At our four-day retreat/camp, over Memorial Day weekend, there were 4 members who had never been to camp and two new volunteers.  Often, I find myself, as camp director, more concerned about the care and feeding of our volunteers than our campers.  I know that our long-time volunteers endeavor to make camp a great experience for everyone, especially first timers.  But new volunteers can sometimes be swept away by the activity and hustle of the fun-time activities, chapel services and mealtime.

Here are some things that I endeavor to do to make sure that the new volunteers’ experiences are valuable to them.

  • I try to spend one-on-one time with each one.  This year, I drove one volunteer with me to camp and I put the other one in my cabin.  In this way, I was sure that there was time spent with each of them.
  • I ask them often, if they understand what is happening and if they need help.
  • I try to give them a job that they will believe is valuable.  People are different.  Each person will value different tasks. If a person is a people person, he will be good at tasks that involve interaction with others.  If a person is task-oriented, she will want jobs to do.  Unless she is given assigned tasks, she will feel undervalued.
  • I try to be sure that the task assigned is easy enough that it can be accomplished successfully.  Everyone–no matter how prestigious our position in life–wants to be successful.  Putting someone in a place where s/he will fail will ensure that this volunteer won’t ever return.
  • Allow a tad of leeway for mistakes.  Every first timer will break a rule or two.  First Timers don’t want to do it; but they can’t be expected to know or remember all the rules.  You must assure them that they will probably find another rule that they will break; but it’s only because they didn’t know.  While we have pre-camp training, it seems that every new volunteer finds at least one rule that they didn’t hear or understand.
  • Don’t take away a job before the new volunteer has had the opportunity to finish it.  I learned this by making some brutal mistakes.  One year, I made two extremely valuable volunteers most unhappy by giving them a job.  I didn’t explain to them that I needed them to fill in for me while I did another task, then I would take the job back.  Before they could finish the task, I said, “I’ll take over now.”  They were both crushed and told me. Their assumption was that I was taking the job back because I didn’t think they were capable.   I am deeply grateful to them for telling me and allowing me to grow.
  • Don’t give a new volunteer a job that is too hard for them.  One year, I assigned an extreme capable person a difficult task.  Because they were new working with our population, the task overwhelmed them.  I was extremely sorry that I had given them the task.  They worked through the task but their time at camp was not as productive as it could have been.
  • Allow your more senior volunteers to minister to the newer workers.  Sometimes, your senior workers can give them insights that you do not have.  When I have gone to other camps, I’ve  been deeply grateful for the more senior workers who have filled me with the ins and outs of what is needed.

Naturally, this is not a complete list but you get the point.  Nurturing your volunteers is a valuable job and one that you must be equipped to handle.