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Green trees, cool water, a gentle breeze...the perfect place to sit at the feet of the Master and learn. Jesus taught so often on the shoreline, and He's still speaking today.

This is where I share the lessons He teaches me, often during the time I spend on the shores of a local lake. I don't have all the answers...and some days I don't have any. But I go here when I need to draw near to Him in a tangible way. Come with me...

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Adventures in Community Outreach - A Day of Service Part 2

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my church's Spring outreach which will take place June 1st...Central Cares Day.  I gave some background on how the idea evolved and the names of the organizations we'll be serving.

Today I wanted to provide more information on the nuts and bolts of how to put something like this together. 

First, last and always...pray.  Every outreach we've taken on has been a God-sized dream and they keep getting bigger.  Because they are so far out of the realm of our limited ability, at some point in each outreach, I begin to listen to the voices of fear in my head.  This time, I confess, I even considered canceling on a few projects because I worried there were not sufficient volunteers.  But when God is in the planning you have to trust that no matter how big the outreach seems, no matter how impossible it feels, He will be faithful to provide everything you need because it was His idea in the first place!  And so He has.  All work sites are a go as volunteers have poured in during the past few days.

Second...ask.  Because we've been working with service organizations like Dress for Success, The Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity and the like, we had some connections already.  But a simple internet search and poll of those we know turned up many more non-profits and social service organizations to contact.  We also spoke with the superintendent of an inner city school system and an urban church.  It is rare to encounter a group willing to turn down free labor.

For the most part, I obtained a contact name and sent an email saying we had groups of people willing to do tasks such as painting, minor repairs, light landscaping, serving a meal, interacting with residents/clients, etc. and asked if they had any needs that would fit the bill.  I also explained we had set aside Saturday June 1st from 9-12 to perform the tasks.

Third...collect information.  When I received a positive response, I sent a form with basic questions like "Type of project?(painting, repair, landscaping, etc)", "How many volunteers needed?", "What tools can be provided?  What tools need to be supplied?", "Minimum age for volunteers?", and "How will the project benefit your organization and the community?" I also asked for the project address, a jpeg of their organization logo, and a contact name and number for the day of the event.

I took some time to visit most of the work sites to take pictures and see first hand what was needed.  In the case of several of the larger projects, the leaders also visited the site in advance of the project to make their own observations and plan out pre-event prep.

Fourth...budget.  We were blessed to have a donation made to our ministry for use toward the purchase of supplies, however we also solicited local home improvement stores for donations of paint, mulch, trash bags and the like.  One of the three stores contacted will be helping us.  I'm working with local store managers, but typically, donations have to come through a corporate office via their web site so putting in a request a minimum of 90 days in advance is recommended.

Fifth...recruit. Once we had a general idea of how many people would be required to cover all the work sites, we needed to advertise and recruit for volunteers.  Because this outreach is so comprehensive, we created a booklet to provide potential volunteers with all the information. Our designer took the information we gathered and created a layout which arranged outreach opportunities by age.  This helped volunteers with children to narrow down choices at a glance.  Again, we're blessed by having a congregant who does amazing design work for us for free...the design at the top of this post is her creation and appears not only on all our materials for the event, but also on the t-shirts we will wear that day. She was also responsible for the Free Market signage and t-shirt designs.

Recruitment was done in stages.  First, we personally invited those we thought would be a good fit for leadership roles at each site.  Next, we handed out the brochure to congregants and explained the event.   We provided a sign up form in the back of the booklet as well as a link to a free online service we highly recommend called "Volunteer Spot".

Having a pastoral staff that supports the outreach is very important.  Often when we have church-wide outreaches, the sign up phase is the culmination of a sermon series on a subject that ties in to the purpose of the outreach. The volunteer sign up allows our church to take what they've learned and put it into practice.  Service has really become part of the DNA of our church!

In addition, we use social media to "advertise" the event.  Those photos I took were posted on our Facebook page along with a description of the project and the link to Volunteer Spot.  The pictures of the work site and project details were helpful to some who needed more than just a written description to visualize the need.  We also encouraged those who weren't part of the congregation to join us.  As a result, friends, family, neighbors and co-workers of attendees will be part of the day.  I have found that people want to help - you just have to show them how and give them an opportunity.

Sixth...details.  I won't lie to you...when we took on this event, I thought it would be easy because we didn't have to come up with the project ideas or do things on our property.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  There are a million details in the coordinating and I have an incredible team of people to help tie up those loose ends.  Details include everything from shopping for supplies to coordinating rides and everything in between.

Seventh...giving thanks. One thing multiple outreaches have taught us is that when many people are part of the effort, not everyone knows/hears all the "God stories".  We will put together a picture presentation with stills and appropriate music that's shown a week or so after the event, but it's just not the same.  This time we are ending the outreach with a meal and time to share the God sightings from the day.  It is my hope that this time of fellowship will allow all those involved to be encouraged as they hear the stories from each of the work sites.  The meal is also a tangible way for us to thank our many volunteers for their time and service.

If you've made it this far, congratulations - that was a lot of information to plow through!  As always, if you desire more information or guidance on how you can bring this type of outreach to your community, just contact me via this blog and I'd be more than happy to provide you with more information.

And stay tuned...Central Cares Day is just a week away.  I will be bringing lots of pictures and stories of the day to this blog in the near future.