Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Week in the Life of...


It's been about two months since I moved to Little Rock and started my first big girl jobby job. Seeing as how I have been out of touch with the interwebs for a while, I figured some of you might enjoy a "play-by-play" describing a typical week in my new life as the Volunteer Coordinator for Camp Aldersgate. First things first--what is Camp Aldersgate? See below for our mission statement:

Camp Aldersgate, Inc., a non-profit organization, enriches the lives of children and youth who have medical or physical conditions or developmental delays and their families, as well as senior adults, through educational and recreational opportunities in an out-of-doors camp environment.

Our vision is to set the standard for a camping environment that encourages normalcy, socialization, and inclusiveness to persons with diverse abilities and needs.

We offer camps for children and youth who have conditions such as cancer, muscular dystrophy, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, diabetes, arthritis, asthma, epilepsy, kidney disorders, autism, Down syndrome, and mental retardation. Hundreds of campers come each year from across Arkansas and from surrounding states to enjoy an experience of a lifetime.


With that out of the way, just what does the Volunteer Coordinator for Camp Aldersgate do? Keep reading to find out!

Sunday: I arrive around 9:15 to prepare for the day's activities. Mornings include checking-in teen volunteers (10 a.m.)--gathering their health screening forms, providing their name tags (wristbands)/t-shirts, and informing teens of the cabins in which they will be working. We have an orientation meeting to go over policies and procedures, distribute break schedules, discuss any special information for the week, and describe opening-day assignments. After lunch (12:30 p.m.), I train volunteers for additional responsibilities such as health care assistant work, and manning the phones for registration. Sometimes, I try to sneak in a little record keeping or paperwork before camper registration starts at 2 o'clock. During registration, I take photos of all the campers under our big camp sign. (These photos are posted in the office for the duration of the week, to help our staff and visitors get to know our campers just a little it better.) Once registration ends around 5 or 5:30, I'm free to leave for the day.

Monday: As with all weekdays at camp, I arrive just a little earlier than required (8:15 ish), to grab (free) breakfast with the campers/staff. I check to see if there are any important messages or e-mails waiting for me, and then head out to morning activities in hopes of making myself visible (available) and spending some time with the campers, volunteers, and counselors. Usually, I spend Mondays with my favorite "archery girls," and I also try to check in with our fabbbulous "art lady." These activities are located closest to our office and I'm generally pretty slow moving on Mondays, ha.

At lunch each day, I distribute mail to campers, counselors, and volunteers. I try to check-in with many of the senior counselors to see if there are any challenges with volunteers that need my attention. In the afternoon, I check messages, return e-mails, and begin gathering the list of volunteers who are set to arrive the following week. On either Mondays or Tuesdays, I send out a reminder e-mail and Facebook invitation to all volunteers who are assigned to the following week of camp. I also follow up with any of those volunteers who are missing paperwork such as references, proof of TB skin test, or registration fees. Mondays, I am usually able to head out of camp around 5 p.m.

Tuesday: Oh Tuesdays, my long day. On Tuesdays, I try to make it out to our Adventure Challenge course (zipline and low-ropes elements). It's a bit of a trek out to this part of camp, so I try to get my tail in high gear to visit this activity on Tuesday, with the incentive of getting it out of the way earlier in the week. ;) If I hadn't gotten a chance to initiate contact with the coming week's volunteers, I make sure I do this on Tuesday afternoon. Often times, volunteers will begin to confirm their attendance for the following week and it is common for volunteers or their parents to contact me with questions regarding packing lists, break schedules, or paperwork. I also start to work on the cabin list, placing volunteers in cabins and figuring out ratios for certain activities.

In the late afternoon, I prepare for the Tuesday night volunteer meeting. This involves making a list of talking points (reminders for the volunteers), outlining in my head the night's activity and meeting process, as well as gathering snacks and drinks. I put a variety of drinks in a cooler with ice, and gather some snacks to be set out later that night. As much as possible, I try to leave camp right at 5 p.m., to have dinner and rest for a bit at my apartment before heading back around 9:30 for the 10 p.m. volunteer meeting.

In these meetings, I try to do a name game (Hey--I manage 25 teens each week, it takes work to learn 150+ names!) coupled with an activity that encourages teens to discuss a high and low point of the week so far. To be creative, I switch it up by calling it the rose/thorn, laffy/taffy, butter/honey, or sweet/sour moments. Hehe. Following these activities, I make a point of encouraging a specific "goal" for the rest of the week, which often relates to a common theme expressed by volunteers in their "low point" stories. We also talk about any issues counselors relayed regarding volunteers, such as reminders to put the campers first, keep a positive attitude, avoid PDA, or to respect others. Then, I encourage the teens to enjoy their snacks, while I pull each cabin group aside to talk about any cabin-specific questions or concerns. Volunteers often spend this time rambling about camper stories or how great (sometimes bad) their counselors are. I try to have everyone out of the meeting by 11 p.m., so they can get back to their cabins before curfew at 11:15. At this point, I have to turn out the lights in our Commons building, lock up all the doors, walk to my car and lock the camp gate in the dark, then drive back to my apartment around 11:30 p.m. Whewww.... what a long day and a creepy ending to the night.

