their talents and enthusiasms. From computer coding, patiently helping younger students and balancing with closed eyes to reading eagerly during snack, inventing new ways to explain an idea and really witty humor, these students have a ton to offer and build upon.

One week, our lone second grader gave me a card she’d made to celebrate her graduation from ESOL. I felt so special after she’d thought about me at school and wrote this beautiful note that I decided to write all the kids individual cards for the next class so they could enjoy that same feeling. During the volunteer debriefing that same evening, a parent educator asked if I’d share my observation about how well one of the kids was doing with her parent the following week. It can be hard for parents to recognize all the gifts children have when they spend a lot of time with them while managing the frustrations and annoyances of everyday life, so I was happy to reflect back what I was experiencing with the kids.

The next week each student got a letter describing what I’d noticed them doing especially well and how their presence in class specifically contributed to what we were all getting out of it. I also made a copy for each family, so that parents and caregivers could see how their kids were thriving. Parents and students alike were more excited than I expected; families talked about how grateful they were to hear such a glowing report and kids were surprised they’d achieved so much. One student gave me a big hug, another recited back to me one of the talents I’d mentioned in a later class, and a third made his own thank you card for me.

Strong self-esteem and consistent connections with a supportive adult greatly impact a child’s development. I feel extremely privileged to get to contribute even a tiny bit to that by working with the children touched by SCAN’s Parent Education Program. I would strongly encourage others to get involved as well; matching your talents with SCAN’s various needs ultimately puts you in a place to serve the needs of children and parents right here in our community.

– Lainie Morgan, SCAN Volunteer

p.s. SCAN’s next Volunteer Orientations this summer will be held on July 14 and August 6. Register here.

Sharing the Story

Most of our readers know that SCAN has three core programs: CASA, Parent Education and Public Education. From abused children already in the system to new parents bringing home a baby to families reunifying after immigration, our programs reach children and families living very different realities. These programs are complex and well-developed and effective. But they’re not always easy to explain. Over the past year, we’ve developed infographics to help us (and help YOU help us) tell the story of our programs and how they impact prevention in our community.

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We hope you’ll share this post with others when you talk about SCAN and consider the impact of our prevention programs!

Want more? Keep scrolling:

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Lessons – and Laughs – from Parenting Class

parentingclasslaughsSCAN kicked off its first parenting class of the year on February 5th using The ABCs of Parenting from the evidence-based Nurturing Parenting Program®. This 8-week program is designed to empower parents by providing them with effective parenting skills and techniques. The length of the program provides the group enough time to delve into the core curriculum lessons while also allowing relationship-building among parents and their facilitator.

During this first series of 2015, we have had the privilege to meet and work with nineteen Spanish-speaking parents and their families. We can’t believe how quickly we have reached our half-way point. As we do for all programs, we evaluate and–if necessary–re-tool our activities throughout the series. With that in mind, we asked our Parent Education Team to take a moment and share tips and lessons learned from this and past parenting classes. With over 40+ years of combined experience, they had plenty to share!

Whether you are new to program implementation or an experienced facilitator or program coordinator, here are some tips you can consider as you implement similar programs.

  1. Know your audience. Being familiar with participants’ cultural backgrounds, genders and language differences is something we all know as critical for a facilitator to be aware of before walking into a class. However, there are other nuances to consider. For example, some individuals may have been placed in a class unwillingly by the court. They can bring a negative attitude and influence to the group. The challenge is finding a way to engage those parents and help them focus on the positive things they will gain from participating, instead of who or what brought them to the group.

    Our team recommends acknowledging their feelings. For example, “For some of you it may feel hard to fit this commitment into your schedules each week. I promise we are going to have some interesting conversations and a few laughs and before the end of this class you will likely look forward to these evenings we have together.” It is also helpful to express value in their presence. For example, you could say “In my experience, everyone brings value to these conversations and I encourage you to participate in discussions openly and honestly. Your wisdom and experience may be what helps another parent get through a challenging time.”

