Makenna Nichols-Harwood Elementary After-School Project

The Purpose

The purpose of this project was to find volunteers for the Harwood Elementary After-School Program by recruiting from the student body at BYU-Idaho. Once the volunteers were found it was my job to create their volunteer schedule and make sure everything went smoothly.

The Project

From September to December of last year I volunteered at Harwood Elementary in Rigby. Due to the challenges that have faced the Rigby community in the past year or two, Harwood created an after-school program to provide a safe place for students until 6 p.m. each day. This after-school program provided the children with opportunities to complete homework, learn new skills, have dinner, and do fun activities. The creators of this program reached out in need of volunteers to help the program run smoothly. I gladly volunteered and enjoyed my experience immensely. As the students went on Christmas break, I learned that the program would be continuing and that once again, volunteers would be needed. I reached out and asked if they would be willing to let me be their volunteer recruiter and manager and they happily accepted.

The Process

The first thing I needed to do was meet with the creators of the after-school program to understand what their needs were. They shared their vision with me and basically told me that they would welcome as many volunteers as I could get.

Next, I needed to find volunteers and I knew that recruiting BYU-Idaho students would be a great way to do that. With this in mind I crafted an email with all of the details of the volunteer opportunity. I then created a list of majors that I felt would be most interested in volunteering with children. That list included the psychology, sociology, education, communication, and marriage and family departments. With this list I contacted the office managers of these departments and asked them to send out the information I had drafted to their students. I knew that they had access to all of the emails of the students in that major and figured it would be an effective way to get the word out to as many people as possible. In the email I had them send I included a survey I created where students could sign up for a day they wanted to volunteer.

After about a week and a half we had 25 volunteers signed up. Before they could start volunteering, they needed to complete some paperwork and a background check, which they did not have to pay for. Once those things were completed, it was time to start volunteering! I created a volunteer schedule based on their availability and then sent all that information to the program leaders at Harwood. For the rest of the semester, I was responsible for checking in and communication with the volunteers. Additionally, because of my experience with the kids at Harwood I did a lot of research on Adverse Childhood Experiences which dramatically affect many children in Idaho and cause a lot of problems. I learned what the different ACE’s are and how they can impact children throughout their life. Creating safe spaces like Harwood has done is a great step in helping these children.

The Challenge

One of the biggest challenges of working with volunteers is that unlike a job, there is little motivation or incentive that will guarantee they do what they said they would do. For example, out of the 25 volunteers who signed up to volunteer, I had 7 contact me the first week of volunteering and say they couldn’t do it anymore. This was after I had reached out to them multiple times in the time leading up to our start day and they hadn’t said anything. This was frustrating because it not only left me scrambling, but it was very unprofessional and frustrated the after-school program leadership. Thankfully this was the only big challenge I faced with this project and the rest of it went really well.

My Insights

It was wonderful to see so many willing to give their time to the kids at Harwood and I know the volunteers benefited just as much as the kids. This project has opened my eyes to the need there is in our community for safety and stability for children. I have loved learning about ACEs and the things that organizations like Harwood are trying to do to help. I will continue to look for opportunities to support these efforts in any way I can.
I got this message from the head of the after-school program a few days ago that made all of the work worth it. She said:
“We loved having your volunteers. Many of them took the intentions of the program to heart and excelled the requirements. Many of them touched the hearts of the children and created great relationships between them.”

Project Video