Brain Food: SCBWI and SWPFSP

summer reading with kids

Food for Thought

 

I hate being hungry. I can’t concentrate and I’m really grouchy. Imagine if you were a kid who was hungry all summer.  But here in Pittsburgh, that’s not an imaginary thing. It’s real. In fact, there are more than 45,000 children in Allegheny County that are considered to be food insecure, and 73,500 children are eligible for free or reduced-rate school lunches or breakfasts.

So when Chris from the Southwest PA Food Security Partnership approached me and my friend Kathy about helping more kids take advantage of the summer food programs in our area, both of us said YES.

Kathy and I had tables next to each other at the 2015 Farm to Table conference, but we’re also both members of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Chris loved the activities we were offering for children that centered around healthy eating but also had a literary and storytelling component. We met in early summer 2015 and he asked us if we could come to summer food sites and provide fun activities for the kids. He hoped that by advertising visits from local authors kids would be more interested in attending. Kathy and I loved the idea and both realized this was a chance to interact with children (something kids’ authors love) and a chance to feed their minds and their bodies.

But we like to think big. So Kathy and I invited all the members of SCWBI Western PA to join us. We had 14 volunteers sign up and they conducted over 10 visits in Allegheny, Somerset and Cambria counties. SCBWI volunteers read books, played games, and told stories while children enjoyed healthy, free meals.

I took my youngest son with me to two of my visits to my old home library, Carnegie Library Woods Run. I used to walk to that library with my young children and we spent many happy afternoons in the children’s section. When my son and I visited in August we found a welcoming staff and adorable kids with incredible imaginations.

For my visit, I brought copies of my book The Bumpy, Grumpy Road to share with the kids. I wanted give them something, a small gift to spark their imaginations. They gave me gifts, too, because in addition to reading stories we played StoryCubes and made up our own stories. And these kids were AMAZING! The little girl in the photo above and another little boy came up with an incredible tale about a boy who had the shadow of a beetle and a beetle who had the shadow of a boy. They traveled together to a castle where they discovered human king…but a beetle queen. You’ll have to use your imagination to find out what happens next.

We definitely plan to continue this partnership next summer so if you’re a local Pittsburgh author or illustrator get in touch and help us feed imaginations while kids get fed.

Working With Volunteers Made Easy

Working with volunteers can be the most rewarding experience or the most frustrating. Numerous non-profit organizations across the nation rely on volunteers to stuff envelopes, raise money, pick up litter, and donate their time to the cause. It isn’t always easy, but working without volunteers is a frightening possibility for many organizations.

Perhaps due to hectic living, volunteering rates are falling. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the volunteer rates have dropped from 28.8% in 2003 to 25.3% in 2014. That rate didn’t change from 25.4 % in 2013. To put it another way, “about 62.8 million people volunteered through or for an organization at least once between September 2013 and September 2014.”

Volunteers are the heart and soul of groups school parent teacher organizations, food banks, community shelters, and churches. But it’s increasingly harder to find volunteers who can give their time and passion to an organization. We live in a two-income society and families juggle school, jobs and and financial responsibilities. Finding free time on weekends is almost out of the question.

62.8 million is a huge number of people with creative, innovative ideas just waiting to put their skills to use for a mission in which they believe. And volunteers are a valuable, irreplaceable resource. How can organizations keep the volunteers they need and recruit new ones?

There is a lot of competition out there, but some volunteer-based organizations fare better than others. How do successful organizations keep so many volunteers inspired and dedicated?

