Hope for the Community
Have each person draw a picture (using words and/or images) of what they hope for in the community that you are working in. Remind people that it doesn’t have to be artistic or look good, but simply communicate their hopes. Then have everyone share about what they drew (they can choose whether they want to show their picture to the group or just talk about it). Possible follow up questions include:
- What is your vision for what this community could look like?
- How does it make you feel to envision this?
- What gives you hope that this is possible?
Each person is given a sheet of paper. Each begins by dividing their paper in half in each direction, so that there are four quadrants. In each section, ask volunteers to represent their responses to the following (with image, colour, or words) using pastels, crayons, or markers:
- One way you are being changed through volunteering here (how are you different now from when you began volunteering?).
- One thing about volunteering here that makes you happy, satisfied, or hopeful.
- One thing about volunteering here that makes you sad, discouraged, or dissatisfied.
- How do you envision that society could be more involved, informed, and compassionate towards this community and the issues encountered through our volunteer work?
Sharing: Take turns for each to share one of their quadrants and keep going around until time runs out or all the responses have been shared. Discuss: What did you notice happening inside you during this activity?
Additional Option 1: Instead of drawing, have volunteers write about their responses in each quadrant.
Additional Option 2: Express yourself with no recognizable symbols, using only lines, curves and shading. Possibly use only one colour or only a pencil.
Act of Art
Create an act of art in a space at the agency you are volunteering in. You will need permission from the agency for this. Have the group brainstorm on what you want for the community that you are working with. Then brainstorm on how you could creatively communicate these hopes to the community & use an act of art in the space to do this. For example, we may post words and phrases around the room that communicate messages that inspire children to believe in themselves. Or you might chalk on the sidewalks in the community.
Supply the group with a piece of banner paper and markers or other art supplies and ask them to depict their experience using a combination of words and pictures. Give them about 10-15 minutes. Use their banner as a jumping off point for processing the experience.
Group Banners: a more structured approach…
Reflecting on the following questions and using the materials provided, create a large banner together out of images, words, colour or whatever volunteers wish:
- What supports do these people we are serving have in their lives?
- What supports do they need from us or others?
- How are we supporting them and what difference could this make?
Allow time for each person to express their responses to these questions on the large banner paper, each person working simultaneously on a different part of the paper, but also allowing for the images to intertwine.
After about 5-10 minutes you could ask people to move to a different spot on the banner and continue creating out of what someone else started. When beginning, mention that the goal isn’t to have a beautiful piece of art but rather to express what we are experiencing while volunteering.
Discussion: Take time to step back, look, and discuss what has been created with questions to spark reflection:
- How was the experience of creating this? What did you notice?
- Looking at what we’ve created, what stands out or speaks to you?
- What reflections do you have on how the people we are serving are being supported by us or how we are making a difference?
Have group members write a poem or song lyrics about their experience or what they have learned. If people are willing to share their poems, compile them and give everyone a copy. For this activity it is helpful to emphasize that the purpose is to express your thoughts and feelings, not to create the next hit song or the world’s greatest poem. Poems don’t even need to rhyme! It’s best to approach this with a playful and creative, rather than critical, attitude.
Additional Option: Have each person draw two or three random words from a bowl and incorporate these into their poem. This can help to give people a starting point so that they are not overwhelmed.
Have the group work together to write a song about the day or what you have learned from the people you are serving at the placement. Each person should write at least one line of the song and the group can set it to the tune of a song that everyone knows, such as Jingle Bells or Old McDonald. (from A Guide to Leading Reflection in Alternative Break Programming by Sarah Seams)
Music Listening / Video Viewing
Have the group listen to a song or what a short video that relates to the volunteer work, and ask the group to reflect on how they can connect their experience to the song or video. An example of a video is A Credo for Support, which features people with disabilities speaking about how they wish people to relate to them.
Give everyone materials such as play dough, Legos, or random supplies (rubber bands, paper clips, pipe cleaners, straws, paper, etc.) and ask them to build an object that best represents their service experience. Encourage creativity! (from A Guide to Leading Reflection in Alternative Break Programming by Sarah Seams)
In a large open space, divide your group into two halves. Each half creates a sculpture around a word, phrase, or question related to volunteering, using only the people in the group and no props. Then each group displays its ‘art’ for the other group. The watching group can interpret the sculpture, without disruption, for two minutes. When they’re finished, the sculpture group can explain its work. Suggestions for topics or themes can be specific to your group, or they can be very general, such as “peace” or “service.”
Select an Object
Bring a selection of objects (such as stones, shells, feathers, figurines, art pieces or other random things from your collection). Have each person choose one that draws them or calls to them. Ask each person to share how the object they selected connects to their experience volunteering this term (and/or their life right now).
