Highlights from the First Volunteer Town Hall of 2024!

Highlights from the First Volunteer Town Hall of 2024!

AFS-USA has launched a new way for volunteers to learn and share best practices: the Volunteer Town Hall. This hour-long Zoom will be held every four-to-six weeks and will feature volunteers from Area Teams with tips and tricks to increase volunteer engagement, identify volunteers for Area Team roles, and support volunteers as they make their way through the hosting year.

The first Town Hall was held on Sunday, January 21, 2024 (recording available here). After a kick-off and welcome by AFS-USA president and CEO Tara Hofmann, where she announced AFS-USA’s commitment to making sure all study abroad candidates are not kept from participating due to financial constraints, AFS National Council president Ann Sweet took over as host of the call.

Sweet explained the thinking behind the new Town Hall by pointing to AFS-USA’s focus this year on volunteer engagement, with a goal of assisting Area Teams in finding more volunteers and making sure all volunteers experience on-boarding that is kind, warm, and welcoming. She then turned the program over to five Area Team leaders who shared best practices:

  • Emily Hansen & Astrid Lamparter-Nowak from San Diego Area Team: San Diego, with a focus on team building, holds regular “Around the World in 60 Minutes” get-togethers where volunteers bring international foods to a gathering and share information about those foods in a slide show. Emily and Astrid pointed to the importance of holding mixers that don’t include an “ask” for volunteers to take on a new responsibility, but merely offer an opportunity for the team to get to know one another. Contact them at esshansen@gmail.com and alnowak@comcast.net.
  • Susan Loth from Georgia Area Team: This team shared ideas to find new volunteers. They pointed to their success in using volunteermatch.org to find local volunteers, inviting fellow Area Team leaders to view their listing in Dunwoody, Georgia, 30338. They have also had success searching for AFS returnees on LinkedIn; tracking their own local returnees and engaging with them; and turning to young members of AFS hosting and sending families who need volunteer hours. They suggest new volunteers “start small” with assistance roles and shadow experienced volunteers as they come on board.
  • Jennifer Freeman & Jeanne Hoerter from Massachusetts Bay Area Team: Jeanne and Jennifer reiterated the advice from the San Diego Area Team that points to the importance and benefits of holding mixers that are solely for social interactions. Next, Mass Bay explained they pair returnees with a hosted or sending student as a first step in staying involved in AFS. They also recommend being as specific as possible with tasks assigned to new volunteers and suggest tasks with finite timelines for this audience; both recommendations often result in higher volunteer retention. Contact them at jenniferafs@gmail.com and jeanne.hoerter.usavol@afs.org.

Does your Area Team have a best practice that has resulted in successful volunteer engagement and/or retention? Tara Hofmann is inviting Area Teams to share tips and tricks in upcoming Town Halls. Email her with ideas and comments: president@afsusa.org.