Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Guests, Volunteers, Mentors

by AJ

I had a "duh" moment today. As I contemplated my students requests for "real social interactions" I kept thinking "but how can I do this".

Then it hit me.. "duh". Id already done this.. again, in my past jobs as a social worker. When working in that field, I always preferred small agencies. I love their flexibility and openness to innovation. But there is one major challenge at such organizations: funding. Most operate on a shoe-string budget.

As I tackled my jobs, I was always faced with a huge gap between what I/we wanted to do and what we could afford to do. But I quickly stumbled on a solution: volunteers.

At The Alcove Youth Shelter, they were called "student interns". Most big agencies took two at the most.. seeing them as a burden, or as cheap office workers. We took four, five or more at a time and turned them loose. We trained them to run support groups. We put them in charge of writing grants. We partnered them with our residential clients. We had them design new programs. They loved it, because they got great opportunities during their internship (while most of their classmates at other agencies were making copies and answering phones). We loved it because we got energetic, enthusiastic, creative, gung-ho staff members... for free!

Even better.. the internship program served as the agencies recruitment program. In fact, I started at The Alcove as an MSW intern. They turned me loose and I went crazy. When I graduated, they hired me. This happened many times. The agency rarely had to worry about interviewing untested strangers. They chose from the best and brightest of the interns.

At Stephen's House (transitional shelter for HIV+, homeless folks) the residents and I created a HUGE volunteer program. Volunteers led social activities, gave seminars, mentored clients, cooked meals, raised money, etc, etc, etc... all for free! They loved contributing, the clients loved them, and the agency accomplished incredible things without the slightest increase in budget.

So my answer to the "real social interaction problem" is quite simple: volunteers. Ill create a volunteer program. Not sure of the details yet.. but here are some random thoughts:

*Recruit volunteers (native speakers, other foreigners) for the "book/film club meetings". They'll join in with the students by also presenting a book or film... then discussing it.

The "other foreigners" category has huge potential, I think... for it would provide them (Japanese, Korean, etc.) with opportunities to practice English (in a university setting) for free. They win. We win.

*Create an open class policy.. recruit/invite volunteers to drop in on any class they like... encourage them to participate in discussions with the students, join project teams, etc.

*Organize outside social activities for students and volunteers: bowling trips, movie nights, camping trips, dinner cruises on the river, etc....

All I need to do is find a means of tapping Bangkok's large expat and tourist population... find native speakers who want to meet and socialize with Thai students. Find non-native English speakers (and non-Thai) folks who'd like a free opportunity to practice English......

Ill post updates on the progress Im making with this project.