Help Your Volunteers Look Forward to Your Camp and Mission Trip
Every year, I run five retreats, one camp, and one mission trip—volunteers are the only way I can pull off anything in youth ministry. Overnight trips with students can be pretty rough on volunteers. But if you care for them well during these youth ministry experiences, many of these volunteers will have an amazing time and will want to come back. So how do you create a positive experience for your volunteers?
Create a Volunteer-Only Zone
Your volunteers need a safe place to call their own when they’re serving for an overnight event. During our yearly lock-in, I block off the youth office and stock it with caffeinated beverages and healthy snacks. I set up air mattresses in the side rooms, and I tell my adult volunteers that they may use one if they need to take a nap. This is one way you can care for your volunteers on what can be one of the most grueling nights of the year.
If you’re not on your own campus, it can be tougher to create this zone. Call ahead to see if there is a place you can set aside for volunteers to veg out when they need to. The missions organization I work with schedules daily leaders’ meetings during the students’ devotion time, which gives the leaders an hour to talk to adults and drink Diet Coke while the organization supervises the students. It really makes a difference.
Make Survival Kits
For each retreat, we give leaders a bag filled with gum, healthy snacks, instant coffee, and other goodies they can use over the weekend. Leaders also find these supplies useful for bribing students to talk during small group time.
When necessary, create shifts for volunteers. We know the value in having volunteers who stay for the entire trip, but sometimes it just can’t happen. If you work with a volunteer who is unable or hesitant to stay and you allow them to come for half of the trip, they may look forward to working with you again. I’ve had volunteers commit to half a trip and then decide to stay the whole time because they loved it so much.
Encourage the Justas
Some people consider themselves justas—I’m justa driver. I’m justa parent. I’m justa cook. Push those volunteers a little bit out of their comfort zones, and help them to interact with students.
Last summer, one justa dad signed up for our mission trip in order to care for his daughter who has celiac disease. At the beginning of the trip, this volunteer’s justa attitude really rubbed me the wrong way. My only other volunteer on the trip was a young intern, so I needed this dad to be justa strong leader who could be good at being an adult. By the end of the trip, his attitude had changed, and he had personally connected with the students. Before we went home, we did an affirmation exercise where students shared positive things about the others on the trip. When it was justa dad’s turn, he cried as students affirmed how wonderful he was. He knew he had made a huge impact on these students.
Educate your leaders
It’s important to equip your volunteers so that they go into a trip knowing what they’re doing. When leaders don’t know the topic material, schedule, or cabin assignments, it can cause anxiety. We send out leader packets before the trip, and we discuss what we’ll be doing in a brief leaders’ meeting at the front end of the trip. Make space for your volunteers to ask questions—even if it’s 9:30 the night before the trip.
When you care well for your volunteers, you help them transition from having a justa volunteer attitude to feeling as if they have ownership of the group and the trip experience.
HEATHER LEA CAMPBELL is a Junior High Director in Indianapolis, working with a talented and diverse team of staff and volunteers. Heather has the privilege of writing on various youth ministry platforms across the interwebs, but you can find her blogging about her life in ministry over at HEATHERLEACAMPBELL.ME.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.