Working With Volunteers in ways Motivate, Excite and Show Respect

  1. Keep your promises. When a staff member promises a phone call, a meeting, a decision or piece of information, it is imperative that they follow through on the promise. If you want to rely on your volunteers, first, show them they can rely on you.
  2. Make it personal. Some send out handwritten notes to a few key volunteers, some take the time to write notes to every single volunteer they work with. Since a number of staff were once volunteers for their organization, they have affirmed the importance of this personal gesture. It’s also a good idea to learn something personal about your volunteer and be able to mention that topic. Does the volunteer love to talk about their children or pets? Ask how their loved ones are doing and show that you care about them as people, not just valuable resources.
  3. It’s ok to care. It may be your job to raise money for cancer, or for heart disease, or for the local park. But it’s also important to let your volunteers know this is a cause you believe in and that you are emotionally invested. Working with volunteers means sharing emotions and the reasons why the mission matters. Sadness can motivate people, but hope can, too.
  4. Feed them! Food is as powerful a motivator more than any other method. Nothing makes a committee meeting on a Wednesday night easier to bear than food. Anything from chocolate to tea and cookies seems to make people feel appreciated and keep them coming back to help.
  5. WIIFM – What’s in it for me? Finding a person’s WIIFM, or what it is they hope to get out of the volunteer experience, is a great way to make sure they are always satisfied with their responsibilities. Before you being working with volunteers, find out what their goals are. Some people just want to work on the day of the event, helping with registration or handing out buttons. Others want to be a part of the committee and assist with all the planning details. Learn what your volunteers want, and help them achieve that. They will love their time with your organization and return.
  6. Recognition. Not every volunteer is working to get an award, but some are. Some volunteers need to know that their efforts have made a big difference and public recognition is just what they need to feel appreciated and renew their commitment. Yearly volunteer recognition dinners give many of volunteers a chance to shine. But some volunteers prefer a more private show of appreciation. Meet them for lunch, send special thank-yous. They need to feel wanted.
  7. Have fun. Events like 5Ks and mini-golf outings and festivals and attract people because they are FUN. Combine a fantastic event with your mission and keep those volunteers coming back year after year.

Working with volunteers is an art. For more ideas on how to express gratitude to your volunteers, get a copy of Thanks! 100 Wonderful Ways to Appreciate Volunteers. 

thank volunteers, working with volunteers

Don’t Forget to Thank Volunteers

New Ebook Released: “Thanks! 100 Wonderful Ways to Appreciate Volunteers”

I’m so pleased to announce that the new version of Thanks: 100 Wonderful Ways to Appreciate Volunteers is now available on Amazon. This ebook is a handbook full of concrete suggestions for any volunteer manager or leader who needs creative, thoughtful ways to show their gratitude for the hard work volunteers provide.

I’ve been on both sides of the volunteer-organization relationship, and effective gratitude truly stands out to me as an essential piece. It’s not optional.

In 2013, the Independent Sector calculated that the average value of a volunteer hour is worth $22.55. Many non-profit organizations could not begin to pay volunteers that rate for all the work they do. But these same organizations are constantly looking for ways to show volunteers they are valued and appreciated.

It is so hard to find the right volunteer for the task at hand. So organizations look for ways to keep excellent volunteers engaged and to let volunteers know they are valued. One of the best ways to show volunteers they are valued is to frequently utilize their expertise and skills. People love to feel needed.

Another way is to learn who they are as people. In Thanks!, many of the ideas I’ve offered are based upon knowing the personal preferences of the volunteers who donate their time and efforts. Knowing how the volunteers prefer to work, what is motivating their choice to volunteer, and how they prefer to be recognized are key aspects of developing a strong relationship between your organization and your invaluable volunteers.

Gratitude goes a long way and this book offers a hearty list of 100 unique ways to say thanks. What is the best way you’ve ever been thanked for volunteering?

Thank You Notes from Kids

thank you kids thank you notes

Good habits start early

Do you send thank you notes?

Have you ever forgotten to send a thank you note?

I volunteered at our elementary school this month helping with an assembly and the launch of a new school activity, Kids of STEEL. Kids who join this program will get to run together once a week and learn about healthy eating. It’s right up my alley.

But after the assembly ended, our PTO president and principal realized they had forgotten to unroll the giant thank you sign they had created for these kinds of events.

“There’s just so much going on,” lamented our PTO president.

So I opened my big mouth and made this suggestion: “Let the kids take over saying thanks. Have the student government put together a gratitude team, and they can write thank you notes to volunteers and guests.”

We discussed photographing the large thank you sign and creating custom thank you cards. The principal is taking the idea to the teacher who advises student government, and I am hopeful they will give it a try.

The PTO can still write notes or send emails, but I think involving the kids has so many benefits. Writing thank you notes as a kid is almost as important eating healthy and exercises. Writing thank you notes is a physical, active way to help my children develop a strong sense of gratitude. I know that feeling gratitude can go a long way toward helping a child feel happy and satisfied in whatever path they follow in life.

