Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Spoonful of Fun Helps the Program's Mission Thrive

Ready, Set, Go! CCAO is ready for their scavenger hunt.
 Spotlight On: Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach

 by: Kitty Robinson, Catholic Volunteer Network Intern

One of the great things about volunteers is that they can come from anywhere in the world. They give up their life at home to serve in an area that is probably unfamiliar to them. Many programs are located in places that have so many things volunteers can see and discover. How can you combine the mission of your program with exploration and fun? The Columban Center of Advocacy and Outreach has found a great way to mesh enjoyment and acts of service, both working together simultaneously.

The Columban Center of Advocacy and Outreach (CCAO) is based in the suburbs of Washington D.C., a perfect location to lobby for various concerns on Capitol Hill. Each season, a number of interns from around the world come to work for them, for about three months at a time, to help with their peace and advocacy ministry. They follow legislation, and communicate with various members of Congress and decision makers. This means they are becoming actively involved in issues such as climate change, migration, economic justice, and peace and conflict resolution. CCAO has interns during the fall and spring academic semesters, as well as over the summer.

In addition to this very important work, the supervisors at CCAO arrange fun, yet meaningful, activities for the interns and volunteers to complete before the end of their service. Julie Espina, the Outreach Associate at CCAO, has helped coordinate a scavenger hunt as an enjoyable way for their interns to advocate and explore the city of Washington D.C.



“Like other scavenger hunts, ours invites interns to collect items or experiences, or take part in certain activities to earn points. We divide our groups of interns and volunteers into two teams and they spend 2-3 months earning points,” Julie said. “At the end of the internship we tally the points and the winning team gets a prize. For many of the items on the list of points to earn, photos have to be taken of the interns or volunteers at a certain location, or taking part in a specific activity. We collect all of these photos and turn them into a slideshow at the end of the game. The slideshows are always wonderful collections of pictures that document the fun experiences of the teams, but also the sheer amount of work they have completed.”

The scavenger hunt sends the interns all over the city of Washington D.C., with activities focused on advocacy and making a difference, as well as exploring the city in meaningful ways. This keeps the interns within the job description, but outside of the regular nine to five routine.  Some of the activities they have previously done are visiting the National Zoo, volunteering somewhere for a weekend, and visiting the lobby where the word “lobbying” originated. They also are told to talk to people who have never heard of CCAO and describe their work, which is a great way to get the organizations face out into the public. As Julie Espina puts it, “Even just asking someone to take your picture opens up the chance for a conversation like this that can spark the sharing of ideas.”

The interns also get points for the amount of advocacy they do, like sending letters to Members of Congress, or attending Congressional hearings.

CCAO has noticed many benefits to their regular scavenger hunt. First of all, it rejuvenates their volunteer interns, who often get exhausted and tired of a monotonous routine. It also encourages the interns to get involved with the local community around the organization. Sometimes, interns can feel like a visitor in the place where they are volunteering, so the scavenger hunt adds another level of familiarity. Julie also notes that it’s a great way to keep track of the work the interns are doing. It’s physical proof that the interns are out there making a change, especially with the added incentive.

When asked if she would recommend an activity like this to other programs, Julie exclaimed “Definitely do it!”
She also says that they have done other games, such as Columban Jeopardy, and shorter versions of the scavenger hunt that only last a weekend, rather than the whole three months. Lastly, her final piece of advice is “Have fun! Don't stress over the details, just enjoy the game, you definitely deserve it!”

A scavenger hunt is just one example of how to get out of the box with your volunteers and have fun. Be encouraged to start thinking about how you can make the volunteer experience enjoyable, and even more memorable, for these special people.

If you are interested in finding the most recent scavenger hunt slide show from the Columban Center of Outreach and Advocacy, you can find it here:
http://columban.org/7177/columban-center-for-advocacy-and-outreach/columban-center-games/advocacy-outreach-scavenger-hunt/