How to Appreciate Volunteers: Cheap and Easy!

My whole adult life, I have worked for non-profit organizations, which meant two things: We had a very small budget (if any), and we relied on volunteer support.

While working for a ministry in the Pacific Northwest, we relied on “Resource Staff” to help us lead white water rafting or rock climbing trips for groups of at-risk youth. Although Resource Staff was a glorified title for volunteer, these men and women were the backbone of the organization. They took time off work, spent their own money, and went through days of training just to impact youth a few weekends a year.

During my years working at a local Boys & Girls Club, many volunteers helped make our program successful. Retired teachers would spend hours each week helping kids with their homework. College students would come in each week to connect with teens, play games and encourage them to set and achieve goals. We even had businessmen and women volunteer to facilitate job preparation classes for teens.

I volunteer regularly, and I know that volunteers are not doing it for the recognition. They are not going into a volunteer opportunity thinking, “I hope someone says thank you to me today.” No, they are thinking about the impact they could have and the difference they can make.

Often I found myself conflicted. I knew the volunteers did not expect anything in return for their time. But I wanted to say thank you, because without them, we would not have been able to offer our programs or provide needed support. I said thank you as often as I could but always wanted to do more to show my appreciation. Because of the very small budgets, I simply did not have the means to get elaborate thank you gifts for my volunteers. I am sure many of you have been in similar positions.

Good news! I recently learned about a service that will allow you to cheaply and easily logo_300show your appreciation to your volunteers. It is called txtmovies.com, and it allows you to email, text or tweet volunteers codes to be redeemed for a free Redbox movie. Who doesn’t like watching movies for free?

I volunteer at my church, and we sent free codes via text message to all of the volunteers who help out with our youth groups. This was a simple gesture to say, “Thanks for showing up for our youth each week! Enjoy a movie on us this Christmas.”

I even purchased codes myself to send out to friends that have been supportive to me and my family recently. It is a simple gesture to let them know that I appreciate them.

RBX_KIOSK_FRNT_LBThe Redbox codes are only $2.49 each and include delivery. If your organization has 25 volunteers, you could show them all a little appreciation for just around $60. Even for a non-profit, that’s not going to break the budget. They also offer an option to purchase Amazon Gift codes for $5.95.

If you want to appreciate your volunteers this Holiday season or throughout the year, click here to get started with txtmovies.

Here are other uses for txtmovies.com besides appreciating volunteers:

  • You can show appreciation for youth in your group who go above and beyond, help you out or maybe just need a pick-me-up.
  • Textmovies offers an option to link the free Redbox code to an online survey tool. You could create a survey for your youth members asking them for feedback on your program and let them know they will get a free Redbox movie for completing the survey.
  • TxtMovies has created a FREE Get to Know You Survey tool that can help you get to know new volunteers and thank them with a free movie.
  • If you have to cancel a meeting or appointment, you can send a free movie with a text apologizing for having to cancel.
  • And countless other great uses.

If you want to show appreciation to your volunteers by sending them a free Redbox Code click here and follow the three simple steps.

How do you show appreciation for volunteers who help out with your youth program?

What Teens Want for Christmas: 2014 Edition

Christmas is a season filled with joy, laughter, and exchanging presents with relatives you might only see once a year. This can create more than a few awkward situations.

Purchasing a gift for a teenager can be one of those awkward situations where you take a wild guess and can end up as the best uncle ever or that weird guy who thinks teens still listen to music on CD’s. You want them to enjoy what you give them and find it useful, not end up on their bedroom floor or in the next garage sale.