Gratitude and Thank You Notes

I recently finished local Pittsburgh author Britt Reints’ book An Amateur’s Guide to the Pursuit of Happiness. Reints dedicates an entire chapter to the science of gratitude. She cites research that argues when we feel and express gratitude, we are happier. She also emphasizes that gratitude is not the same as feeling indebted, and I am working hard to help my children understand the subtle difference there.

Working with volunteers gives me many times to feel and share my gratitude. Over the past ten years, I have often found myself struggling to find ways to express my gratitude that matches the value of the gifts these volunteers have shared. I collected a list of the 100 most creative and relevant ways I’ve said thanks to volunteers and these ideas are available to you as an e-book called Thanks! 100 Ways to Appreciate Volunteers.

Should you force it?

Some families don’t have a habit of writing thank you notes. I often give my grandmother credit for building the habit for me, but really my mom was just as influential. She would often say, “Write the thank you note, or we’ll never hear the end of it from your grandmother.” I guess they had a pretty effective good cop/bad cop system going because even now I say those things to my children.

Technology offers lots of ways to say thank you now beyond the traditional handwritten note. And my family has used a variety of them, like the photo at the top of this blog. But we never abandon the thank you note completely. I do agree that the way we say thank you isn’t as important as remembering to do it in the first place. A true, heartfelt “thank you” is all we need to offer.

I have two requests for feedback here:

Do you value handwritten note more or less than other ways of showing gratitude?

What creative ways you have helped your children – or you have used yourself – to express gratitude?

How to Thank Volunteers

It seems very simple to thank volunteers, but as I learned today, “every ‘thank you’ is your next ask.”

I’m working on the annual report for a Pittsburgh-area non-profit and the design team is exploring the role of the annual report. Is it just to thank last year’s donors? Or can it somehow mobilize the people who read it into action?

As we prepare to thank volunteers who contributed to the non-profit during the season of giving, the holiday season, this agency is eager to encourage donors to get involved in a second season of giving during the spring when their donations and support wane.

So can we thank volunteers and encourage them to take action more than once a year? Can one little annual report really do all that?

I’m an idealist so I think it can. During the brainstorming meeting I was tossing out ideas left and right.

  • QR codes so people can scan and donate! (Shot down because QR codes are ‘out.’ Ok, so what’s in?)
  • Tear out calendar.
  • Pages that people can write on and take notes about their volunteer ideas.
  • Tear-out action cards.
  • Tear-out thank you notes so people can thank volunteers they work with.
  • Tear-out thank you cards that people can send to motivate new volunteers!
thank volunteers

Don’t Forget to Thank Volunteers

I think some of those ideas might get used. The team was interested in a lot of them. We’ll see what the budget can hold. In the meantime, if you’re looking for ways to thank volunteers, consider picking up a copy of my e-book Thanks! 100 Wonderful ways to Appreciate Volunteers. It’s the season of gratitude and maybe it’s time some volunteers in your life could use some thanks!

Three ways to thank teachers (or anyone) on National Teacher Day

Thank you note written by a child, thank teachers

Keep it simple.

Tomorrow is National Teacher Day – time to thank teachers! My oldest is in second grade and he wanted to write a real thank you note.

“But what should I say? I can’t just write thanks,” he panicked.

So I told him a thank you note is easy to write if you keep three things in mind: keep it simple, specific and special. My eight year old wrote a great thank you note following those guidelines, and you can, too.

Three keys

Simple: He didn’t use fancy words or phrases. He just used the word thanks.

Specific: He was specific about what he was thanking her for: being his teacher, teaching him things he didn’t know before second grade.

Special: What made this teacher special? Her sense of humor. He loved her funny jokes. Mentioning this special trait of hers is a great finish.

As you can see, there are small mistakes in his note and the lines aren’t perfectly straight. But no one (not even a teacher) is going to worry about those things when they are focused on the huge sentiment this letter conveys.

It’s important to me that my three children take time to thank teachers. I’ve learned that saying thank you is an important life skill, whether it’s between family and friends, a business and customers, or a non-profit and volunteers. I created Thanks! 100 Wonderful Ways to Appreciate Volunteersa guide that makes it easy to say thank you to anyone.