Additional Option 1: Before sharing, have paper and pens for group members to journal about their reflections
Additional Option 2: Go outside for your reflection, and instead of collecting nature items in advance, have group members look around for something they feel drawn to. Use these in the reflection instead.
Additional Option 3: Instead of objects, have a bowl of random words. Randomly pick 3 words from the bowl. Reflect individually for a minute on how you connect with these words, how they relate to your service experience or your life now. Do a group go-around to share.
Reflecting with Art Cards
This activity can be used with a random assortment of images or with Art Discernment Cards, which are available from www.StudentOpenCircles.com/art. Ask group members to select a card or art piece from an assortment that you have laid out, noticing which one calls to them. Give your group one of the following exercises to use in individually reflecting with the image for a few minutes, noticing how this piece connects with their service experiences and to the truest parts of themself.
- Meditation: Sit in silence in a comfortable position. Place the art piece in front of you at eye level at a distance that is easy to see. Take a few deep breaths. Still your body and eyes. Rest your gaze on the piece while relaxing your eye muscles. Remain focused on the image, allowing your eyes to rest on the part that calls to you. Engage the piece freely as a child might, noticing shape, colour, and your experience. As thoughts arise, gently let them go and return to “being” without “knowing.”
- Interaction: Reflect on any of these questions, perhaps through journaling:
- What speaks to you from this piece?
- Which parts inspire, resonate with, or call to you?
- What images, experiences, or ideas does it connect with for you?
- What feelings or longings are evoked as you reflect with this piece?
- What aspects of the piece spark the most discomfort or resistance in you?
- What does this reflection invite you to explore?
- Processing an experience: To reflect on a particular experience (such as this day’s volunteering), choose a card or two that illustrate your inner life during this experience. Use these as focal points in reflecting on:
- What movements do you notice within yourself?
- What insights have you gained?
- Where are you noticing the mystery, longing, joy, sadness or other emotions?
- What actions do you feel prompted or called towards?
Participants are asked to show with a word, their body or a facial expression how they feel right at that moment. Let people show their reaction, one at a time, and then have participants explain their reaction. This activity can give the facilitator a sense of the group mood and gives participants a chance to express how they feel at the moment. (from A Guide to Leading Reflection in Alternative Break Programming by Sarah Seams)
Using chalk, have participants draw pictures of their experience and write messages to the community that they have served in on a local sidewalk.
Divide the volunteer group into small groups. Give each group a selection of random items. Have each group create a machine that would be the “perfect volunteer.” Ask each group to share their machine, what it does, and what its features are. Discuss the important characteristics that make up a dedicated volunteer.
Change of Scenery
Consider going outside and sitting at a playground or nearby tree to reflect. Or go outside and play an active team building game and discuss how it relates to your volunteering roles. Or go to a café to relax and discuss (if volunteers are ok to take more time for the reflection).
Take your participants on an imaginary tour of their service experience. Ask participants to find a comfortable position (lay on floor, head on table, lounge in chair) and close their eyes. Optional: Play relaxing instrumental music at a low volume. Ask participants to become aware of their breathing. Ask them to leave their present thoughts and clear their mind. Once the participants appear to have achieved a relaxed state ask them to begin remembering their service experience. To assist them in remembering their experience mention common events: invite participants to remember how they felt before they did their experience, what their expectations were, what happened in their preparation, what they saw and how they felt when they arrived, what happened during their service experience. To stimulate their thinking you might mention some of what you remember. Slowly bring them back to the present. Ask them to become aware of their surroundings, again concentrate on their breathing and to open their eyes when they are ready. Ensure that a quiet tone is maintained. Continue to play music. Ask the participants to share their recollections with another person and finally have people make comments to the whole group.
Have everyone find a partner and give each pair some toothpicks and some ju-jubes or gummy bears. Have each pair choose one person to be the “instructor” and the other to be the “constructor.” The instructor envisions a shape they wish to build, and then gives instructions to the constructor to create the shape. The instructor is not allowed to touch the building materials or to point or gesture. They may only give verbal instructions. The constructor is not to talk during this exercise. As a group discuss: How did you feel in your role? What did you learn about communication or working together? How can this apply to our volunteer work?
Recognizing Each Other’s Strengths
Take a piece of paper and turn it into a puzzle with the same number of pieces as the people in your volunteer group. Cut out the pieces, marking the same side of each piece, so that you know which side is turned up for the pieces to fit together.
Explain to your group that, much like a puzzle with different pieces, we all come together each week to volunteer. Each person is given a puzzle piece and some pastels, crayons, or pencil crayons, and they find another person’s piece that fits with theirs to be their partner. Each person draws a picture on their puzzle piece of something they believe their partner did well today. When everyone is done, put the puzzle together and everyone takes turns telling the group about the picture they drew, and how it reflects the other volunteer’s strengths.
