January 13, 2017
Running a successful youth at risk program is a difficult task to achieve. One that is even more difficult during the holiday season. Youth rely on these programs to provide stability in an unstable life environment. Parents rely on these programs to keep their children active and out of trouble. The truth is children no matter their age are unpredictable. For some, the holidays are not an enjoyable time, but rather a time they dread because of their unstable home life.
Take the time to prepare your volunteers, new and old, on the individuals in your organization. The more background they have on a child that they interact with daily, the more they are able to help guide them. Encourage volunteers to deliver on promises and maintain a consistent schedule during this time of year. Consistency reassures the youth participants that they matter and can continue to rely on others no matter what.
When children start to dwell on their unhappy holiday memories or on their nontraditional home life, they tend to make poor decisions. One way to keep your participant’s minds off their holiday struggles on unhappiness is to offer additional activities that reinforce the season of giving.
- Holiday gathering. Host a holiday party for your youth participants to boost their holiday spirits. Offer food, movies, games, and other team-oriented activities that encourage engagement and conversations. Organize a secret Santa event where participants can make crafts or shop (for free) from a selection of gifts provided by your organization and volunteers.
- Decorate your building. Get your participants involved in decorating your building or meeting place for the Holidays. Have them help with setting up and decorating a Christmas tree with homemade ornaments. Ask them what some of their favorite Christmas decorating traditions are and make them come alive. Including them in the planning process increases their excitement and willingness to participate.
- Visit a local assisted living facility. Contact a local assisted living facility, nursing home, or adult day program. Schedule a time your youth participants can visit, play games, and make crafts with the elderly in these facilities. Bringing the different generations together offers significant benefits for all individuals involved.
- Organize a collection drive. Contact local shelters, animal rescue organizations, and missions to get a list of items they need. Have the children in your program make fliers and promote your collection initiatives to the community. Invite them to shop with for needed items and deliver the items to the organization you choose to support. Experiencing the benefits of helping others not only boosts their spirits, it also shows them they are valuable to their community.
- Deliver care packages or food. Spend time putting together small care packages for the homeless members of your community. Hygiene items, snacks, and bottles of water are all appreciated during this time of year. You can also work with local restaurants for meal donations to deliver directly to those living on the streets.
At-risk youth organizations have a great amount of responsibility to keep participants active and moving forward in their lives. Don’t let the holidays be a disappointing time for these individuals that rely heavily on your services. Encourage them to be active and create new ways they can give back to their community members.