Community Clean Up Projects Helping Individuals

by Jeni
(Idaho)

I would love to start a community based program where we help other residents with their yard work or other projects. The people I would like to benefit are those that can no longer do the work for themselves or other families that would benefit from neighbors using their equipment to help with projects.

I am looking for some kind of format to ask the residents what help they could use or what equipment could be used for certain projects.

Our community would help others out if we knew who needed help.

Editors Reply: This type of program indeed is a community benefit. There are many examples of a similar program now and in recent history.

The most prevalent program nationally is called Rebuilding Together, and it runs an annual campaign sometimes called Christmas in April in a number of participating communities. See their website at http://www.togetherwetransform.org.

Rebuilding Together works exclusively on home repairs, as far as we know, and exclusively as a one day a year event. They turn out a large volume of volunteers through partnering with corporations whose employees participate.

So you can either find an existing app, adapt or hijack an existing app or website, or make up your own form and enter the results in an Excel spreadsheet or equivalent. Just for the sake of demonstration, we decided to put together some sample questions you might ask people on both sides of the equation to answer. Of course you should edit to fit your situation.

We'll leave it to you to figure out how to harness technology, if at all, to work for you. We really think you could get started by asking questions similar to these through the free version of Survey Monkey (an online survey-writing tool, see www.surveymonkey.com), with paper copies also available for those without internet access. Of course you would want to give local people your link instead of using Survey Monkey to recruit an audience. Here are those starter questions that will help you think through what you might ask potential helping volunteers:

1. What times of the week and day would you typically have available to help someone else?

2. How often per year would you want to volunteer? For how many hours each day that you volunteer?

3. What skills do you have that you think would be helpful to other community members? (For this one especially, you really need to offer choices. Suggested types of activities could be: yard work, painting, light home repairs, window washing, gutter cleaning, power washing, child care, elder care, providing transportation to grocery store, whatever you want to offer).

4. What equipment and tools do you have that you would be willing to use during these volunteer projects? Are you willing to use equipment and tools that may be on site where you are volunteering? What information would you need to make that decision?

5. Are you willing to contribute labor, but not your own tools and equipment? Do you have tools to lend, but no time available for labor yourself?

You might ask the potential recipients of this help questions such as these:

1. What kind of help do you need? Describe the project in as much detail as you have.

2. Is this a one-time need, or will it happen on a recurring basis? If recurring, how often do you think you will have this need?

3. Tell us why you are unable to complete this project yourself.

4. What times of the week and day could someone work on this project? Will you need to be present while the volunteer is working?

Then of course you collect contact information, including full names and addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and best times and ways to contact.

As you probably can see already, this becomes plenty complex. Our advice is to start with one or two services.

Since you mentioned yard work, why don't you start there? Simply match people who need to have lawns mowed, leaves raked, and beds cleaned out with people who are willing to do the work. Then based on the problems that you encounter--and you will have problems, we assure you--you can figure out what other kinds of needs can be met.

Be sure you have a simple way for both helpers and recipients to give you some feedback after they participate. Make sure some of the feedback is numerical, such as how satisfied are you with the services that were provided (1 = most satisfied, 5 = least satisfied, and so forth, in the amount of detail it wlll take for you to obtain the needed information.) These numerical ratings hopefully will help with attracting corporate sponsors or grant funders to help with whatever expenses you have.

Ask both volunteers and recipients for free-form suggestions about how your entire program could be improved. Your best volunteers certainly will have plenty to say after they have done several projects. Also make a way for the general public to reach you to ask questions; this could occur through a Contact Us form on a website, through a Facebook page, or through a phone number.

Our advice is to keep the program simple to understand and explain. Your guidelines could become very complex, but the program overview needs to be easy to grasp.

From the beginning, build in whatever legal safeguards you think are necessary. Many people don't address possible legal issues until there is an actual problem, but then, it may be too late to avoid heartache. Don't think that no one would ever sue you or someone else over something that happens in the course of this program, because even in small towns and rural areas today, people are more and more prone to think about litigation. Your local legal services office might be able to help you write appropriate waivers of liability for both volunteers and recipients.

Partly on the basis of the types of projects you decide to accept, think through whether it will be more effective to assign a group of volunteers to clean up five or six yards on one autumn Saturday, or should you send one person to work all or most of a day on one large yard?

Unless you opt into Rebuilding Together or some other program already underway, give yourselves a snappy name that will be memorable but descriptive. Also enlist a committee to help you; even if they are not of much real help, their networks can be very useful in getting the word out. Especially try to enlist a media partner or two; if there is a local weekly or daily newspaper, they could be important, as well as a local radio station and television station.

Of course participate in social media, especially to help recruit volunteers. Congregations can be very helpful in locating program participants, and any organizations serving seniors probably will be glad to help suggest those who may need assistance.

These are some ideas to get you started. As you begin to edit our questions, you will think of other information that you need and other services people might be willing to provide to each other. But again, our best advice would be to start with a fairly limited set of services in one category (such as yard work or light home repair), perfect the system of community volunteers helping other citizens with clean ups, and then expand as both your volunteer base and your administrative capacity are able to handle complexity.


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