I first heard about the activities of the Red Cross Youth Safe Houses 16 years ago. A was a 22-year-old student and had gone to familiarize myself with the safe house of Red Cross Vantaa as a part of my studies. At the safe house I got to know that volunteers were being sought. I was excited. The activities at the safe house and the guide principles of Red Cross, as well as the ubiquitous warm atmosphere made me seek a position as a volunteer right away.   

Today, I´m acting as a coordinator at the same safe house, and I´m in contact with those who want to volunteer. There is a continual need for volunteers because over the years we have expanded our activities and volunteer activities have been diversified. Volunteer activities can be found for all ages and for those who are interested in different things. In addition to various volunteer activities, our volunteers are involved in the development of activities, as well as composing totally new models of volunteering, influencing, participating, civic activity, and assistance.

At the moment, most of our volunteers are between 16 to 28 of age, but there are people of different ages involved from primary school to pensioners. Our youngest volunteers are envoys of social media and volunteers for youth evenings because there is no age limit as to this kind of volunteering and the degree of responsibility as well as tasks can be adjusted for everybody. Tasks of an envoy of social media may include, for example, likes and further sharing of the Youth safe house postings, vlogging (video blogging), or participating in various activities of the safe house and writing about them. During youth evenings volunteers can, for instance, work amongst staff and meet people, help at a pop-up café or plan different events and thematic evenings with the young participants. (Program archive)     

Youth involved in volunteering

The Finnish Red Cross has had young volunteers in various activities already for a long time but at the Red Cross safe house in Vantaa, the first minor volunteer began in the beginning of 2017. A 14-year-old, who participated in a youth evening, announced that (s)he wants to design a campaign against bullying and to start as a volunteer at the safe house.

At that time, we implemented activities of the Youth evening at the Tikkurila Youth Center in collaboration with the youth workers of the area and their incredibly skillful young peer mentors. Except for the peer mentors, minor volunteers were still a relatively unknown concept to us. So, we started by focusing on laws and regulations for young volunteers. We also contacted the caregivers of the young people to go over things with them. We also needed a written approval, permission to photograph as well as contact information in case of emergencies. After this, we had our first young volunteer on our list.  

However, the actual kick-start for the involvement of young volunteers was obtained through collaboration with Citizen Forum’s Jeesaan-project. With the help of the project, more and more students learned about the volunteer opportunities at the safe house as well as the opportunity to integrate volunteering as a part of their studies.    

”I think that the course through school was very good because I got a course at the same time and then it encouraged me a little bit more to get involved in it.”.
A young volunteer

Today, young people find volunteer activities at the safe house in Vantaa through many different channels.  However, most of the young people still get involved in our activities through our partners, such as other organizations or schools and educational institutes. Young people have become volunteers also after taking part in activities at first as clients or after getting interested in the activities in the context of various campaigns or fairs. Some of the young people have told us that they have discovered information about volunteer opportunities with the help of their friends or relatives, some through the website or social media of the safe house.    

Tips to acting with young volunteers

”I was very well welcomed. I was just really nervous but then I was welcomed so nicely, and everybody was really nice and just came to chat with me and everything was really cool.”
A young volunteer

In my experience, becoming a volunteer should be made as easy as possible and volunteering should be inspiring. It´s the task of our employees to welcome volunteers, so that everybody feels accepted and important. For us, volunteers are not free labor but invaluable people who donate their time for others when they have time. That´s why one can volunteer with us as often – or as rarely – as she/he wants. We also offer introduction and training flexibly along with our activities, so everybody can get involved when she/he is enthusiastic and has time. In addition, for example envoys of social media and volunteers for youth evenings can work shifts that fit their schedules.   

At the safe houses we feel that it’s important that volunteers are involved in planning and developing the activities. So, in addition to good and flexible introduction, our young volunteers have told us that they want opportunities for self-development as well as appropriate amount of responsibilities, support and guidance. At the request of young people, we have also changed our communication channel to WhatsApp instead of sending emails.

”If somebody has sent emails, I hardly even see them because I don´t check my email. Nowadays young people use Ig or Facebook or something like that. And because people are on the phone all the time, so at least I would notice it right away.”.
A young volunteer

After asking young people what makes them continue as volunteers, reasons that have arisen among others are helping other people and bringing good spirit to others, learning new things, meeting new volunteers of different ages, and the possibility to participate in planning activities. Many young people have also highlighted the importance of trust and sense of respect and appreciation – the ability to do important work and getting praise for it.

”Hmm, I thought it was very nice when the employees and volunteers gathered together at the end of the day to thank each other. We told how we had helped those young people and went through the events of the day. It was really nice.”.
A young volunteer

The quotes are from the thesis of Laurea University of Applied Sciences students Tanja Aho and Roosa Kilpeläinen, in which they examine experiences of young volunteers of the Finnish Red Cross Vantaa safe house. Check out the research here.

Text: Sara Petersen-Jessen
Coordinator, Red Cross youth safe house, Vantaa

Translation: Kati Merikoski

Citizen Forum’s Jeesaan-hanke has published a handbook of youth volunteering for those who want to inspire young people to engage in volunteering. A few years ago, The Red Cross Vantaa safe house started to develop activities for young people. This text is one of the reports in the handbook.