Kiwanians work with kids. It’s what we do. Here are some things to keep in mind before your next project.
Story by Kasey Jackson
To be a Kiwanis member means to have a special place in your heart for young people. Kiwanians work side by side with people of all ages on fundraisers, service projects and in fellowship all around the world. But exactly how you spend your time with youth is important. Often, it’s not enough to just show up. There must be meaning behind your mission. Passion in your presence. Wisdom in your work. Smiles with your service.
So what do you need to know about working with youth in your community?
Did you know that all adults working with youth under the age of 18 at a Kiwanis event are expected to read and understand, agree to and abide by youth protection guidelines?
With more than 340,000 members in Kiwanis youth programs and a majority of clubs sponsoring or working with youth in some way, it’s important to remember that the safety and welfare of each and every child is entrusted to Kiwanians during these times. That means safety guidelines and background checks.
Educate yourself. Kiwanis policies related to working with youth are available at kiwanis.org/youthprotection.
REMEMBER: EVERYONE’S DIFFERENT
Celebrate individualism. Value diversity. Recognize that we are all unique and bring something different to the club. Some members will be more excited to do service than fundraising. Some will show eagerness to work behind the scenes with technology. Others will thrive working face to face with the community.
Also remember that our brains develop at different rates. Young members in K-Kids will need a different approach to a project than, say, even Builders Club members, because their brains are at a different stage of development. Key Club members likely will enjoy different projects than K-Kids members. We’re all different. We all learn and share in different ways. And that’s great. By working together, everyone benefits.
“I’m a big believer in the brain-based approach,” says Lisa Pyron, Kiwanis advisor to the College Park Elementary School K-Kids Club in Indianapolis and development specialist at Kiwanis International. “There are wonderful books available about how the brain works and how to best engage youth. I do my best to fit all the learning styles (visual, auditory, verbal, physical) in what we do. I start our K-Kids meetings with mindful body movement and everyone, no matter what ability level, stands, focuses on their breath and follows along. We move, stretch and embrace positive energy for what’s next. It’s not only uplifting for club members, but I feel happy, relaxed and engaged as well.”
So your club has a reading project with your sponsored K-Kids club? That’s great. Your members sign up to read to kids a couple times a school year? You could do better.
It’s important to be there often and to offer consistency. Don’t just visit the K-Kids to read a story — visit the K-Kids and be interactive in your storytelling. (Learn more about interactive reading at kiwanismagazine.org/readaloud.) They’ll be captivated and more interested and will remember your visits and look forward to seeing you again. This is how you build strong relationships, become mentors and make learning and leading fun. Remember this when working on any type of project with your sponsored youth. Don’t just sign up to sponsor a K-Kids, Builders Club, Key Club or Circle K club and then walk away. Be there on a regular schedule.
“Have fun!” says Fridley (Minnesota) Senior High School Key Club advisor Mary Bowen. “Kiwanians can reach out to Key Clubbers and make a vital impact in their lives. I have been close to many students, and my life has been impacted by their lasting and caring friendships. I became a member of Kiwanis solely because of the outstanding SLPs.”
A FEW OTHER WAYS TO BE PRESENT:
Make sure your Kiwanis club members volunteer with your SLP club’s service projects and fundraisers. Work shifts. Help hang posters. Attend planning meetings. Offer advice on how to ask for and handle money.
- Be available to offer advice anytime. Share contact information.
- Attend SLP club elections and offer to take photos for the club to share on social media.
- Update your Kiwanis club’s website with information about SLPs.
Be present, but remember that you’re helping students learn to lead.
“Remember that Key Club is student-led,” Bowen says. “The hardest thing for me to do is zip my lip. I am a gregarious person by nature, and I’m constantly working on ‘zipping.’”
Being friendly and personable goes a long way in any situation. When walking into a Key Club meeting, it means a lot more to the club president if you’re able to say, “Hi, Kaitlyn! How are you today?” instead of simply, “What’s on the agenda for today’s meeting?” Building positive relationships will lead to a stronger club.
“A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language,” Dale Carnegie writes in his book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”
EMBRACE TEACHABLE MOMENTS
Consider this scenario: As a Builders Club advisor, you’re attending a meeting and the president is flustered while trying to speak in front of her peers. She laughs, holds her hand in front of her face and makes demeaning jokes about herself. She conducts the meeting, but when it’s finished, she’s still making comments about how awful she feels and acts in front of people. You could just walk away and go back to work or home. Or you could pull her aside and give her some positive feedback and pointers for how she could improve. These moments are yours to take. Be the adult who’s been there and done that and lived to see another day. Be the mentor you signed up to be.
DON’T BE AFRAID
It may seem unbelievable, but there are some Kiwanis members who feel uncomfortable working with young people.
- Do you think young people talk funny?
- Are you worried your interests won’t match up?
- Is there a technology gap that makes you fear a specific project?
- Are you shy?
- Are you afraid that the Key Club members won’t like you?
All of these insecurities are normal — but you carry a bag of magic tricks with you that you may not even realize. You have stories to tell. You have a history. You have wisdom. You can offer a sense of relief and confidence that everything will be OK. The more you talk, the more the young person will open up and ask questions. You’ll be amazed at how much you will give and get in this relationship. There’s nothing to fear.
Mary Bowen has a few tips for any Kiwanian who might be hesitant to work with young people.
“I urge them to visit once, visit twice and go multiple times,” she says. “Eventually they’ll miss the youth, and the youth will miss them. Also, get a gregarious Kiwanis member to go with shy Kiwanians for the first several visits.”
And one more thing, she says: “Keep up with social media! I am nearly 81 years old and had to learn, because this was the only way I could talk to the Key Clubbers and my 10 grandkids. I am very proud of myself for learning.”
This story originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Kiwanis magazine.