Every week this year we are looking at our theme “The People.” Today we explore…..
“The People to thank”
Rev. Jessica Tidwell-Weinzierl serves as the Director of Youth at South Mecklenburg Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC. Besides faith journeying with youth, one of her passions is fostering dogs with the help of her partner, Evan, and their current furever pups. She is a graduate of McAfee School of Theology.
If you’re a youth minister, it is likely you have – at some point – known The Struggle: the struggle of finding adult mentors/chaperones/volunteers to be involved with the youth! Maybe it is for single events, or maybe it is for long-term positions, like a Sunday school teacher or midweek extra chaperone. If you haven’t ever experienced this struggle, then I am fairly certain you are a unicorn.
Often, this struggle has little to say about the commitment of parents and guardians to the youth program but speaks volumes to how jam-packed calendars are becoming. Many people simply don’t have time!
So when you build up a small, elite group of rock star adults who get involved with the students, it is vital necessary essential compulsory obligatory required mandatory that you find ways to say, “Thank you.”
I have below a few suggestions on the art of saying “thank you” to our amazing adult mentors/chaperones who will heretofore be called “volunteers” for the sake of…well, because it’s an easy catch all term for all roles an adult can fill.
1) WRITE A THANK YOU NOTE.
Now, this is a SIMPLE one that is most important the first time ever that an adult volunteers with youth, or the first time that a an adult volunteers with youth in a really long time. In either of these cases, take two minutes and write a heartfelt thank you note. Seriously. Go to TJ Maxx or your local grocery or wherever and get a stack of cheap thank you cards to leave in your office drawer. If you’re really in need of an easy “grab and write” station, drop a favored pen in the box of cards so you have no excuse not to do it.
2) GIFT CARDS FOR THE FAITHFUL.
Have you got a group of fairly regular volunteers? That’s fantastic!! While these volunteers will probably choose to keep volunteering on their own, you can definitely reward their commitment in a few meaningful ways, one of them relying on your ability to pay attention to each of them as individuals. Do you have a coffee fanatic? Someone who loves a special restaurant in town? A DIY craft fan? Out of the blue one day, gift them with a thank you card AND a $5 gift card to their favourite place. Sure, it’s not a lot of money, but it could cover a fancy latte or delicious appetizer or a new art supply! More importantly, it shows that you are paying attention to your adult volunteer as an individual so he or she knows that they aren’t just a faceless helper to you. You taking the time to get to know your adult volunteers shows them that they are vital and integral pieces of the web of relationships that make youth ministry grand.
3) YOUTH APPRECIATION.
Pick a day once a year in which you recruit rarely or never before used adult volunteers to help out with a youth group gathering that includes the entire youth group (preferably during one of your regular meeting times). Before this gathering, compile a list of your most faithful volunteers, collect a bucket of craft supplies, and prepare to have your youth make some AWESOME thank you cards directly from the them! An easy way to be sure each volunteer has a card made is to create a blank template ahead of time: take some large cardstock, fold it in half like a regular card, and write “THANK YOU, ________!” on the front with a name instead of a blank space. Students can gather around the cards they want to work on, with a limit to how many students can work on each card. Once a card is completed, you can set it up front and invite ALL youth to come sign the inside, perhaps with a short personal note.
4) HAVE A PARTY!
No, seriously. If you have this in your budget, DO IT. It doesn’t have to be too overblown, but invite your faithful volunteers to a “thank you” banquet, hosted by you and your youth (or a small group of youth leaders), and let the adult volunteers be the focus for the night! If you have room in the budget for a catered meal, go crazy with that. If the budget doesn’t have room for a catered meal, look to church members who don’t work with youth to ask them to help prepare a meal, even if it is a simple one. The point is to serve them and appreciate them, and you can do that with a strict budget as well as you can a looser one!
Pro tip #1: Do NOT serve buffet style. Get a team of youth servers who can plate the food, serve the food at the table, and keep drinks refilled. Ask the youth to get there early to set the tables, and have them stay after to clean up.
Pro tip #2: Of course, you will need to decide to use or ignore this tip based on what you know about your adult volunteers – but keep in mind that these are folks who volunteer regularly with youth. They probably like the crazy energy, off-beat ideas for spending time in big groups, and even may like a table sitting that looks more youth than adult friendly! When they come in to eat, be sure to have some fun music playing, maybe a few activities to engage them in. They might even be willing to get up and mingle with a game in between an appetizer and the main entrée! This isn’t just a time to say thank you. It can be a time when you let them draw on their inner youth without having to also juggle being the responsible adult, for once.
5) TAKE THEM ON A RETREAT.
You have one available for use already — https://youthministryconversations.com/retreat-a-time-of-celebrating-youth-ministry-volunteers. Take a peek at it!
If all else fails, look your adults in the eye, and just tell them how much they mean to the youth ministry. Sometimes we assume they know it, but your words will go a long way into really establishing the truth of how important adult volunteers are in building community connections with youth that will last way longer than 6th-12th grade.
Oh, and don’t forget – sometimes you might need to take a look in the mirror and say those things to yourself, too, because if you have devoted your life to working with youth? Well, you. Are. Awesome. Seriously.