Four to five chairs are arranged in an inner circle. This is the fishbowl. The remaining chairs are arranged in a circle outside the fishbowl. A few participants volunteer to fill the fishbowl, while the rest of the group sit on the chairs outside the fishbowl. In an open fishbowl, one chair is left empty. In a closed fishbowl, all chairs are filled. The facilitator introduces the topic and the participants start discussing. The rest of the group listens in on the discussion.
In an open fishbowl, any member of the audience can, at any time, occupy the empty chair and join the fishbowl. When this happens, an existing member of the fishbowl must voluntarily leave the fishbowl and free a chair. The discussion continues with participants frequently entering and leaving the fishbowl. For larger groups, this keeps the conversation small and manageable while allowing everyone in the group to spend some time in the fishbowl and take part in the discussion.
In a closed fishbowl, the initial participants speak for a specified time. When time runs out, they leave the fishbowl and a new group from the audience enters the fishbowl. Another variation is to choose the fishbowl groups based on male/female, age, country/town of origin, etc. It can be interesting to listen to how different groups might approach the conversation. (adapted from Wikipedia)
Role Playing Fish Bowls
The above Fish Bowls format can be used for role playing, where a group of four or five people start acting a scenario, and then others can join in or replace actors as the scene develops. One variation on the open fishbowl is to allow observers to join in by tapping the shoulder of the person whose role they wish to play. For example, if a participant has a different idea for how a tutor might respond, they can tap the shoulder of the person playing the tutor, replace them in that role, and then act out their idea. Once a scenario has been acted out for a while, discuss as a group how you might apply some of the ideas or solutions in your volunteer work. See the Scenarios activity below for examples of scenarios related to volunteering.
Using the scenarios below (modifying them to apply to your specific group), interact with these in one of the following ways:
- Have group members act out each scenario, showing ways of dealing with the situation.
- Discuss each scenario, looking for solutions. Have a bag of treats that you pass around the circle and whoever has the bag shares an idea of how to deal with the situation in the scenario. Use a debate style to deal with each scenario.
- Divide the group into 2 with different viewpoints on how to deal with the situation.
For any of these methods, keep the Experiential Learning Cycle in mind, probing for more depth in discussion using “What?” “So What?” or “Now what?” questions.
- A child / youth / adult you are relating with today is participating in a group activity but is being rude to other people and putting them down.
- The child / youth you are mentoring never wants to do the activities / homework that are appropriate for the program. When you try to get them to do these, they say: “I don’t like you.”
- You see one child picking on another child and trying to take their snack away from them.
- One of the clients told you how they had been treated with disrespect when they went to emergency to seek medical help for a swollen foot.
- While tutoring today, you were working with four 14 year olds - Miho and Peter seem to enjoy doing work but Sandeep and Matt are constantly chatting and disrupting the others.
- The child you are mentoring needs to learn to read at her grade level so that she feels better about herself at school. However, when you try to get her to read, she doesn’t want to and often runs out of the room to be with her friends or fidgets with toys she’s brought with her or says “I’m stupid.” This is distracting to other children who are doing their homework.
Two people are given a scenario that they will role play and a topic to discuss. Each person has a “helper” that can be called upon at any time to fill in a word or phrase. The first person begins the conversation, and then stops and taps the shoulder of their helper, who will finish the sentence for them with the first word or phrase that comes to mind. Of course, the conversations will take sudden, random turns, and they be won’t be entirely based in reality, but the point is to be creative and have some fun. Some possible scenarios topics are:
- Volunteer asking a child about their day at school
- Volunteer and a person are serving, talking about their plans for an upcoming holiday
- Two volunteers telling the story of how things are going at their placement
- Volunteer telling their grandparent about what you are involved with in your service
- Volunteer trying to convince a friend to become a volunteer
Experiential Activity: Who We Serve
When each volunteer arrives for the reflection, they are randomly given a slip of paper, where each colour represents a situation they face such as the following:
- Unable to walk - yellow
- Living on social assistance - green
- Living below the poverty line - pink
- Visually impaired - blue
- Living in a high income bracket - white
After everyone has a colour, tell them what it represents. Then have a bowl of candy on the other side of the room or somewhere else in the building. Everyone is invited to help themselves to the candy, but with certain restrictions based on their situation:
- Unable to walk (can take any candy, but not allowed to walk to get to the bowl)
- Living on social assistance (receive no candy)
- Living below the poverty line (only red candies)
- Visually impaired (only green candies; have eyes closed while getting candy)
- Living in a high income bracket (choose to take as much as they like)
After everyone is able to have access to candies, discuss the following questions:
- How was this experience? What did you notice?
- How would it affect you to live with these limits that are beyond your choosing?
- What parallels do you see between this experience and the experience of those you volunteer with? How do these limits affect their lives?
- How might this experience influence how you serve?