  1. Set expectations for the group. Each person, including the facilitator, will have their own expectations about the class. As the leader of the group, set the expectations early on. This can be done during pre-registration and during the first session when ground rules are established.
  1. Integrate relevant news. If you are working with an evidence-based curriculum you may be hesitant to integrate outside sources of materials such as news articles, quotes from well-known individuals or community members. Our team believes doing so provides an interesting and fresh take to each class. Integrating real-world situations and discussion enhances your message and supports the idea that there are others outside of the group talking about the issue.
  1. Have conversations, not lectures. Build structured conversations and activities into the sessions, rather than just lecturing. Create opportunities for the participants to contribute their relevant life experiences to the class. Enjoy and value their participation and let them know it.
  1. Set a chain of communication and check-in regularly with your team. When running any sort of program, the team needs to be on the same page. Establish clear roles for your volunteers and staff. Then designate a chain of communication. Ideally this should be set up days prior to the first class. A short debriefing at the end of each class allows staff and volunteers to bring up any challenges they are encountering and as a group find a way to address it before the next class.
  1. Working with children?
    • Say it with enthusiasm! When you are leading a children’s program, act with the poise and enthusiasm that you want to see reflected in the children and childcare volunteers. For example, if you are introducing a new game to kids and you show your excitement about how you have the coolest game in the world to share with them, then the kids will also be excited about it.  Really, if you sell it right, you can get kids to do any sort of game or activity!
    • Be flexible. Kids’ moods, likes and desires can all change in a flash and you need to be able to change with them. Don’t be upset if things don’t go the way you planned. Always have a backup game, activity or craft ready to go at all times.
  1. Have a sense of humor. Nothing ever goes exactly as planned. Weather delays/cancellations, unexpected logistics challenges, and volunteer cancellations have all caused havoc at some point in the life of a program. There are times we just need to take a breath, have a laugh and realize that when the program is supported by great staff, volunteer, and partners who have a common goal and belief in a mission, it will all eventually work out. (And if we can’t model flexibility, patience and humor for parents, then who can!?)

Have you worked with children and parents before? What are your best practices for connecting with families and making a lasting impact? We’d love to hear in the comments below!

– Marisol Morales, SCAN Parent Education Program Manager

Words and images from a week in our Parent Education Program

We love sharing SCANSnapshot posts here on the blog. Giving you a glimpse of our programs – the parents, children and volunteers who make it all happen – is a great way for us to show you the things we could never fully explain with words alone, including…

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The quiet interest and uncertainty of parents as facilitators begin to share knowledge the first night of Parenting Class…

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The giggles and joy in the Children’s Program as the kids jump into their first yoga class…

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The sense of security when parents sit with others who will not judge, but understand their struggles…

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The excitement that comes with opportunities to reach new communities of families, like the Spanish-speaking parents at two local schools who will be a part of our brand new Parent Cafe series launching next month.

Interest. Joy. Security. Excitement. Want to learn more about our Parent Education Program and its impact on local families? Click here.

SCANSnapshot: Volunteers are a beautiful thing

Last night we kicked off our new session of ABCs of Parenting classes, and we can’t think of a more beautiful picture to post this morning. This is a group of Parent Education Program volunteers who supported our last round of English and Spanish parenting classes, which resulted in 24 parents (12 from each class) completing this popular program.

Want to know something especially great about this photo? See the young man in the back row, second from the left? That’s Zachary. He plays baseball for St. John’s College High School (SJC), and helps his mom coach his sister’s softball team in a Northern Virginia league where he is also a youth umpire. He’s been a Youth Teaching Assistant at the Smithsonian Institution Summer camp (a favorite among his campers). He’s also a volunteer at SCAN.

As a junior at SJC, Zachary was required to perform 40 hours of volunteer community services for the 2010 /2011 school year.  Zach’s mom (who is a volunteer with another local CASA Program), thought earning those hours working with children while their parents attend class was a perfect fit for Zachary. He’s great with kids and had relevant experience.

Zachary says he likes being a volunteer because he gets to meet interesting people, he enjoys working with kids and he likes to be a positive role model for the children.

