Themes for Reflection

The following are examples of how questions, quotations, icebreakers, and reflection activities can be combined on a particular theme to create a focal point for a volunteer session. For each theme, the question(s) and/or quotation of the day can be given to volunteers in advance to think about while volunteering. The suggested activities will help the group to further reflect together on the theme after the service visit.

It can be helpful to let people know at the beginning of the week, or the beginning of the volunteer session, what the reflection theme will be. This allows people to ponder the topic as they go through the week or as they volunteer. It also gives people a particular perspective or lens through which to observe their volunteering that day.

Building Connections

Questions:

  • See Best / Worst get-to-know-you activity:
  • In what types of experiences today do you feel most sense of connection to yourself or others?
  • In what moments/types of activities do you feel most disconnected?

Reflection Activity:

  • Human Continuum
  • The question for your volunteers to consider is: how much did I feel like I was building connections with people while volunteering today?
  • Have your group stand in a semi-circle representing a scale from 1 to 10, where 10 represents that they felt they were building deep connections and 1 represents that they felt disconnected.
  • After everyone has chosen their spot, ask each person to share why they choose their spot.
  • Discuss:
    • What can help us to connect on a meaningful level with the people we are serving?
    • How have you sensed that they want to connect with us?
    • What do you hope to gain from your connections with them?

Communication

Questions:

  • What topics do the people you are serving like to talk about?

Quotation of the Day:

  • “The spoken word belongs half to [the one] who speaks and half to [the one] who hears.”  (French proverb)

Icebreaker Activity:

  • Each take turns sharing - What is one topic you love to discuss? What is one topic you find less interesting?

Reflection Activity:

Life Experiences

Questions:

  • What life experiences do you have in common with the people you are serving?
  • Which of your life experiences might differ from theirs?

Reflection Activity:

Curiosity

Questions:

  • Give a “Task of the Day” that involves finding something out about the people you are serving. See Task of the Day on page 25.

Reflection Activity:

  • Anonymous Questions
  • Ask volunteers to write a question about something that they are curious about related to the other volunteers in your group.
  • On a second piece of paper have them write something they are curious about related to the program they are volunteering at. Collect the papers, shuffle and redistribute the first questions, asking each person to respond to the question they have.
  • Then repeat with the second question.

Engaging All Your Senses

Questions:

  • Notice ALL of your senses during your volunteer experience today.

Reflection Activity:

  • Candies
  • Ask volunteers to each take 3 candies of different colours. Go around and each person answers a question before eating the candy that is associated with that question.

Activity Questions:

  • Red: What aspect of your volunteering has surprised you, would you like to experience more of, or learn more about?
  • Green: How did noticing all your senses during volunteering today make a difference? What did you notice?
  • Yellow: Where do you see yourself going in your future career and how does this volunteer experience relate?
  • Orange: Other than your career path, how do you think that volunteering here is or might change you? (i.e. how might it influence how you live your life?)
  • Purple: What was one of your favourite things to do as a kid?
  • Blue: What do you think these children/youth/adults need from us?

Compassion

Question:

  • How are you experiencing or noticing compassion in this volunteer setting?

Quotation of the Day:

  • “Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.”  (Frederick Buechner)

Reflection Activity:

  • Read the quotation of the day.
  • After reading, invite your group to take 5 minutes of silence to express, with pastels, crayons, or markers, what they imagine or have noticed that compassion looks like in your volunteer experience and setting. (i.e. What does it mean to be compassionate with the people you serve? How is your group living compassion here? How are they as individuals experiencing compassion or finding it challenging?)
  • NOTE: encourage group members to express themselves through image, words or colour. There is no right way to do it and the purpose is simply to notice your responses to the questions, not create “works of art.”
  • Sharing: ask group members if they wish to share their reflections on these questions, without expectation that they will show the group what they’ve created.

Empathy

Questions:

  • For any person you are talking to at your placement, what do you imagine the rest of their day will be like?

