The journey to volunteering

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Working with volunteer mentors brings something new and exciting every day.
— Karol Hernandez, Program Manager at Free Arts.

Volunteer mentors are essential to Free Arts’ mission.  Last year, more than 200 volunteer mentors donated 14,000 hours to help provide therapeutic art programs to children and families.   Free Arts volunteer mentors are often students or everyday people looking to serve in their community.  Free Arts partners with many colleges and universities throughout Los Angeles, such as the Cal State branches and Los Angeles City College.

 

Free Arts offers two types of programs:

  • The Courthouse Program

  • The Mentorship Programs

“Everybody can be a volunteer,” Karol says. The only requirements are passing a background check and attending trainings. Free Arts training process helps volunteer mentors learn to interact with children and create activities for them in a safe environment.

“Our trainings include content on biases, diversity and stereotypes so that our volunteer mentors can effectively serve children from diverse backgrounds.  We also cover mandated reporting, and other information required to mentor children who have experienced abuse, neglect or homelessness. We want to make sure that our volunteers are prepared to be non-judgmental as well as supportive to any participants in our programs, whether they are children, parents or guardians,” Karol says.

New volunteers during a training session.

New volunteers during a training session.

For the mentorship program there is an additional training designed to guide volunteer mentors through classroom management and how to interact with children in an engaging and welcoming way.

“We don’t send our volunteer mentors out unprepared. They first go to trainings, then shadow a volunteer to see how it is firsthand. The courthouse is a particularly challenging environment and it can be intimidating at first, so we make sure our volunteer mentors feel comfortable at all times,” Karol says.

Free Arts believes every volunteer mentor has a unique gift and strength they can share to inspire hope in the lives of children.

 

Here are some guidelines to being a good volunteer mentor at Free Arts:

●      Be involved and show you care!

●      Be flexible and adapt to every age group.

●      Ask questions to break the ice.

●      Remind everyone, “there is no wrong way to do art!”

●      Bring warm and positive energy to the activities.

“Some children can be shy or scared, so we are looking for volunteer mentors that can put effort into those shy children and bring them out of their box. When I see a shy child, I sit next to them and ask simple questions about their interests, like a TV show or activities that they like,” Karol says.

Finding common ground with children is essential to creating a comfortable and creative environment.  The goal is to show children that it is possible to build a healthy relationship with adults, and that there are people who care about them and will listen to their needs and interests.

Karol has worked with many children, but one story stands out to her…

“Once I had this little boy that was very shy and nervous.   He was not talking to anyone and was hesitant to draw with us.  I sat next to him and started asking him questions about what he liked. He said he loved Pokémon!  As we kept talking, he became more and more excited and started drawing a Pokémon themed dream catcher. He also showed me all of his Pokémon cards, and that really made him come out of his box.  At the end, he proudly showed everyone the Pokémon dream catcher he created.  That is what I love about Free Arts - seeing children come out of their comfort zone, find their voice, and create art they are proud of.”

To become a volunteer mentor, go to http://www.freearts.org/volunteer/