To help you out, I surveyed teens to find out what they want or what they suggest getting the teen in your life for Christmas. Here is what they suggested:

  • Chromecast ($35) or Roku (Starting at $49.99): These are devices that you plug into Chromecasta TV that allows you to broadcast content and apps from your phone or tablet onto the TV screen. They can be used to stream content from apps such as Netflix and Hulu allowing teens to stop straining their eyes and neck trying to watch shows on their phones.
  • Bluetooth speakers that they can connect their phone or tablet to. Beats Pill and Mini Jambox are pretty popular options but also on the pricey side. There are a variety of cheaper options from $25-$100, just make sure the sound quality is goo and it produces a decent amount of bass when selecting a bluetooth speaker for a teen.
  • For the sports enthusiasts, Nike Elite socks are a good option and can be relatively cheap compared to the Air Jordan’s they also want. They make Elite socks for various sports as well as both genders. Here is an example of a Nike Elite basketball sock for guys.
  • Beats By Dre Headphones are still very popular with teens but are also among the most expensive headphones on the market starting around $170. The Urbeats are an alternative option but still run $99 a pair.
  • GoPro cameras are a very popular item and just right for the teen who likes to create content, take video or is into action sports.
  • Many of the girls mentioned clothing as an option if you knew their size and knew their sense of style. If not, gift cards to the following stores would do: Urban Outfitters, American Eagle, Target, Forever 21, H & M or Foot Locker for the guys. If you live in a colder climate a scarf is also a great option for teen girl. Seriously, they can have one for each day of the month and still want more.
  • Phone accessories such as alternate cases. Make sure you find out what type of phone they have first.
  • Personal care items such as lotions or body wash from Bath & Body for the girls. Axe spray for the guys. Tip: ask that they refrain putting the Axe Spray on in the crowded room full of adults. Trust me.
  • Mass amounts of Gum!
  • The most popular item teens suggested were gift cards. This allows them to purchase something they want or add their own money to it to get a more expensive item. Here are a few gift card ideas:giftcard
    • Barnes & Noble for the reader
    • Amazon, that covers almost everything.
    • Starbucks for the coffee drinker.
    • iTunes for the music lover.
    • Wal-Mart, Target or a Visa Gift card are pretty safe bets.
    • Best Buy for the techie.

Do you have any ideas of what to get teens for Christmas to add to the list? Leave a comment and let me know. Of if have a funny story of an awkward moment of giving a gift to a teen or as a teen getting a gift from an adult please share. I would love to hear it.

Resources for Understanding Teens

This week I am speaking to a group and they asked if I could provide a few resources around teens for their staff. Here is the not-to-overwhelming-list I put together for them of websites, books and blogs I frequent. Enjoy!

Websites:

  • Center for Parent and Youth Understanding: Helping parents, youth workers, educators, pastors and others understand and reach today’s youth culture. www.cpyu.org
  • Common Sense Media: dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in a world of media and technology. www.commonsensemedia.org
  • Huffington Post Teen: Great articles written by teens sharing their thoughts and perspectives on life. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/teen/
  • Connect with Kids: Videos, youth telling their stories, expert advice and programs to improve youth behavior. www.connectwithkids.com
  • Parent Further: A Search Institute resource for families. http://www.parentfurther.com/

Books:

  • Hurt 2.0: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers, by Chap Clark
  • Sticky Faith, by Dr. Kara E. Powell & Dr. Chap Clark
  • Understanding Your Young Teen: Practical Wisdom for Parents, by Mark Oestreicher
  • A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Teenage Brains: Why they Act the Way They Do, By Mark Oesreicher (He also wrote/co-wrote: A parent’s guide to Understanding Teenage Girls, Teenage Guys, Sex & Dating and Social Media)

Blogs:

Dave Rozman
http://daverozman.com
Twitter: @daverozman

Interesting Articles About Teens

I read many articles about teens, teen trends and teen culture each week. Occasionally I share a few of the articles that have grabbed my attention. Here are four from the last couple of weeks.

“Bored teens charged in Aussie student’s death.” I hear teens say they are bored all the time. Heck I said it when I was a teen. But I never went out and killed someone because I was bored. This article reminded me why we need more caring adults reaching out to teens and providing positive activities for teens.