Quotation of the Day:

  • “True contentment comes with empathy.”  (Tim Finn)

Reflection Activity:

Gratitude

A Thanksgiving reflection on food access

Questions:

  • How do you imagine that the children/youth/adults we serve at this placement might spend their Thanksgiving weekend?
  • In what ways might Thanksgiving be a celebration or a burden for their families?
  • How would their Thanksgiving be similar to or differ from your Thanksgiving weekend?

Task of the Day: 

  • See Task of the Day
  • Ask the people you work with what they did/will do for Thanksgiving and/or what they were thankful for this year.

Icebreaker Activity:

  • Discuss in pairs or small groups: What is one thing you were thankful for this past week?

Reflection Activity:

Discuss:

  • How might relying on food banks affect the individual, the family, and the neighbourhood?
  • Imagine you are living off very little money and often finding yourself heading to the food bank for food. How would you spend your Thanksgiving?
  • How does our placement help to address this?

Gifts in our Team

Questions:

  • What gifts does each person in my volunteer group bring to our service?

Quotation of the Day:

  • “Everyone can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve...You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • “Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” - Voltaire

Reflection Activity:

Gifts Received While Serving

Questions:

  • What gifts does each person I encounter while volunteering offer to me?

Quotation of the Day:

  • “I believe that the serving and being served are reciprocal and that one cannot really be one without the other.” – Robert Greenleaf

Reflection Activity:

  • 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.
  • The puzzle can represent the diversity of gifts that we receive from this service experience, pieced together within ourselves and forming who we are becoming as individuals and as a team.
  • Each person is given a puzzle piece along with pastels, crayons, or pencil crayons, and is asked to represent with image, colours, or words the gifts that they are receiving from volunteering, or how they are being served.
  • After completing the pieces, ask the group to put the puzzle together and take turns sharing about the gifts received from serving in this experience.

Trust

Questions:

  • How can you build trust with the people you are serving?

Icebreaker Activity:

Reflection Activity:

  • Discuss in small groups:
    • How was this experience? What surprised you? What was challenging?
    • Who is the circle of trust for the people you serve? (Who do they have to catch them?)
    • How can you build trust with the persons you are serving?
    • What obstacles to trust might they have?

Stress

Questions:

  • For the people we are serving, what might cause stress in their lives?

Quotation of the Day:

  • 7 Reasons Why it Pays to Volunteer
  • Because of the length of this quotation you may want give it to people in advance, or you can have the group take turns reading the quotation out loud.

Reflection Activity:

  • Human Continuum
  • The question for your volunteers to respond to is: How stressed out are you right now?
  • Discuss: Would anyone like to share why you chose the spot you did? How does your stress level now relate to the level it was at before volunteering today?

Discuss in small groups:

  • How does volunteering help you gain perspective or manage your stress?
  • What other tools do you find helpful in managing your stress?
  • What situations do you think might cause stress for the people we serve?
  • What supports do they have or need in dealing with these stressors?
  • How can we be a support for them?

Role Models

Questions

  • What significant experiences or factors have shaped the lives of the people we are serving?
  • What or who has influenced them?

Quotations of the Day:

  • "You can’t tell who you are unless someone is listening." — Sam Keen and Anne Fox
  • "We come to recognize and name things in our lives when we have a chance to express our thoughts to a person willing to listen … listening for the soul is a basic, life-forming, and transforming act, both for the listener and for the one being heard into speech." — Jean Stairs

Icebreaker Activity:

  • What’s one word or image that comes to mind when you hear “role model?”

Reflection Activity:

Additional questions for discussion:

  • Think of role model you had and journal about how they connected with you. What did it mean to you? Why did they stand out?
  • How did they communicate the Critical Life Messages, even without knowing it?
  • How would you like to be a role model to the people you are serving?
  • How can you take ideas from your role models about how to connect and communicate with the people you are getting to know in your volunteer placement?

Creativity

Questions:

  • How does volunteering here invite me to be creative?
  • What situations call for creativity in the moment?

