Volunteering with The NOLA Tree
"Be The Change."
Young people make up the soul of The NOLA Tree. They are the common thread that runs through all of our initiatives. Without question, the success of The NOLA Tree lies within our young volunteers.
But what makes The NOLA Tree different from already established volunteer organizations? Are we not just another volunteer placement group? Why would participants choose to get involved?
We’ve identified six (6) general areas that help set The NOLA Tree apart from other service organizations and programs. Our commitment to these areas and their underlying core values are at the heart of our mission.
1. Group Travel.
At The NOLA Tree, we strive to create a community within a community. Because we require our volunteers to travel as a group, live communally, and work alongside one another, most experiences with The NOLA Tree are shared learning ones. This helps to foster a greater sense of cohesion and unity among our participants. We find this approach also enhances the safety of our young people; volunteers are more apt to look out for one another when such bonds are formed.
2. Age of Participants.
In the four years since Hurricane Katrina, hundreds of thousands of volunteers have descended upon New Orleans and the Gulf Coast of the United States to aid in the recovery effort. These volunteers have provided an invaluable service.
However, in recent months, many relief and recovery organizations in the region have begun to impose minimum age requirements on volunteers. Some groups have even started charging administrative fees for volunteers, particularly younger ones. Too often, volunteers have been arriving without a clear understanding of what it means to be a volunteer. As a result, their presence hasn’t provided the much-needed assistance, but instead created hindrances and impediments. In addition, more and more volunteers base camps, community centers, hostels and other housing facilities no longer permit underage volunteers to stay at their facilities (unless accompanied by a parent or legal guardian).
In 2010-2012, most volunteers for The NOLA Tree will range in age from fifteen (15) to nineteen (19). But this is not an issue because of the relationships we have established and nurtured with Camp Hope, lowernine.org, Operation Nehemiah, and other organizations in the New Orleans area. Our young volunteers remain welcome, for the organizations we work with know that we expect our volunteers to be the role models for other volunteers.
And they are.
The NOLA Tree intends to adhere to these guiding principles and philosophies in all of our endeavors, not just those in New Orleans.
3. Advanced Commitment.
In order to volunteer with The NOLA Tree, participants are required to demonstrate a level of commitment, dependability and maturity. This is accomplished in a number of ways:
Attend Meetings: Prior to the program, The NOLA Tree holds a series of orientation meetings and training workshops. Volunteers are expected to attend and be active participants at these gatherings. These sessions afford the volunteers the opportunity to get to know the individuals with whom they will be traveling. By the time our participants leave for their program, they are already familiar with and comfortable around their “teammates.” This added level of preparedness enables our volunteers to be more effective and efficient workers. Of course, we recognize that not all participants reside in the same locale. Consequently, smaller meetings may need to be held. Additionally, Indiana Hoover, The NOLA Tree’s Director of Management and Development, will coordinate and facilitate online meetings on social networking websites, so that volunteers from various geographic regions can “meet” one another in advance.
Fund Raise: The NOLA Tree requires all participants to satisfy a minimum fundraising requirement. The monies raised will help cover the costs of the program, serve as a donation to the organization and enable those with financial hardship to be a part of the program. We will provide our volunteers with the tools necessary for successful individual fundraising campaigns. Moreover, volunteers will be encouraged to work in groups and come up with their own money-raising strategies. At the conclusion of the fundraising effort, volunteers will meet to discuss which approaches worked and which did not so that future participants can pursue the most effective routes.
Promote: While our website (http://www.theNOLAtree.org) serves as our primary source for marketing and promotion, we have found that when young people speak about our organization, nothing quite compares to the “buzz” it generates. Consequently, we expect our volunteers to “talk-up” The NOLA Tree. Volunteers are encouraged to participate in on-line forums, join (or create) groups or pages on social networking sites and inform family and friends (via email, through personal blogs, etc.) about their work with our organization. When others hear our volunteers speak passionately about The NOLA Tree, invariably, they want to learn more, get involved and provide assistance. This word-of-mouth advertising is invaluable.
4. Continued Commitment.
With each volunteer that joins The NOLA Tree, we are making an investment, an investment forward. Inherent in our organization’s vision is the belief that young people associated with our program will gain a sense of purpose, the desire to do more and the knowledge that anyone can make a difference.
Toward that end, it is our hope and expectation that our volunteers will begin (or become involved with) service initiatives within their own communities. In fact, The NOLA Tree has already developed a working relationship with Broadway Community Inc., a community-based social service organization in Upper Manhattan that provides emergency food, clothing and shelter to those in need. Teams of volunteers from The NOLA Tree now help to prepare and serve meals there on a regular basis.
Whenever possible, The NOLA Tree will provide assistance – offering hands-on support, helping to coordinate activities, and sponsoring events – so that our volunteers can participate in local community development programs. This will help to reinforce the notion with our participants (and others) of the importance of a life-long commitment to service.
5. Code of Conduct.
We hold our volunteers to a high standard. We expect the young people involved with our organization to act in a dignified manner; their behavior and conduct is a direct reflection of The NOLA Tree.
Sensitive to the recent problems organizations have been having with volunteers in New Orleans, The NOLA Tree takes active steps to address these concerns. Prior to participation, all volunteers (and a parent or guardian) are required to sign a “Code of Conduct Contract” which sets forth our behavioral expectations.
At The NOLA Tree, we adhere to the belief that clear expectations are critical. Our volunteers must acknowledge, appreciate and respect all aspects of The NOLA Tree’s philosophy and approach. Furthermore, participants need to recognize and understand that volunteers do the work that others do not want to do and that others are not willing to do.
6. Chaperones as Mentors.
The NOLA Tree volunteers are held to a high standard. The NOLA Tree chaperones are held to an equally high standard.
All chaperones are expected to subscribe to the organization’s mission and vision. They are required to conduct themselves in a manner consistent with these tenets. Like our volunteers, prior to the program, chaperones must sign a Code of Conduct contract (a contract containing many of the same provisions and restrictions as the volunteer contract).
In order to be a chaperone for The NOLA Tree, candidates must satisfy specific age, education and experience criteria. They are also required to possess strong organizational, administrative and leadership skills. All chaperones will attend mandatory training workshops. Finally, in keeping with The NOLA Tree’s belief in continued commitment, chaperones will be expected to conduct training workshops for future chaperones, as well as help to facilitate local community service programs for our volunteers.