Wednesday: By Wednesday, I'm usually pooped, especially with the late night on Tuesday. In the mornings, I welcome our corporate groups (volunteers) who come out to help with Fishing Derby on Wednesdays and Thursdays. For first-time groups, myself and our Director of Development or the Executive Director welcomes the group, gives them an overview of camp history and programs, and provides an opportunity to view our camp DVD. Then, I (and sometimes one of the other staff members, depending on the size of the group) use a golf cart to take the group down to the lake for fishing. If the group brings snacks (such as popsicles), I also help with getting those into a cooler with ice, and bring it down to the lake with us. Around lunchtime, I take the group back up to the front parking lot, thank them for their help, and send them on their way, sometimes to return again the following one for another day of fishing.

If I haven't heard from all of the following week's volunteers by Wednesday, then I start making phone calls and follow-up e-mails to seek their acknowledgement for arriving at camp the coming Sunday. By this point, I sometimes have to start looking for replacement volunteers, for those who have conflicts, or had to back out for whatever reason. I start this process by looking for volunteers who indicated their availability on the application, looking first for those on the waiting list, second for those who are at camp this week (easy access! haha.), and third for those who have already been out to camp and did a great job while they were here. It can take a bit of time and several calls before finding someone to fill an open spot, especially at such the last minute.

I also start to pull files for the volunteers who will be at camp the following week, since I set those out near my desk for the duration of their week of camp--just in case I need to grab quick information such as a phone number or health form. On Wednesdays, I usually jet out of camp as soon as I can, typically exhausted from the late night and half week of work already under my belt.

Thursday: Thursday is the day for do-or die. If there is a group coming for Fishing Derby, I transport them and spend the morning out at the lake as their camp "escort." If not, I try to make it out to the nature activity at some point, and maybe re-visit art or archery again.

Throughout the week, I follow-up with counselors and volunteers for any issues that arose, and if those issues aren't smoothed out by Thursday, then I prepare myself for dealing with poor volunteer evaluations (given by counselors). I review the evaluations that are turned in on Thursday mornings, and sometimes I go out to meet with volunteers who need a "come to Jesus meeting" (for lack of a better term). Using the counselors' evaluations and my own observations, an evaluation is completed on each teen volunteer, each week. These evaluations are distributed on Friday mornings (more about that soon).

On Thursday afternoon, I make edits to the following week's cabin list and then devise the volunteers' break schedule based on cabin ratios for counselors/volunteers and campers at specific times of the day. I also spend time making copies of volunteer health forms, to put in a binder that is updated weekly and kept in the Health Care Center, should a volunteer take medications or in the case that an emergency arises (yes, this has happened this summer). If volunteer issues or other situations occur throughout the week, these tasks may get pushed off until late Thursday afternoon, at which point, I may have to stay later in the day to make sure it is all done before the closing ceremony on Friday.

Friday: I print a certificate for the recipient of the Volunteer of the Week award, which is voted on by counselors at their Thursday night meeting. In the morning, I try to attend to last minute business, such as phone calls or e-mails, getting camper signatures on a thank-you card for our corporate volunteers, following up with last-minute volunteer issues, and checking on the status of the laundry in the Health Care Center (health care assistants' duties). This often translates to me running around camp looking rather frazzled as I rush to get it all done before the start of closing ceremonies.

At 10 a.m., I head over the the Commons building to set up the camp store and help our Grant Writer with camper check-up, as well as the distribution of free camper tickets to a camp fundraiser at our local water park. Closing ceremony starts at 10:30, and sometimes I finish up volunteer evaluations while counselors distribute camper awards. Toward the end of the ceremony, I take the floor to thank our corporate and teen volunteers, and present the award for Volunteer of the Week. Since I am new to the position, and counselors spend so much more time with the volunteers, I use a counselor-provided "nomination form" to explain why this person has received the award.

After the closing ceremony, I herd the teen volunteers into our "staff lounge" for a short meeting. There, I thank them for their hard work, and ask them to complete an evaluation describing their experiences for the week. At this time, I distribute their evaluations and ask them to look over the evaluation, ask any questions they have, and sign the sheet which will be kept in their file. I also talk about opportunities for volunteering at weekend camps, and hand out a flyer announcing an end-of-the summer picnic to be held on the last day of summer camp. On their way out of the meeting, I thank them again and explain the process for packing up their stuff when their parents pick them up.

Once the volunteers head out, I head back to the office to tie up any loose ends for the week, and make sure that everything is ready to start another week of camp on Sunday. On a good day, I can be out of camp by 1:30 on Friday afternoons. Then, I head to my apartment, grab a bite for a late lunch, and crash on the couch with my remote and the DVR. Can anyone say TGIF?! my one day off (aka: the day Lauren does absolutely nothing)...and then it's back to work on Sunday to do it all over again!

Sheesh. I didn't realize how much stuff I do in a typical week! Well, I guess now it makes sense as to why I'm so darn exhausted at the end of it all. In any case, the summer is nearly over now, but that doesn't mean my job is going to be any less interesting. Okay, maybe it will be (slightly), but I'll be sure to let you know what weekend camps look like, as well as fall recruiting, and later, the interview/application intake process. At this rate, I'll never be bored... right? :)

Until later.

P.S. I have to say, the perk of three free meals a day at camp, sure is a great one! I haven't grocery shopped since at least mid-June, and I'm quite okay with that!