Quotation of the Day:

  • “In the future, creativity will be meaningful only if it is relevant to all humanity.” – David Bohm

Icebreaker Activity:

  • As a large group go around, or discuss in pairs: What situation while volunteering today required you to use your creative skills?

Reflection Activity:

Hope

Questions:

  • What do you hope for the people you are serving?
  • What hopes do you think they might have?

Reflection Activity:

Additional questions for discussion:

  • What gives you hope?
  • Where do you struggle to find hope?

Taboos

Questions:

  • What are the “taboo” topics in our society?
  • What are the subjects of conversation that might cause tension or unease if raised in a group, with peers or with family?
  • In what ways, if any, do these taboos relate to your volunteer experiences?
  • In what ways might they relate to the experiences of the people we serve?

Quotation of the Day:

  • “Each of us guards a gate of change.” – Marilyn Ferguson

Reflection Activity:

Charity to Justice

Note: In having this conversation with a group it’s important to be sensitive to not devaluing your work as volunteers – both charity and justice are important, and most volunteers are actually doing both, even if it appears that you’re primarily focused on meeting immediate and tangible needs.

Questions:

  • In what ways can I generally count on being treated fairly or unfairly?

  • How might this differ from others in our group or from the people we serve?

Quotation of the Day:

  • “Charity refers to the provision of help or relief to those in need. It consists of an individual or an institution acting voluntarily to transfer some of its resources (money, food, shelter, knowledge, labor, time, etc.) to an individual or group that has fewer resources. When charitable work is well organized, run efficiently, performed lovingly and with integrity, and delivered to those who are truly needy, it can literally save lives, prevent misery, and maintain the dignity of the recipients. Social justice, on the other hand, refers to the state of institutional or structural arrangements in which there are no inequalities that are unjustifiable in terms of the greater social good or that are imposed unfairly. When one’s goal is social justice, one attempts to alter the structural or institutional practices that produce excessive or unjustified inequalities among individuals or that treat people unfairly—for example, discriminating among people on the basis of race, sex, social class, religion, nationality, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or disability status. For community service and educational outreach to solve our social problems rather than simply ameliorate their negative consequences for poor or needy individuals and eventually “burn out” those who provide services, it must adopt a social justice approach rather than rely on a charity approach… Justice work is empowering in that the poor or those in need are treated as equal partners in the determination of what services and resources are needed and how they can be attained. The goal of the justice advocate should always be that those in need will no longer face such needs—colloquially referred to as “working oneself out of a job.” One way to achieve this end is by facilitating the empowerment of clients who will then be able to meet their own self-determined needs. This also protects against one of the dysfunctions of doing charity work: the sense of superiority that can emerge. This feeling of self-satisfaction can become an end in itself—rather than keeping the interests of those in need as primary—and leads to programs that do more to meet the needs of the volunteers or donors than those of the client.” – Sam Marullo and Bob Edwards, Charity to Justice

Reflection Activity:

  • Take turns reading the quotation in the group.
  • Discuss:
    • What aspects of our volunteer work are ‘charity?’ What aspects are ‘justice?’
    • How are the people we serve being empowered?
    • What would it mean for our volunteer group to “work itself out of a job?”
    • What would societal systems need to look like for that to happen? How could this happen? What role might you play?
    • What new insights or questions do these readings prompt for you?

Poverty and Access to Technology

Questions: (to ask about or notice while volunteering)

  • How much access to technology do the people you are serving have?
  • For example, do they have a computer at home? Do they have a telephone? Do they have access to the use of a car?

Icebreaker Activity:

  • Discuss in small groups: How much time do you spend online or your cellphone? What do you think it would be like for you to live without these?

Reflection Activity:

  • Invite group members to do a technology “self-inventory.” Give each group member some paper and guide them through the following steps:
  1. Write down all the ways you use technology in your everyday life
  2. Write beside each item all the ways you depend on it (e.g., school, work, social life, etc.)
  3. Which items require money? Rate how expensive each item is (with one to five $ signs).

