Whether you’re a recent youth volunteer or it’s been a few years since your last trip, returning to ASP as a Group Leader can be a tricky transition. While there are some definite pros to your new status as a GL (no more cramped backseat van rides), there are some cons as well (no more backseat van naps). Fresh off of my first ASP trip as a Group Leader, here are some lessons I’ve learned while transitioning from youth volunteer to Group Leader:
1. Lead by example
Whether or not you realize it, your attitude as a Group Leader sets the tone for the rest of your group. In all things ASP, I find that enthusiasm is key.
Although not the most glamorous aspect of an ASP trip, chores are essential to keeping a center running smoothly all summer, as well as helping to maintain ASP’s long-term relationships in a county. While most of us dread seeing “bathrooms” or “dinner dishes” next to our crew’s name on the Chore Chart, it’s now your role as a Group Leader to ensure that your crew completes their chores each day (and completes them well). But, you know who probably dreads the idea of cleaning bathrooms more than you do? The high school youth on your team. So, complete your chores with a smile, and maybe put on some music as you work. If you’re having fun, your youth probably are, too.
Theme Days and Evening Gatherings
The theme days set by your center staff are a great way to spread enthusiasm and build team spirit during your trip. Embrace the themes, and remember to bring extra items if you can! Temporary tattoos, leis, or bandanas are an easy way to help everyone participate. If you’re willing to dress in head-to-toe red, white, and blue or sport a few temporary tattoos, it’s likely that at least a few people will follow your lead. Likewise, Evening Gatherings are another key element to the ASP experience. While not all of the youth in your group will want to contribute to discussions or open up to the group, giving them that opportunity is important. Be sure to take devotions and EGs seriously so that your youth will be encouraged to do so as well.
2. Don’t be afraid to speak up
One of the biggest challenges in the transition from a youth volunteer to a Group Leader can be finding your voice as a leader. As a new GL, you may be closer in age to the high school students on your trip than the rest of the GLs. Similarly, those GLs may be the very same Group Leaders who taught you to use a drill on your first trip at age 14. Even though it may be difficult, don’t be afraid to speak up as you step into your new leadership role. Just because you don’t have 20 years of construction experience doesn’t mean you don’t have new ideas to bring to the table. Having previously been a youth volunteer, use that unique perspective to your advantage!
Off of the construction site, new GLs should also not be afraid to speak up when they see something amiss. Abiding by ASP’s rules and regulations is a team effort. Be sure to set clear expectations up front so that your youth know what’s expected of them.
3. Be the bridge for your youth
ASP often describes itself as a “relationship ministry with construction on the side”– a description you’ll know is true if you’ve volunteered with ASP before. Although learning new skills and helping to eradicate substandard housing are reasons enough to come on a trip, Group Leaders can also help youth volunteers forge deeper connections.
Building relationships with the homeowners
Attend any Friday night “Share Circle” in ASPLand, and the majority of the stories you’ll hear will center around the families that ASP serves. Building that relationship with the homeowners at your work site is a key piece to the ASP experience, but it can be difficult to know where to start, especially if the family is a little reserved or it’s early on in the summer. This year, as a Week 1 volunteer and brand new GL, I realized how that relationship needs to be made a conscious priority. On site, GLs have a lot of thoughts to juggle, and it’s easy for the little things to slip through the cracks. However, taking the time to sit with the homeowners to learn a little bit about them or to ask them what kind of sandwich they like best all contributes to ASP’s larger mission as a relationship ministry. Taking those first steps will help the rest of your team to understand that those little moments are just as valuable as time spent doing construction.
As a volunteer coordinator by profession, I’ve found that having appropriate context can make or break a volunteer’s experience. For example, insulating a home is rarely a person’s favorite project, especially if it involves crawling into tight spaces under a home. However, taking the time to explain to youth volunteers why they’re doing what they’re doing and the impact that it will have on the family can make all the difference. From meetings with the ASP staff and conversations with the homeowner, you may also have more information on the background of the project and any future plans, so be sure to share that with the group. As a GL, it’s important to not only address the “how” of a project but also the “why.”
4. Accept people (including yourself)
Last but not least, I found it necessary to remind myself of one of ASP’s guiding principles throughout my first week as a Group Leader: “We accept people right where they are, just the way they are.” Being a Group Leader requires additional responsibility, and with that responsibility may come an increased pressure to ensure that everything is perfect. Luckily for us, perfection is not what ASP is about. So, that Group Leader who insists on leaving the worksite for lunch even when it’s frowned upon? Accept them. That youth who took all afternoon to nail in one new board? Accept them. And don’t forget, that policy of acceptance extends to yourself too. We all want to complete our projects perfectly and efficiently, but all we can do is give it our best effort.
Do you have a great story about your first time as a Group Leader? Be sure to share it by tagging @AppServProject on Facebook and Instagram and using the hashtag #ASPhome.
Rachel Hardin has been involved with ASP since 2008, including spending two summers on ASP staff in Fayette County, WV in 2014 and Mitchell County, NC in 2015. She now works in the volunteer department at Habitat for Humanity-MidOhio in Columbus, Ohio.