“Teens Use Twitter to Thumb for Rides.” I had several friends share this article with me (Thanks!). It talks about a trend where teens utilize social media to hitch a ride, other wise known as “cyber hitching.” Although I do not think getting rides from strangers is a trend, I can see teens using this to hitch rides with peers.

“Thigh Gap.” This new body conscious trend has teens striving for an almost impossible body image.

With all these depressing or negative articles I have to share something positive as well. The Peace First Prize finalist were recently announced. Check out these AMAZING young people striving to make a difference in the world.

Building Relationships with Teens: Spend Time Talking with Them

One of my main goals is to help adults better understand, relate to and connect with teens in order to positively impact their lives. Because of that, this is the second post in a series focusing on how to connect with teens based on the Teen Voice 2010 study from the Search Institute and Best Buy Children’s Foundation. In this study, they shared a list of “10 tips from Teens to Adults” that outlined how to best connect with teens and what they look for in a caring adult relationship. In my first post I focused on the first tip, “Look at us,” and shared examples of how I have done this in my work with teens. I also provided some tips for youth workers and parents. Today I will share practical examples of how I connected with teens using Tip #2.

Tip #2: Spend time talking with us. Ask open-ended questions. Build conversation.

I have to admit that when I first started working with youth, asking open-ended questions was very difficult for me. I was comfortable with the “How’s it going?” type questions or “What are your hobbies?” but getting deeper than that was tough for me. When I was serving as an adventure guide out in Washington, I had fellow guides and counselors that could ask just the right question that would lead to an hour-long conversation with a teen. I often sat by quietly in amazement at what seemed to come so naturally to some of the other guides.

But, like anything, practice and a few good resources helped me grow and become more comfortable asking questions of teens. What worked for me was a game called The Ungame. It is the simplest game in the world and turned out to be one of the best games to get teens talking in groups. You pass the deck around and each person picks a card. Each card in the deck has a simple question on it. Then you go around and each person answers the question. Simple right?

the-ungame-300dpiThe deck of cards is divided into two categories. Category one cards are more lighthearted questions such as “Talk about your favorite sport and why you like it” or “In what ways does TV influence your life?” Category two cards are a little more deep or serious, such as “Which of your senses do you value the most?” or “What kind of emergency scares you the most?”

I would always keep The Ungame on my desk and use it as an icebreaker with various small group meetings. Starting with the category one cards was a great way to begin to get to know each other better and form connections. I would find that these random questions would allow teens to then open up about their passions or their deepest fears. And because the questions came from a deck of cards and not me, they were more likely to answer.

I remember one time in particular when I was taking a group of teens to a leadership conference and we had a four- to six-hour van ride. After a few rounds of arguing over what music to play I mentioned that I had The Ungame in my bag. The teens, probably 8–10 in all, were very excited and started facilitating the game by themselves. They decided that since they had played the game previously as a group that they would change up our rules: for every card that was drawn, we would go around and each person would answer the question. They played the game for what felt like three hours. It was great because I barely did anything but drive and listen. It was the quickest drive with teens in my life and I felt like by the time we arrived at our destination, the teens truly knew each other and had developed a deeper appreciation of and trust for each other.

The cool thing about a game like The Ungame is that you can set it up how ever you’d like. If the group is still relatively new, start with category one cards and not allow any questions or comments. If the group has been around each other and demonstrates that they are comfortable with each other, use category two cards and allow people to ask follow-up questions to others’ responses.

Using a tool like The Ungame helped me become more comfortable asking teens questions that truly mattered. I ended up realizing that many of them were waiting for someone to ask them deeper questions and allow them to share their thoughts, feelings and struggles. I realize now that I had more anxiety over asking these questions than they had in responding to me. Now I really enjoy asking teens questions.

