In the most recent Energize newsletter, Susan J. Ellis focuses on conflicting messages and unclear boundaries common to many of the most traditional volunteer roles:

Any assignment labeled some variation of “friendly visitor” or “buddy,” in which the volunteer agrees to spend several hours weekly with a client – often a homebound senior or someone with late-stage AIDS. These visits are usually in the client’s home, one-to-one, with little structure other than the goals of providing welcome company, forming a supportive relationship, and being helpful in small, practical ways.

Youth “mentoring” programs including, but not limited to Big Brothers Big Sisters, in which children of various ages are matched individually with an adult who is willing to spend time with the youngster as a caring friend (and often as a role model) – not as a babysitter, parent, probation officer, or therapist. The pair meet in the community to do things together and, ideally, form a close bond.

“Coaching” an adult, also one-to-one, to succeed at an important life goal. The types of people needing help include recovering addicts learning how to spend weekends without drugs or alcohol, parolees re-entering the community, public assistance recipients in their first full-time job, refugees and immigrants tackling life in a new country, or adults wanting to improve literacy skills.

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