Youth homelessness in Seattle became an increasing concern within the past few years. New Horizons (NH) is a non-profit organization that started in 1978 with the goal of caring for this population. They provide services such as hot meals, day programs or “Drop-ins,” overnight shelter, counseling, and case management. The mission and vision of New Horizons is to “end homelessness one young person at a time,” and “increase awareness” to help youth out of homelessness (New Horizons, 2018). This organization continues to serve homeless youth to ensure they can thrive in their community. Moreover, volunteers are always in need at New Horizons. Volunteer opportunities include kitchen services, working in their cafe, painting murals, arts and crafts, and overseeing the shelter. Our project focuses on increasing the amount of volunteers at New Horizons. We aim to provide a consistent flow of volunteers from Seattle Pacific University (SPU). Our overarching goal is to raise awareness about NH and youth homelessness by educating SPU students. By recruiting volunteers, we are increasing long-term community engagement, creating job opportunities, and positively changing the lives of homeless youth.
“According to the National Center for Homeless Education, more than 1.38 million youth in the United States were identified as homeless during the 2018-2019 school year” (Smith-Grant et al., 2021). There are various factors contributing to the rising number of youth becoming homeless such as: family relationships, mental health, substance use, socioeconomic disadvantages, racial disparities, LGBTQI+ identification, etc., (Mayock et al., 2020). Other research suggests that youth going through homelessness experience more trauma than their peers who have comfortable living situations such as: being sexually assaulted, physically assaulted, trading sex to survive, and alcohol or drug abuse (Smith-Grant et al., 2022). As well as that, some social groups are at increased risk, including: youth lacking a high school diploma or a GED who have a 346% greater risk, youth in households making less than $24,000 a year who have a 162% greater risk, LGBTQIA+ youth who have more than double the risk, and African American youth who have an 83% greater risk (Covenant House, 2017). According to NH Ministries, in King County, there are approximately 1,500 youths facing homelessness every day; partnership with their organization reconnects youth to a multitude of opportunities (New Horizons, 2018).
Activities with Rationale
To help bring more volunteers to the NH organization, our group researched how to best format and put together posters that would reach and grab the most amount of people’s attention. We found that using the color red would help our poster to stand out amongst other posters (Shi, 2013). We used a QR code because it is found to have the most success with assisting people to sign up for activities (Anovari, 2020). We chose to hand out our flyers on SPU’s campus during lunch at Gwinn Commons, due to it being the highest populated location on campus. We targeted this area because the population would be mainly first and second year students who needed volunteer hours to apply to their majors. Along with handing out flyers, we pulled in our crowd by offering free candy and utilizing a script for each person to make it consistent. The flyer consisted of what NH stands for and how to get involved. In addition to handing out flyers, our group hung up posters around campus in populated areas to further reach students who would be interested in volunteering.
In order for our project to be efficient, our group came up with short term and long term goals, as well as three measurable goals. Our short term goal was to raise awareness about NH and their volunteer opportunities by passing out flyers and engaging in the community before the end of May. Our long term goals were to create a consistent flow of volunteers, quarterly, as well as hang a poster at Evo, as the company pays their employees to volunteer with nonprofits. As for our SMART goals, our group aimed to present to 10 people per group member (70 total) during our face-to-face intervention day on May 4th, 2022 about New Horizons and the population of homeless youth, using the flyer as a tool for accessibility. Secondly, we aimed for our QR code to be scanned at least 15 times by the end of handing out flyers on May 4th, 2022. Thirdly, from May 10th, 2022 to May 18th, 2022, we aimed to reach at least 50 digital interactions with the Linktree QR code. Our group focused on utilizing social media as a means to reach our goals because “Using social media channels is a tool to enhance communication, collaboration, and knowledge sharing. This increased productivity is possible because knowledge or messages become content that is instantly communicated and allows for remote professionals to collaborate more efficiently. Collaboration is an essential function of nonprofit organizations within themselves, with other organizations, and with their broader communities, so this is an impactful benefit” (Appleby, 2016).
We chose to target student involvement for New Horizons because it can be seen that student leadership benefits the community, as well as the university as a whole. In a study from Tulane University, developing an outreach program of students and faculty after Hurricane Katrina allowed the university as a whole to dive into topics like race, poverty, and other areas of inequity as well as building leadership skills like mentoring (Ilustre, et al., 2012). Incentivizing community outreach as a way to increase leadership experience, volunteer hours for job or graduate school applications, and meet graduation requirements was met with more cooperation from students at Seattle Pacific University. Furthermore, technology “allows students to find information about the agencies seeking students for volunteerism or internships. Students interested in internships can submit their applications through the system,” (Ilustre, et al., 2012, p.11). Similarly, our Linktree QR code had the same effects for students, allowing for greater accessibility to the NH Website.
During the timeline of our project, it was apparent that raising awareness about volunteer opportunities and New Horizons, in general, was our main priority. This goal was evaluated by tracking the amount of QR code scans with Linktree. Our goal was met, the QR code was scanned 461 times on the day of our in-person intervention. Overall, the long term goal that we had for this organization was to create a consistent flow of volunteers quarterly; this goal is progressing as the number of volunteers will need to be evaluated by the New Horizon’s Volunteer Coordinator. These goals were not measurable but still greatly motivated our project’s success. Furthermore, from analyzing the effectiveness of our two interventions, we discovered a small number of limitations. The first is students saving the QR code for later use instead of interacting with it the day of; between our interventions, May 5th to May 9th, we received 119 interactions with the volunteer sign up page, from the QR code. Although this falls outside the project’s timeline, New Horizons can still get new volunteers after the project is over. This positively impacts the longevity of our project. Another limitation was interactions with the Linktree without signing up or deciding to withdraw the sign-up application on a later date after initially agreeing. Furthermore, we did not test the level of comprehension from students after educating them. One way we could have corrected this was to implement a teach-back method to ensure understanding of New Horizons’ mission. Lastly, we were unable to access analytics for New Horizons so we could not record interactions with their website on a given day or from a specific location. The total number of SPU students who have reached out is four; with two completing background checks/waivers and are currently volunteering, one student planning on volunteering Fall of 2022, and one student who has reached out but has not committed.
In conclusion, this project has more than exceeded our expectations for engaging the college population and greater Seattle area about various volunteer opportunities that are offered at New Horizons. The target audience of SPU students was prioritized as this population is the closest in age to New Horizons’ clients; otherwise, homeless youths. Volunteering is an essential part of building a community for the greater good. Other benefits include positively impacting mental health and giving a sense of purpose to those volunteers. Also, it is beneficial for job applications and may be required for certain majors. We decided to compare the effects that nonverbal communication, as opposed to verbal, face-to-face interactions, has on recruiting volunteers and raising public awareness. Positive outcomes were educating more than 400 people about New Horizons on SPU’s campus, surpassing our goal.
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