Hands Up, Who’s Volunteering?
If you’ve been here a little while, you’ll know that I have a volunteer role on a national home education committee and have done so for nearly four years. That would be these guys, if you want to check us out. (Click the picture to take you to the website.)
In that time I’ve had the good fortune of working with some lovely and knowledgeable ladies and it has easily been the most cohesive, easy-going and thoughtful committee that I’ve worked on. So much give and take around ideas and ways to do things. No massive ego trips. It’s been a real pleasure.
In addition to the enjoyment factor, volunteering with NCHENZ has made a huge difference to my understanding of and commitment to home education. I now have a much better grasp of the laws and of the extent to which we can consult with and push back on bad policy initiatives from the Ministry of Education. Thankfully this has been a fairly rare thing for us to need to do, and we remain able to engage with the Ministry staff, both national and local, in a respectful way.
If I had not volunteered my time I would be much poorer in my own personal understanding of the system we live under, and what is right and reasonable to expect under that system.
But, as co-ordinator, I have a limited time role and I will be finishing up my third and final year in June 2017. I’m currently undecided on whether I’ll be staying on in a minor role after that time.
In the almost three years I’ve been co-ordinator (and the months before that, as a new committee member) I’ve been very pleased to suggest or help implement many initiatives. Some have been particularly visible to the community, while others have been more behind-the-scenes administrative stuff. My goal over the entire time has been to improve our sense of community and our connectedness as a group. We are statistically a very small population by anyone’s measure and therefore there is a much reduced chance of finding ‘your tribe’, so it has been of concern to me that we create as many opportunities for connection and support as possible.
Our kids make up 0.7% of the total school population. That’d be 5,558 kids in total, or 2,196 families¹.
That’s in the entire country. So, yeah. Meeting people ‘like you’ with whom you can share your journey is ever so slightly a challenge for many home educators.
I joined NCHENZ a few months after the 2013 AGM, at which the existing committee had decided to make membership for individuals free, and to fundraise through offering members access to discounted learning resources and programmes. These two decisions have made the biggest difference to the ongoing viability and vibrance of our society². Member numbers were a miniscule 181 at the 2013 AGM but by the following year they had raised significantly to 699.
In the time since then, I have been grateful to watch those numbers consistently climb. We cracked the 1000 member milestone in 2015 and at last count we are at a touch over 1400 members. Barring any massive changes in the number of families home educating this year, we will now be representing about 65% of the New Zealand home educating community.
No pressure ladies. No pressure!
In my time, we have continued to expand our Member Services section to cover a range of resource options, and this has undoubtedly helped fuel our membership growth. There is no underestimating just how much our Member Services Co-Ordinator has been a key person and a key role in the growth of the society’s membership.
I would also like to think that my suggestion and initial implementation of a professional looking email newsletter system has also helped, in a small way, to improve the overall image and visibility of the organisation. We now do Quarterly Newsletters covering any current issues, new services, updates and whatever else is appropriate at the time. In addition to this, I suggested and drove the first survey of home educators by NCHENZ in November 2013. (Timely that this post should be written now.) It is one of the best things, I think, that I have brought to the table. It gives us a reasonable overview of what our community looks like, and while it hasn’t changed dramatically year on year, it is a useful tool in rounding out our perspectives on and combating any number of myths about home educators and home education.
In addition to these initiatives and because I have always been about the connection, getting our Facebook page and Facebook group growing and interactive was something I’ve always encouraged.
I started out doing semi-regular posts from our website resources and this has been taken up a notch this past year by our new Social Media Co-Ordinator. She does marvellous things with Pinterest, resource posts and most recently, theme months. That’s where my favourite quote in the previous post came from.
And my final “think big” project has been to create the NCHENZ Forum. As a previous bulletin board / forum user, and as a person who would like to spend far less time on the giant time suck that is Facebook, it was intended to be my antidote to the massive numbers of groups to belong to on social media. A one-stop-shop, if you will. A place where ALL aspects of home education could be discussed, in one place, privately, and without the need to bunnyhop between groups in a mile-long sidebar.
As this is so new only time will tell if it attracts more than the nearly 100 members who have signed up, and whether it will turn in to a useful alternative place to connect. I hope so.
You would think that this was enough things to do, but no. I have crazily embarked on the job of fetching up all of the University entry requirements into sort-of understandable documents. It sounds worse than it is, but it is time consuming to do. This serves two functions – one is to give parents starting out a quick overview of what their kids will need to do for entry, and the other is to give us as NCHENZ an idea of which institutions are recognising (or not) the value of some of our kids taking a non-traditional approach to learning.
I won’t mention the Project List that I’ve created over my time on the committee – with roughly ten more “think big” ideas that I would love to see move forward. I will also not mention how my fellow committee members’ eyes roll up in to the back of their heads whenever I turn up online and post yet another new idea ‘that I had in the shower this morning’. Those poor, long-suffering, women. I appreciate you all and the forbearance you show me.
But this brings me to my sad place. The winding up of my time as the “Think Big Queen”.
Part of me is looking forward to getting back the hours and hours and hours of mental energy I spend on thinking about the future of NCHENZ each and every week, and another part of me is saddened that my mega list of good ideas will not be achieved any time soon. And since they are MY mega list of ideas that I think are good, I can’t, in good conscience, expect them to be followed through by others.
And then there’s the loss of the camaraderie. We have a good laugh and I will sorely miss that.
In it’s place will fall my real life, and planning for changes we hope to make in the next 18 months to two years. That really does need my attention. I have been unsuccessfully trying to split my thoughts and time between my voluntary work (which I love to do) and my real life planning. I suspect I cannot do both, and that makes me sad because there is still so much more I want to be able to contribute.
I know I will leave my decision to stay on or go until close to the last minute. In the meantime, I will be working out how to recruit more willing volunteers. We are a small group of ten who punch well above our weight in terms of what we provide to our community, but it can’t go on indefinitely. We need help, willing assistance, and bright-eyed energy to continue the good work going forward. Our community cannot rely on the 0.7% of their membership who are providing the services and the connection indefinitely. It is not fair, nor feasible, on those who have stepped forward as volunteers.
I hope that the last good thing I do before I sign off in June, is to have managed to recruit a number of new, energetic volunteers to help those with heavy workloads and to keep our other projects moving forward. For without these new volunteers, we stand in danger of losing the vast amount of knowledge and growth that we have achieved through volunteer burn-out.
If you are an NCHENZ member and have appreciated the services and support we’ve tried to provide over the past few years, we would love to hear from you as a volunteer. We don’t expect more than you can readily give and there are plenty of options for what you can contribute towards.
Feel free to email me if you’d like to know more.
¹ Source: Education Counts Statistics
² NCHENZ is an Incorporated Society.