A 4-Step Guide to Forming a Successful Service-Learning Partnership
“How can I get VCU service-learning students to volunteer with my community agency?” is the question that I get asked the most by community organizations. My simple answer—P-L-A-N. Finding student volunteers through service-learning involves more than just picking up the phone and requesting a certain number of students for a specific day and time. Use the guidance provided below to decide if your organization is ready to take on service-learning students as volunteers.
Prepare for volunteers from VCU by deciding what kind of student volunteer you need. Is this a one day project that needs many volunteers or an ongoing partnership that will require participation over an extended period of time? Understanding your own needs as an agency is the first important step in determining if service-learning students can be of assistance to you. One of the best ways to find this out is to create your own internal volunteer proposal that specifies the activity, time period, and duties of volunteers. Know what you can provide to complete the task and the expectations you have of volunteers assisting with your efforts. If you need volunteers to assist with preparing students for the math portion of the GED exam you would want to recruit volunteers with a math background rather than a group of students in an elementary education course. Preparation on the front end will save you time and effort in the long run and lend itself to a more successful partnership.
Learn about different kinds of student volunteers available to community agencies by visiting the Student Volunteer Types section of the VCU Service-Learning website (www.servicelearning.vcu.edu). Using your volunteer proposal form you can identify what kind of student volunteer is the right fit for your agency. You can also browse through the VCU Service-Learning website to get ideas of how other agencies are effectively using service-learning students. Review the community partners map and find out what organizations that resemble your own are using service-learning students and contact them to find out the impact it has had on their agency. Comparing apples to apples will be a good way to start your partnership strong and learn from the success and failures of others in the same field.
Approach the service-learning staff with your volunteer opportunities at least one academic semester prior to the start of the anticipated activities. The process of matching a community agency with a service-learning partner does not happen overnight and typically takes at least one semester to complete. The service-learning staff will look at your agency needs and determine if there is a service-learning course that aligns with your volunteer needs. Making sure that the activities students participate in have a direct link to the curriculum they are learning in their course is essential to ensuring that effective service-learning is taking place. Our goal is two-fold—to provide much-needed volunteer support to community agencies while providing VCU’s students with an opportunity to get practical application of the skills and concepts they have learned in the classroom. If we can find that match then your agency is ready for a service-learning partnership, but you should…
Never let student volunteers start their service without providing clear guidance and instructions preferably in writing and in-person. Many agencies provide students with a brief orientation overview that acquaints them with information about the social issue their organization addresses and specific information on how they will assist in the mission of the organization. Communication with the students and service-learning instructor is vital to making the partnership successful and meaningful. Make sure that there is a designated staff person from your agency who has the responsibility of maintaining contact with the service-learning instructor and supervising student volunteers while they are on-site. Your can find resources on volunteer management and links to obtaining local volunteers at www.handsongr.org.
Following the four steps outlined above will help prepare any agency for successful collaborations with a university partner. Happy ‘P-L-A-N’ning!