Tips for Youth Workers and Parents:

  • Be prepared. Some people are great at asking questions in the moment, but if you are like me this can be difficult. Spend time thinking and even writing down open-ended questions and conversations starters for the groups or teens you interact with. Now, I don’t recommend changing a conversation just to ask your question. Try to fit questions in the conversation or use them when there is a lull.
  • Listen to what they are saying and follow up. Once the conversation ends, think about a follow-up question you could ask next time you see them. This shows that you were listening and that you truly care. I sometimes dealt with over 100 teens a day and would often jot down little notes of conversations I have with certain teens to help me remember them later.
  • Have a favorite or go-to question with a purpose. I was mentoring a teen through the court system and found it hard to create conversation, especially around some of the issues he needed help and guidance with. So I began asking him “What good choices did you make this week?” each time I saw him. At first he had trouble answering and I would have to dig a little deeper. But after a year of weekly meetings he would come up to me answering the question before I even had a chance to ask it. This guided our conversation and also brought his positive choices to the forefront of our conversation and his mind instead of the negative choices that he was accustomed to talking about.

Teen Culture Articles of Interest

I have heard great leaders and innovators say that they are constantly reading. They do this to educate themselves, stay in the know about what is going on concerning topics of interest and to help them plan their next steps. I personally try to make time to read each day. Some days it is books, other days just articles of interest. This has been one of the most beneficial practices I have started in terms of helping me be more knowledgeable on a given topic (Teen Culture for example) and become forward thinking about how we need to engage teens in todays culture.

For those of you who have not yet started your own reading time or currently do not have the time, here are some articles I read recently that stand out.

How Prepared Are Your Students for College? From Kara Powell of StickyFaith.org. With a GREAT supporting Infographic from USA Today Education. A couple stand-out statistics to me were, “5 in 10 College Freshmen cannot find New York or Ohio on a Map” and “over half-a-million college freshmen drop out every year.” It is an eye opening read about how prepared our teens are for college courses today.

Why Fast, Cheap, and Easy Design Is Killing Your Nonprofit’s Brand. This article in FastCompany written by Heath Shackleford is not about teen culture. But if you have a program you are trying to grow, it has great advice for today’s Non-Profit. It asks the following question, “If you’re a nonprofit, ask yourself these questions. Do you want to fit in, or do you want to stand out? Do you want to “look pretty” or do you want to be effective?” I am guessing each of you want to stand out and be effective right? Start by checking out this article.

‘Cool’ kids in middle school bully more, UCLA psychologists report This new study looks at students in Middle school who were labeled the coolest and the most aggressive at the same time. It raises the issue that, “effective anti-bullying programs need to focus on the bystanders, who play a critical role and can either encourage or discourage bullying.” Work with middle school students? Then you need to read this article.

Here are a couple of more articles of interest:

What articles or books are you currently reading?

The Mindset List for the Class of 2016

In order to fully engage with teens you need to have an understanding of where they are coming from. If you have heard me speak about teens previously, you have probably heard me get on my soap box and say that a few times. What I am saying is you need to know what is their current culture like. What are some of the same experiences they are going through that you went through as a teenager. And what are some of the differences between when you were a teen and teens today.  Having some of these basic understandings can ultimately open the doors to a positive dialogue and relationship.

One of the best examples I have seen of an organizations practicing this (with no influence from me at all) is Beloit College in Wisconsin. Each year since 1998, two staff members have created “The Mindset List” that “provides a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students entering college this fall.” The list was created for faculty, to provide them a snapshot of the incoming class of students and help them not make outdated references. The list has since taken off and is viewed well outside the walls of just Beloit University.

Here are a few of the 75 points made on this years list.

  • They watch television everywhere but on a television.
  • Probably the most tribal generation in history, they despise being separated from contact with their similar-aged friends.
  • There have always been blue M&Ms, but no tan ones.’
  • Having made the acquaintance of Furby at an early age, they have expected their toy friends to do ever more unpredictable things.
  • They have lived in an era of instant stardom and self-proclaimed celebrities, famous for being famous.
  • The Real World has always stopped being polite and started getting real on MTV.
  • Having grown up with MP3s and iPods, they never listen to music on the car radio and really have no use for radio at all.
  • Since they’ve been born, the United States has measured progress by a 2 percent jump in unemployment and a 16 cent rise in the price of a first class postage stamp.