We’re pretty sure he’s a great role model for all of us, no matter what our ages might be. Don’t you?

SCANStar: Meaghan Morris

It’s volunteers like Meaghan Morris who make our ABCs of Parenting Class a special experience for the whole family. While parents are engaged in lessons with class facilitators, their children spend time with Meaghan and other volunteers who teach lessons on correlating topics, engage in meaningful conversations, have fun and provide a supportive, energetic ear to both kids and their moms and dads. (Did we mention kids also get to enjoy yoga and help prepare a healthy meal thanks to partners YoKid…Stretch Your Limits and The Regal Fig Food Co.!?)

We are so grateful for Meaghan and the other volunteers who truly make these classes so successful. They are changing lives and strengthening families every time they volunteer! Don’t forget to check out past SCANStars to meet more of our dedicated volunteers, program participants, and program facilitators who help us build hope for the children and families in our community.

BuildingBlocks: How long have you volunteered with SCAN, and what have you done as a volunteer?

Meaghan Morris: I have been a SCAN volunteer for almost 2 years as a lead teacher of the kids ages 5 and older at the ABCs parenting classes.

BB: Why did you decide to join SCAN as a volunteer?

Meaghan: After getting a job with the government in DC, I realized my life consisted of only work, gym, and social events. I have always volunteered or taught/tutored in some capacity and realized that was missing. I looked up Spanish-speaking volunteer opportunities on volunteernet.org and came across SCAN. After meeting with several of the SCAN employees, I became aware of what a great organization it is, and promptly signed up!

BB: Describe your favorite SCAN memory.

Meaghan: Choosing just one favorite memory is impossible – there are just too many. I’ll pick two: The first is a memory of a parent of one of the kids in my class. The parent approached me after the final celebration of the last class and, having never spoken to me before, told me that the relationship between the parent and the child had matured and improved so much since the beginning of the eight-week course. The parent thanked me for having worked one-on-one with the child on several occasions, attributing much of the child’s success to our classroom activities. It was a very rewarding and happy conversation.

The second memory is of a conversation we were having in our classroom one night, when one child began describing a difficult home situation. Another child, having little to no experience with any disruptions in his/her home life, expressed concern and confusion at the classmate’s story. Before I could jump in to redirect the conversation, all the students in the class began to open up and tell their own home stories, comforting each other in their own way. It was a safe, open space for conversation, all created by the children themselves.

BB: Why have you continued volunteering with SCAN?

Meaghan: I believe in SCAN’s mission and have seen first-hand over and over again the benefits and positive outcomes of the ABCs of Parenting class. It would be worth it to help out even just one parent or one child, and to know that hundreds are reached each year through the program is just incredible.

BB: Has anything about being a SCAN volunteer surprised you?

Meaghan: What has surprised me on numerous occasions is when a parent or child approaches me to let me know that a conversation or action that we shared really changed their perspective on things and helped them move the relationship with their family forward. I have learned that seemingly standoff-ish parents are often just quiet or shy  are often the ones who get the most out of the class. I have been surprised on numerous occasions by parents that seemed uninterested in the class who then approach me and let me know that SCAN has meant so much to them and their families.

BB: When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? What do you do now?

Meaghan: I was always interested in the world, and in global events as I got older. I studied international affairs and now work at USAID – U.S. Agency for International Development – whose mission is to support long-term and equitable growth across the globe through programs in economic growth, agriculture, trade, global health, education, humanitarian assistance and conflict prevention. I am currently a strategy analyst in the Program Office for the Asia and Middle East Bureaus.

BB: What was your favorite movie when you were a child?

Meaghan: Anything Disney! (Not much has changed since then…)

BB: If you were given a free flight anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Meaghan: I would go to Ireland and Italy where my families are from.

BB: If you had to eat one food for the rest of your life, what would you choose?

Meaghan: Pasta or Ice Cream!

BB: What is something most people wouldn’t know by looking at you?

Meaghan: I have a humongous family and am very close with each and every one of them. I also LOVE kids!

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