Discussion:

  • Invite group members to share what they noticed regarding their own uses of technology.
  • How much access to these technologies do the people you are serving have (or their families, neighbours)?
  • In what ways might limited access affect their lives or those of their families? (i.e. ability to do school work, get a job)
  • How does awareness of these issues of poverty in our community affect what we are offering through our volunteer work?
  • What insights into your own uses of technology does this discussion give you?

Information to share in this conversation:

  • The amount of income an individual living on social assistance receives is $585/month.
  • $356 of this must be used for rent or is taken back.
  • The average cost for an individual to purchase a Nutritious Food Basket is $223.51 per month (Nutritious Food Basket costing, Ministry of Health Promotion, February 22, 2010).
  • This leaves no money for laundry, transportation, telephone or other technology, etc.

Motivation

Questions:

  • Why are the clients using the services that your placement provides?
  • What do they need?

Reflection Activity:

  • Two Truths and a Lie get-to-know-you activity:
  • Change this icebreaker into a reflection activity by having volunteers each share three truths and one lie on the following questions. Give time to the volunteers to write down their responses before the sharing and guessing:
    • Why are you volunteering here?
    • What stood out today from your experience or what was it like for you?
    • Why do you think the clients are using this service? Or what do they need from us?
    • An interesting fact about yourself.

Additional question for discussion:

  • What do you need from this group/placement to help this be a valuable volunteer experience for you?

Finding your Authentic Life Path

Questions:

  • See Best / Worst get-to-know-you activity:
  • When in my experience at this volunteer placement do I feel most alive or passionate?
  • When do I feel drained?

Quotation of the Day:

Reflection Activity:

Additional questions for discussion:

Take Home Exercise:

Finding your Authentic Life Path (Part 2)

Questions:

  • If you volunteer with children or youth: What about this experience reminds you of things that you liked to do in your childhood or youth?
  • If you volunteer with adults: What about this experience makes you dream about what your future might be like/what you might enjoy doing in 10-20 years from now?

Quotation of the Day:

  • “Ask yourself, ‘What is my deepest passion, really? What moves me profoundly?’ And let the answer float up from the truest, most vulnerable place in your heart. Greet this answer like it is your own newborn self being placed in your arms. Love it. Bond with it. Feed it. Don’t push it aside, minimize, make excuses, and starve this thing of beauty…” – Sue Monk Kidd

Icebreaker Activity:

Discuss as a large group or in pairs: If your house was burning, what two or three things would you take with you, and what does this say about you?

Reflection Activity:

  • Ideal Job Exercise
  • After reading the quotation, ask people to quickly write 20 things they are passionate about
  • After doing this, have them narrow it down to 5
  • Discuss:
    • How does what you are passionate about relate to your volunteer experience?
    • How is volunteering here helping you to know what you are passionate about?
    • Invite each person to choose one thing from their list that they will give attention to this week. Give the group a chance to share what they chose to focus on and why.

Additional Themes

Activities, questions, and quotations can be combined to create additional themes. Topic examples include:

  • Service Learning and Civic Engagement
  • Our Impact on the Community
  • Activism: how can I make a difference? 
  • Integrating Volunteering with other aspects of life
  • Transferability of Skills and Lessons Learned
  • Personal Development
  • Values
  • Meaning, and Purpose
  • Decision-making
  • Success and Money
  • Generosity
  • Simplicity: living simply so others may simply live
  • Sustainability and Environmental Issues
  • Time Management
  • Balance and Self-Care
  • Practicing Presence
  • Stress Management 
  • Rest and Renewal
  • Play
  • Diversity
  • Health
  • Equality
  • Freedom
  • Fear and Anxiety
  • Apprehension 
  • Seeing the Bright Side
  • Strengths and Weaknesses
  • Commitment
  • Selflessness
  • Perspective
  • Guidance and Support
  • Leadership and Types of Leaders 
  • Interpersonal Skills
  • How to Listen