AR: How do you think that the College Positive Volunteerism method addresses the challenges that volunteers may face when working with students?
PH: When I was working with volunteers, I encountered well-intentioned people with huge hearts who wanted to contribute in a very social justice manner. But the problem was, you can’t work under the assumption that well-intentioned, big-hearted people know what they’re doing. So, they needed the tools, they needed to be empowered to become agents of change so they could empower others. With the College Positive Volunteer manual, I was able to create something that gave CPVs the tools, the understanding, the conceptual framework, the applicability of things to work with people in an effective manner; that was a responsible thing to do for volunteers to know. You can’t just cut volunteers to loose and say, “hey, go volunteer.’ It’s not as effective as when you have a structure set up.
AR: What is the impact on students of having a mentor who has been trained in the CPV method?
PH: How does that trickle into the high school, elementary, even middle school students? Well, now you have a group of volunteers that have the tools and the skillset to know how to begin helping them, and part of that was to help them develop that critical thinking, the adaptability, and flexibity of the volunteers to help them understand that every situation is unique and different. At least now they have that foundation to work with students. So in the CPV training they learn how to communicate with students who are vastly different from them, or in some cases very similar to them, but different in some ways, and how to introduce them, depending on their grade level to college; to the understanding of it, to the discussion of it, to the resources behind it, to imagining it and seeing it.
When you talk to most people who had college-educated parents, college wasn’t necessarily an option; it was something they were going to do. This is what CPV has started helping, from early on with elementary students, is being that voice saying college is something they are going to do, to incorporate that into their lives, rather than them saying, “college, what is that?” and start that discussion when they’re seniors in high school. So, it’s great for those who want to go into elementary and start there, and for those who want to go into middle or high schools, that’s the beauty of this foundation and the flexibility behind it. You can go in with any age group, and start introducing it and adjusting the toolkit for what the needs are. So, it’s powerful in that sense, we really do create agents of change by creating this College Positive Volunteer movement.
AR: When you began your work with Michigan Campus Compact, the CPV toolkit already existed, and you came and worked to revise the materials. What appealed to you about the CPV toolkit initially, and what were the components that you saw needed to be changed?
PH: I saw the potential; it’s a great idea! I could see the potential in this thing, but there were a lot of things that were missing. It’s easy to critique something, but this isn’t negative critique, it’s constructive criticism, because I could see how much this could grow. There was a lot of lack of discussion on many other social topics that are relevant, but I don’t know what the goal was of the initial manual, so covering those topics may not have been their intent. I’m one of those firm believers that you continually improve things, and things evolve, so that’s what I tried to do with this toolkit.
AR: What is one piece of advice you would give to a mentor, regardless of their training or background?
PH: Do not be discouraged. It’s easier to be discouraged and to quit than it is to keep trying to create empowerment of positive social change for human beings. If it was easy, this would be a different world, so to keep in mind: don’t quit. Definitely, that’s the thing I tell all of my volunteers.
Thank you again to Dr. Hernandez for a wonderful week of events. If you’re interested in learning more about College Positive Volunteerism, you can access the toolkit by clicking here. Vermont Campus Compact is working toward compiling resources for College Positive Volunteers in our state, and will make them available to our members as soon as we’re able! If you have any questions about CPV, or are interested in having your volunteers trained in this innovative method, you can contact our VISTA Leader Annie Rowell at: firstname.lastname@example.org.