It’s Saturday, and you’re traveling to Gatesville today for your monthly opportunity to volunteer at one of the facilities there. Your mind races in anticipation, and you can’t help but wonder what this day will be like. Here’s what you can expect from your day, and some tips and hints (below) to help it go smoothly:
Ahead of time, arrangements will have been made for you to car or van pool (unless you prefer to drive yourself!) with another group of cheerful volunteers. You will meet at a prearranged location around 9:00 or 9:30 AM. The trip to Gatesville from Austin area takes about 1 hour and 45 minutes, but with the fellowship and camaraderie you will experience in the vehicle, it will feel more like a mere 30 minute drive!
At Pruett’s, a small cafe camouflaged as a gas station, you will enjoy a quick lunch from a surprisingly varied menu (chicken fajita salad is the writer’s personal favorite!) The group will report to their assigned facility a little before noon. Once inside, usually the materials are ready and waiting for the volunteers. There’s time for you to familiarize yourself with the recorder.
The offenders will arrive and begin with the opening circle. After introductions, the mothers will select books, and the volunteers will begin taping them as they read to their child. Usually, the volunteers remain in the facility 2-3 hours allowing time for each mother to read a book to each of her children. This time varies depending on the number of offenders and the total number of children they have. There may be a closing circle, depending on the facility.
After leaving, you will enjoy debriefing with the other volunteers, often over a treat at the local Dairy Queen. The car/van pool usually leaves shortly thereafter arrives in the Austin area around 4:30 or 5:00.
WARNING: Be prepared for a warm, fuzzy feeling to wrap itself around you as you reflect on your experience as WSP volunteer who assisted in bringing a mother’s voice to a child’s longing ears.
Volunteer Tips and Hints
BEFORE YOU LEAVE HOME: 1.) You will need to bring two items if this is your first visit: your letter of acceptance (suggested) and your driver’s license (REQUIRED). (Only your license is needed on repeat visits.)
2.) Bring a lunch or money to purchase lunch.
3.) Avoid dressing in white as the offenders dress in all white. Dress conservatively. Please no sleeveless tops or tank tops, no shorts or capri’s, no open-toe shoes, and minimal jewelry.
4.) If you are carpooling, be sure you know where and when to meet. Have phone numbers so you can contact your fellow riders should there be an emergency. (Contact the team leader of your facility if you need phone numbers.)
WHEN YOU ARRIVE AT THE FACILITY:
1.)The gate officer will greet your vehicle. You will need to show identification and state that you are with Women’s Storybook Project.
2.) Leave valuables locked in the car. (Purses, cell phones, etc.)
INSIDE THE FACILITY:
1.) Set up of the room: Prior to our arrival, the room at the facility will have been set up. Books will be laid out according to age, chairs will be in a circle, and recording stations will be set up. Each station will have a tape recorder, mailers, and a pen. Usually, mentors (selected offenders) will be in charge of setting up.
2.) Opening Circle time: The visit will begin with the offenders arriving and sitting in a circle with the volunteers. We go around the circle introducing ourselves. The offenders are encouraged to tell about their child(ren) and share how the project has affected them. Volunteers are encouraged to give basic information about themselves such as number of children, why you want to be involved in this project, etc. When the circle time ends, volunteers go to their stations.
3.) Book selection: The mother will select a book for her child. While she is waiting for a station to be free, she is encouraged to read through the book and to write a short inscription in the front of the book to her child.
- Smile, introduce yourself, and help mother feel comfortable.
- If a mother becomes emotional, give her time to regain composure. Talk about other things (your hobby, your family, etc.) to help her.
- Ask the mother before you start taping if she needs any help with words in the book. If a mother is struggling, offer to read the page BEFORE taping it, then allow her to read it while the recorder is running. If the mother makes a mistake while reading, just continue taping unless she requests to do it over. MISTAKES ARE OK!
- Personal messages: Be sure that personal messages are short and to the point.
4.) The recording station:
A. Write the child’s name and the title of the book on the tape’s label (side A).
B. Remind the mother to allow about 6 seconds to pass after you start the recorder and before she begins speaking, as there is a short lead on the tape.
C. Invite the mother to give a SHORT personal message before she begins reading.
D. After the personal message, rewind and check to see that the tape is working properly.
E. Tape the mother reading the book. If the book is very short, invite the mother to talk about the pictures on the pages as well as reading the words. If it is a chapter book, mother only reads the first chapter. (She might want to invite the child to continue reading the book and to write her a letter telling her what is happening in the book.)
F. After the book has ended, invite the mother to make a closing personal statement.
G. Punch out the tabs on the tape to prevent it from being accidentally recorded over.
H. If the mother has additional children, she should go and select another book for another child and wait for a station to open up again. We attempt to allow every offender to read to each of her children before we leave. Once the mother has read to all of her children, she will take the mailer to the volunteer in charge of addressing the envelopes.
5.) Closing Circle Time: After everyone has finished reading, in some facilities we gather once more in a circle. This is a time of sharing about the experience or talking about parenting skills. A leader might invite the mothers to tell one way they connected to their child during this time or feeling they had. Volunteers might say how they felt during the experience, etc. After circle time, the visit ends.