On the Subject of Volunteerism and Service Learning

As Public Computing Services Manager at the Albany Public Library, I have had the privilege of directly impacting the lives of patrons from the community that seek workforce development and digital literacy practice and training. The ability to earn money and manipulate the ever-evolving digital world are keys to social and economic mobilization in today’s society. In our Public Computing Center, a staff of three interns and I work one-on-one with patrons on developing sound resumes and cover letters, navigating credible employment listing sites, completing job applications, as well as basic computing help like setting up an email account. By teaching these skills to our patrons, we hope to increase our ability to contribute to a growing digitally literate citizenry, which will help propel individuals, their families, and our city.

One of the keys to running a successful program like this is empowering the individual; looking beyond the deficiencies and focusing on building an initial relationship of trust. People who cannot operate basic technology become, in a way, invisible in the omnipresent digital world, where people are advancing themselves socially, educationally, economically, and professionally. Therefore, we want to establish an intimate relationship predicated on trust so that translucent learning opportunities can be created.

The other important factor here is our staff. I am responsible for managing three volunteer interns from the University at Albany and also the recruitment of future volunteers for the Spring 2014 semester. Anyone that has worked with volunteers knows that quality always beats quantity. I believe that what I can do with three great volunteers can beat out the results of what I would produce with five lesser-competent candidates. This may mean that the lab must operate less hours during the week, but it is sacrifice we are willing to make to run a top-quality professional development center. We are currently operating three weekdays and one Saturday for almost thirty hours a week and reach around three hundred patrons monthly.

I have learned that above all, successful volunteer recruitment can be boiled down to two factors: placement and message. Being at the right place at the right time, like a University-hosted college fair or informational session, makes a big difference in securing potential candidates. Person to person contact is instrumental in delivering your second recruitment factor, the message. Make sure you tailor your message to meet the ideal volunteer you are seeking. Set the tone early about what the position demands, but also, how the experience will benefit the volunteer. As long as you are focusing on the individual, you can eventually begin to affect the community.

Follow Michael on Twitter @mfgioia

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