Common Ground Learning Dissolves, Shares Volunteer Guidebook + Resources With Fellow Nonprofits - Generocity Philly

Oct. 29, 2014 12:02 pm

Common Ground Learning Dissolves, Shares Volunteer Guidebook + Resources With Fellow Nonprofits

Back in 2009, Alex McNeil and a group of Temple University students started Project E.D.U. (which was later renamed Common Ground Learning), an organization designed to connect college students to underserved youth through enriching educational programs. The goal was to connect university students with organizations and institutions in need of volunteer tutors and mentors. “We […]

Back in 2009, Alex McNeil and a group of Temple University students started Project E.D.U. (which was later renamed Common Ground Learning), an organization designed to connect college students to underserved youth through enriching educational programs. The goal was to connect university students with organizations and institutions in need of volunteer tutors and mentors.

“We identified the organizations that could utilize university students as volunteers, and then we advertised to those volunteers, recruited them, to create the ranks of volunteers,” McNeil said.  “We were the mediators in finding what the best fit would be for the volunteer and for the organization.”

After six years in operation, however, the organization shutdown due to financial and logistical constraints.

History of  Project EDU/Common Ground Learning

While the organization was running, it connected volunteers to a variety of organizations such as the Women’s Christian Alliance, WELL program, SEA at Temple University, HOPE Partnership for Education, and the Lenfest Center.

McNeil and Common Ground Learning worked to remove barriers to prospective volunteers by helping them pay for travel tokens, walking them through getting background/clearance checks, and going out on site visits to introduce volunteers to staff.

“Our whole thing was, there’s a lot of organizations out there doing great work, but…they’re stressed for time, their staff is overworked, so to have them recruiting, engaging, training and keeping engaged volunteers is very difficult,” he said. “We were really trying to be that middle ground, that hub, that would connect university students and the human capital at universities to these different organizations so they could expand their capacity and reach more of the people they were trying to serve,” McNeil added.

Common Ground Learning also held workshops on for volunteers on topics such as Urban Education, Professionalism and Classroom Dynamics. They also held community meetings about once a month to create a space for volunteers to reflect on and share their experiences from the field.

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After spending a few years on Temple’s campus,  Project E.D.U. joined the New Beginnings Incubator at Resources for Human Development and re-branded as an independent nonprofit: Common Ground Learning. The organization continued operations until earlier this year, shutting down because they couldn’t raise enough money to be sustainable.

McNeil explained that the volunteer staff all had full-time jobs and eventually couldn’t handle the commitment.

“Ultimately we didn’t raise enough money to sustain operations, and it’s a shame — I would’ve loved to keep going, but I wasn’t going to do it just for the sake of doing it and being stubborn,” he added.

McNeil also mentioned that the organization struggled to get grant funding because it had a very specific niche, and that “some of the grants we were applying to would be the same grants that organizations we were trying to supply volunteers for were going to.”

A Guidebook for the Future

Due to these constraints the Common Ground Learning team faced, they were unable to fully implement its programs on a large-scale. However, McNeil felt that with adequate resources and a dedicated staff, the model could be highly successful for increasing volunteer engagement and effectiveness.

“Ultimately, we did a lot of work, and instead of that just going to waste, I’m compiling it,” said McNeil. He’s put together a draft of all the materials the organization used in the past six years — its model, methods and tools — so that other nonprofits can use them.

The guidebook he assembled has been uploaded to LiveBinders and consists of several different sections– a volunteer guidebook which was designed better prepare tutors and mentors for service in educational programs; documents about the various workshops the team held; information about Common Ground Learning’s operations model; and links to other useful websites.

“[The material is] not going to fit for everyone, but if [someone] can pull even just a paragraph from here and it’s helpful to them, I will be very happy about that,” McNeil said.

View the entire handbook here.

Image c/o Alex McNeil

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