Working with Service-Learning Students

November 30, 2011

Service learning has become huge over the past decade in Minnesota. Many high schools and colleges are making ‘service learning’ a requirement for a student’s educational experience. Many students are looking for shorter term projects that create impact for your organization. Not only do they want to complete the requirement, but they want to make a difference in their community. If your organization is ready for them to serve, you will help to great a stream of invaluable resources.


Some steps that your organization can do so that service learning can become second nature includes: creating a list of opportunities that students can participate and complete in short time; being flexible with the days & hours that they can serve since many students are only available in the later afternoon, early evenings, or weekend time slots; and, able to get the student(s) through the application & orientation processes quickly so they can begin their experience.


Organizations can also build relationships with some of the junior high schools, senior high schools, and colleges that are close in proximity to them. Connect with the service-learning staff so that they are aware of the needs within your organization and can keep students informed on what’s available.


Once the service-learning requirement has been completed, make sure to complete the necessary evaluation forms for the students and thank them for the work they provided. An exit interview geared towards service-learning students is a great tool so you can ask what went well and what needs improvement so the organization can improve the experience for future service-learning students.


Quotes from service-learning students:


“I was able to experience people with disabilities on a weekly basis. I brought the guys [I volunteered with] to restaurants, Timberwolves games, Vikings games, and shopping. It was a great experience and recommends it to anyone”.


-Simon Gondeck, student from Benilde St-Margaret


I had so much fun volunteering at Hammer! At first, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but through this experience I learned a lot and became really close to the girls that I worked with. On our visits, we would go to movies, go shopping, do make overs, play the Wii, or do other activities that that I would never expect to do while volunteering. I had a great time! And I would definitely recommend to anyone looking [for a service learning experience] to volunteer here!

Lizzy Geiwitz, student from Benilde St-Margaret


Katie Bottiger

Director of Volunteer Resources



Happy Anniversary: Ten MAVA-lous Years!

November 9, 2011

It’s hard to believe that ten years have passed since the formation of the Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration.  I was lucky to join 90-plus individuals to commemorate this event at the MAVA Annual Meeting.  It was a grand celebration with video and skyping (the lovely Susan Ellis joined us from Philadelphia) – a technology none of us were even familiar with 10 years ago (the skyping, not the video.)  If you missed this great event, or even if you were there, I encourage you to do something to celebrate.  Check out the helpful 10 Things You Can Do to Celebrate MAVA

Part of the celebration involved storytelling.  Our first Board Chair, Sue DeGolier and our first Membership Chair, Denise Renee Wollenburg, interviewed Strategist, Judie Russell about the history of MAVA – some I remembered and some I’d forgotten.  Back in the ‘90’s,  Minnesota had many networks for leaders of volunteers.  It was hard to know what to join.  So many organizations were around that when a national meeting on volunteer engagement was held in Washington, DC no one from Minnesota was present as national leaders didn’t know who to call – and Minnesota was considered a leader in the field of volunteer management.  This got the magical mind of Judie Russell turning, and through her efforts, and a few others, a statewide network was born.

Frankly, if one thinks of the events of the last 10 years, it’s truly amazing that MAVA exists at all today.  The MAVA kick-off was held in November, 2001—with Key Note Speaker, Susan Ellis – just two months after the tragic events of September 11.  There was so much uncertainty at that time – while that first meeting was filled with hope, there was also fear, not just for the future of this little organization, but for the country in general.  Things looked even bleaker when the Minnesota Office of Citizenship and Volunteer Services (MOCVS) – where MAVA office was to be located – was eliminated by the Ventura Administration.  Then, after only two years of existence, MAVA lost its Executive Director – we just weren’t generating enough funds to afford one.