Even just these few points give you a glimpse into the culture and mindset of this generation of college students. For starters, they are more connected to each other through technology than ever before.  But it also allows us to reflect and say wow, I cannot imagine growing up having never experienced or known…(insert your own thought here).  It opens your eyes and if used correctly can open up great conversations with this groups of teens.

I am pleased to see the authors created an accompanying guide this year with a more in-depth overview and some “How Too’s” for using this list to engage students in discussion. If you work with teens who are entering college this year, or have teens who are entering college this year. Make sure you check out the whole list/guide and figure out the best way you can use it to learn more about this generation while sharing a little bit about your generation.

The full list and guide can be found on the Beloit College website.

Teens and How they View Social Media

A majority of the time when I am speaking to adults about social media and teens they  have very negative views. Usually based on news stories they have seen in the media.  Yes teen use social media, we all know that.  But it is not as negative or all encompassing as many adults may perceive. A new report from Common Sense Media titled “Social Media, Social Life: How Teens View Their Digital Lives” sheds light on how teens view social media, and there are some very positive findings. And to make it even better they created a nice Infographic for those who don’t want to sift through all the findings. (Common Sense Media is an organization providing families trustworthy information to thrive in a world of media and technology)

Here is the great Infographic, below I will provide a few helpful youth worker tips bases on findings of this study.

Youth Worker and Parent Tips:

  • The report clearly shows that in person is their favorite way to communicate (followed by texting). Don’t get caught up in trying to publicize or reach teens for your program via social media. Meet them face to face. Take them out for a meal, hang out where teens are, engage them. Use social media and texting as a way to communicate and supplement word of mouth communication not take over for it.
  • Just over half of teens feel social media can help their relationships with family and friends. I find this to be true when I speak with teens. They feel they can keep in touch and see what is going on in each others daily lives even if they live far away. Especially if it is not a friend or family member they are able to connect with regularly.  As a parent, connect with other family members on social media sites and encourage your family to connect with your kids. This can allow your teens to feel more connected to their extended family making family get-togethers less awkward.
  • There is a large group of teens (and adults if we are honest with ourselves) who feel addicted to social media and wish they could disconnect. Create opportunities for teens to disconnect. Don’t be forceful and make this something you do everyday for long periods of time. But maybe if you are going on a field trip, having a lock-in or going on a family outing you ask everyone (adults too) to try to refrain from using technology. Doing this periodically can help teach teens how to step away from technology and be more engaged in the moment.

Articles on My Brain

When I started this blog I set a goal of blogging once a week, so far that has not happened. But I also set the standard that family came first and I would not put blogging before family time.  Recently I have been traveling for work to provide training to youth workers and that has eaten up a lot of my time so I have been carving opportunities to just hang with my wife and kids.

Instead of a normal blog entry today what I thought I would do is share with you some of the articles that I have found interesting lately. I hope you find them interesting as well.

Teens Text more than Adults, but They’re Still Just Teens by and posted on the website The Daily Beast (The online home of Newsweek Magazine).  I appreciated how this article put teens technology use in perspective. Here is one of the most powerful quotes from the article that had me jumping out of my seat in agreement, “Teens with strong social support will thrive regardless of whether they are talking to their friends in person, on the phone or through Facebook. And those teens at-risk—due to abuse, drugs, poverty, or mental health issues—are still in desperate need of empathy and resources.”

This next article was not specific to teens but when talking about the dangers of teens having easy access to technology these days, the access to pornography is always brought up. Any youth worker who works with teen boys needs to be aware of what it is doing to their brains. Here is one article I read recently on the topic titled, “This is your Brain on Porn” by Michael Cusick and posted on RelevantMagazine.com.  When talking about the dangers of teens having access to technology so easily these days the access to pornography is always brought up.

