One of the strategies in violence prevention efforts is utilizing ‘Peer Educators.’ Peer education groups are an effective method of violence prevention because of their ability to reach places that many advocates cannot. These groups know their audience because they ARE the audience.
You ever push a snowball down a hill? (sure you have).
This is essentially the way that peer education groups work, or are intended to. They begin with a small group of people, most often these groups are students at universities or high schools, who receive training in health topics. Then they teach their peers. Then their peers teach their peers, and so on. Like a snowball rolling down a hill. It keeps getting bigger and bigger.
The biggest issue for peer education groups is the transient nature of them. Students make up these groups and thus at some point must graduate and leave. This presents a problem when senior members graduate and leave the organization in large numbers. Recruiting volunteers in our field is difficult. Retaining them is even harder. Burnout is common and even the most dedicated advocate needs a break sometimes (and given the nature of the work, probably should take one).
So, how do keep these groups active and minimize the (inevitable) crushing mass exodus?
1. Recruit young.
- For high schools and universities, this means Freshmen. Find a way to present your organization in mandatory freshmen orientation programming. Get into 101 classes. Talk about the fun things your organization does. How it is a great way to meet people. How good it looks on a resume and grad school applications.
2. Start early
- The best way to get members active is to get them active early in the year/semester. Begin with activities that are fun and simple and approachable. Start with an event/activity that is less about your organizations message and more about meeting people and having fun. When it becomes a part of their day/week planning, they’ll come to meetings and volunteer.
3. Get to know your volunteers
- The better your volunteers/members know you, the more likely it is that you’ll see them on a regular basis (meaning they’ll actually show up to events). This can be done by having fun events, and example could be ‘family’ game/movie nights. When you have events, have senior members/officers participate in the events with the volunteers. Getting to know them makes them feel appreciated and excited about the group.
- Even though this is a peer education group, it’s likely that your volunteers/members will know some things you don’t. So listen to them. Ask them how the group can be better. Volunteers are the most important part of peer education groups, without them, you’re just a small group doing small events that won’t likely get much of a crowd. Also, let them know that they are appreciated. It feels good to know that you matter, and they you’re being helpful. This also applies to less senior officers/ members.
5. Have fun!
- Have fun! The more that we neglect to laugh and smile together, the smaller our groups will be and the more likely it will be that there will be ‘rebuilding’ years. Activism is supposed to be fun, serious too, and the more fun the group has the more likely that people will be willing to join and retain.
It is inevitable that groups will need to rebuild sometimes, but when you have a good, positive, happy core volunteer/member base, the less likely it is that it will be devastating to the group and the shorter that ‘rebuilding’ year is. So have fun!