Despite these things, MAVA continues – and I believe this wonderful organization continues to exist because of its outstanding membership.  Our numbers of grown from just about 200 to over 800 in the past 10 years.  Financial contributions aren’t the only things keeping us afloat – the time and talents of many dedicated folks help keep us going.  Board members provide strategic direction; committee members provide sweat equity; volunteer trainers share their expertise while raising funds for the organization through the Volunteer Leaders Impact series and other trainings.  Then there’s the hard work of our MAVA staff, Mary Quirk and Katie Bull, but that’s a blog for another day!  You too can support MAVA, either with your time and talents, or by contributing financially (or both!)  Give to the Max Day is coming up on November 16.  By giving money on this day, MAVA has the chance to win even more money, thus increasing your donation.  More information can be found at:

So, as they say, “we’re still here.”  Organizations like MAVA are needed now more than ever.  While our expertise in our field continues to grow, our value is often challenged.  It remains to be seen how or if the Corporation for National and Community Service will be funded.  Leaders of volunteers are often the first positions cut or made part-time when times are tough (check out the November Hot Topic from Susan Ellis’ Energize Inc. — Part-time Volunteer Management Means Equally Limited Volunteer Management  Get involved and make the next 10 years even MAVA-lous, not MAVA-less!

Terry Straub, University of MN Extension Master Gardener Program in Hennepin County

Adventures in (Not) Volunteering

November 2, 2011

As an AmeriCorps VISTA service member, my next year of employment is one extended volunteer experience.  Despite the fact that 40 hours of my week is spent serving, I went looking for an opportunity to use my undergraduate degree, Environmental Studies, to flex my green(ish) muscles.  Little did I know, finding a volunteer opportunity would be more difficult than I had imagined!

The first organization with which I made contact worked with youth and environmental issues, and mentioned a possible “virtual mentorship” that involved online, environmental advising of youth.  While in-person contact with youth was more what I was searching for, I thought I’d contact the organization anyway to try to learn more about their opportunities.  There was no contact information for a volunteer manager, so I completed the online contact form with my information and explained my interest in the program.  Because I didn’t want to overwhelm myself with commitments, I contacted only this organization.  Days and then a week and a half passed, and I had heard nothing.  Because I wasn’t overly excited about the actual position, I wasn’t persistent about making contact with someone from the organization, but was still surprised I was (seemingly) ignored.

Annoyed but not undeterred, I made another attempt, hoping this time for success!  Referred by a friend to an organization that works with youth, food, and agriculture, I was optimistic that this time things would work out.  My focus within my major was food and agriculture, so that plus the hands-on aspect of this possible position was much more attractive to me than any sort of virtual service, anyway.  I downloaded the volunteer application and spent a fair amount of time working on it and describing my previous experience and interests.  After it was completed I was a bit guiltily proud of myself; working in volunteer management has really made me appreciate complete, thorough applications!  I emailed the form to the designated party and waited for a response.  Miraculously, I had a response within 24 hours!  I was told I would be added to a list of volunteers and would soon receive an email listing all of the fall volunteer opportunities.  I was unsure what “soon” meant, so after four days I sent an email thanking them for getting back to me and reiterating my interest.  Then, when everything seemed to be aligning – I had found an opportunity that fit perfectly with my interests, a human was responding to me – the contact stopped!  I received neither a list of the fall volunteer opportunities nor a follow-up email.  As I was writing this I was struck with anxiety that the email had ended up in my spam folder and I had completely missed it.  But, unfortunately, nothing.  It’s been a month since I sent my check-in email, and in the interim I was too frustrated to contact them again, although I probably should have.

Or maybe I shouldn’t have contacted them?  It’s unclear how much responsibility prospective volunteers and host organizations each have when developing a service relationship, and this has proven to be quite an issue for me.  After taking the time to complete an application, much more time than many volunteers take when filling out applications for the organization I work with, I felt quite slighted when I didn’t receive any contact.  And while my interests aligned almost exactly with the programming, the thought of applying again makes me feel silly and almost ashamed despite my passion for the topic.  I understand that many organizations have limited capacity to manage volunteers, but if volunteers are needed and valued, and interested, dedicated volunteers are available, the organization should create structural support for recruitment and management.

My successive blog posts will chronicle my attempts to volunteer, successful or not, and will reflect my experiences along the way.  I will also act as an (undercover!) potential volunteer at organizations to test the management at a range of organizations and report back.  It should be an espionage- and service-filledVISTAyear!

Kelsea Dombrovski

Neighborhood Resource Coordinator

Minnesota Children’s Museum