And last this article hit home for me. I admit, I often struggle with the need to check my Facebook or twitter accounts frequently or respond to the most recent notification icon flashing on my phone. This article by Eric Dye posted on ChurchMag titled “Don’t Be a Smartphone Parent” was a good reminder for me about how important non-distracted family time can be. Recently I even turned off the notifications on my phone while on a short vacation. But I also downloaded instagram because of the cool pictures I could take of my kids.

That is just a sample of some of the articles I am reading that relate to working with teens or parenting. I hope you find them as interesting as I did. If you have an article that has challenged you or inspired you please pass it along, I would love to read it.

Initial Thoughts and Reflections on Sticky Faith

In my ten years of working with teens, I have found several great resources that are made available through Christian or religious organizations.  These newsletters, blogs and website do a phenomenal job of tracking teen trends and having a pulse on current teen culture.  Over the last few months, several of these sites have mentioned new research by the Fuller Youth Institute called Sticky Faith.  The study followed teens who graduated from a church or youth group (involved/dedicated teens) into their college years. They found that 40-50% of youth fail to stick to their faith in college. Interpreted: these youth were not prepared to live out their faith, which they learned through their church and families, once they entered college.

I have been reading snippets here and there about this study recently and contemplating the thought that if close to 50% of youth back away from their faith in college, who is to say the same is not true for youth who belong to other groups. That youth who belong to school or afterschool programs that focus on positive character traits won’t toss out all of what they learned once they face their first tough situation?  I personally have seen this play out.  I have seen teens make great strides in high school, turn their lives around and begin making positive choices, teens who we thought are going to be the exception and “make it out.” Only to watch them make poor choices just months after graduating high school that drastically alter their course.  Often I have had the thought, what more could we have done?

It is with these thoughts bouncing around in my head that I jumped at the chance to hear the author of Sticky Faith, Dr. Kara Powell (Executive Director of Fuller Youth Institute), speak about the research and what we can do to make a larger impact in youth.  Now I will say that I have not read the book yet, and the talk I attended was geared towards parents. So my thoughts are still very initial in nature. But I am going to focus on some of the take-a-ways I had of what we (youth workers, youth ministers, parents) can do to intentionally to impact our youth and teens on a deeper level.

Dr. Powell introduced the 5:1 ratio.  In youth programs there is typically five or more youth to each adult. They are recommending the opposite, that there be 5 adults investing in the life of every youth.  They found that those youth who had a connection to several adults in regards to their faith growing up were more likely to stick with their faith in college.  To me this reminds me of the wrap-around approach used successfully by many social service agencies. Having multiple adults speaking truth into a teens life, being there for them, holding them accountable, being a role model for them.  This has a greater impact than just having one caring adult speaking into their life.  Now that does not mean each youth serving organization now needs to hire more staff.  These adults can be extended family members, teachers, coaches etc.

The second big piece I took away, and have already implemented with my own daughter, is being intentional about your conversations and allowing youth to ask questions. She gave an example from her family where they ask each other, “How did you see God at work today?”  A hope her is that rather than religion begin a set of rules to teens, they begin to see how God is apart of their daily life.  This concept might be a little too much for my four-year old daughter, but she does understand good and bad choices. So today I asked her about what good and bad choices she made today and we talked about it for a couple of minutes. Then I encouraged her to ask me and her mother the same question. Which of course she did with a big smile on her face. To me it is about being intentional with the character I am trying to instil in my daughter. Taking time daily to reflect on our choices, our motives and how those impact each other.  I don’t want her to be good because someone told her too, I want her to make good choices because she sees the positive effect it has on her and others.

Those are just some of the initial thoughts swirling around in my head based on the short seminar I attended.  I am excited to dive into the book, read a few more articles and reflect more on how we can be more intentional with the youth we serve and our own children so that they will have faith and character that sticks once they enter the real world. Be on the look out for more on this topic in the weeks and months to come.

 For more information check out the Sticky Faith Website.