Toolkit for Working with Rural Volunteers

There is a partnership between the US Office of Surface Mining (OSM), AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), and community/watershed improvement organizations that coordinates and trains OSM/VISTAs who live and work in host communities throughout seven states in the Appalachian coalfields and the hardrock mining belt of Colorado and New Mexico. These VISTAs, in their role as national service volunteers, work on projects that promote economic redevelopment, community engagement and environmental stewardship in rural areas that have been hit hard by economic downturns and environmental degradation. “The OSM/VISTA Teams believe that restoring local environments is an opportunity for long-term solutions to severe poverty in mining regions, and the foundation for community mobilization and economic redevelopment in communities. OSM/VISTAs work side-by-side with volunteers in local community/watershed improvement organizations to support community revitalization and engagement efforts.”

The OSM/VISTA Teams completed a three-year research project on rural volunteerism throughout Appalachia and the Rocky Mountain West with funding from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds. After engaging in place-based research in 34 rural communities, the partnership created the Toolkit for Working with Rural Volunteers to share approaches to volunteer recruitment, management and retention that are successful in rural settings. It’s USA-centric, but the recommendations are great for places outside the USA as well.

One part of the toolkit, Rural Volunteer Management Practices – Case Studies, summarizes 25 different volunteer practices that work for this partnership. “We know they work because we first identified practices that were working well in a rural community, transplanted those practices to 50 other places and then watched them for a year to see how they worked in a different context.”  I love that, in this section, they talk about partnering with off-road and 4×4 groups, with mandatory service volunteers, and with student-athlete volunteers. When do you EVER hear any volunteer management consultant talk about how to partner with these three groups? I think outdoor groups in particular, like motorcycle riding groups, hiking organizations and others are amazing targets for volunteer recruitment campaigns – and largely under-utilized.

There is also a section of worksheets, templates and checklists that any organization working in rural areas (or, frankly, ANYWHERE) will find useful as they begin a project or as they carry that project out to success.

You can also download the complete pdf workbook: oolkit for Working with Rural Volunteers. (Select “File” > “Download” under document title).

Well done Appalachian Coal Country Team (ACCT) and the Western Hardrock Watershed Team (WHWT) for this AWESOME resource. It represents what I love so much about AmeriCorps VISTA: it’s not only about helping local people, it’s not only about giving the volunteers an amazing experience they will take into their post-national service work, it’s also about learning and sharing what works and what doesn’t with everyone. I am such an AmeriCorps VISTA fan girl!

Thank you, Energize, Inc. for bringing this to my attention via Facebook!

I have worked with AmeriCorps members many times. I helped put together a handbook for AmeriCorpsVISTAs in charge of managing school-based volunteers for Sanchez Elementary School in Austin, Texas, written by various AmeriCorps members over the years in the program. I also have frequently trained AmeriCorps members on volunteer management 101, and I have a page especially for AmeriCorps members that curates the volunteer management resources I reference in my workshops.

Also see:

AmeriCorps, VISTA, other CNCS programs could soon be gone

Corporation for National and Community Service needs a makeover?

Ideas for Leadership Volunteering Activities

Screening Volunteers for Attitude

My resources re: volunteer support / engagement / management

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