My regular volunteer work is often for drop-in programs for youth community centers. For instance a Boys and Girls Club may have a time for model planes once per week for a couple of hours. Perhaps a bit of overtime if the gym or craft room isn’t too busy. Some kids come for a whole season and others drop in.
This is a great offering for a community because it accommodates kids with varied schedules (and interest levels). This is a challenge for program leaders since the kids will have varied skill levels and needs.
Here are a few points that help to grow a community as an organic ecosystem. You have to feed it!
- Kick off with a workshop. Everyone will be excited about the new program and they’re all at the beginning. Future workshops will work but they can start an hour earlier so there’s less juggling between the workshop and supporting kids’ on-going projects. Make sure the kids bring boxes to store their projects. In the beginning if you let kids bring the planes home you’ll be starting over in the next session. 🙂 I don’t usually let the kids bring the plans home till they can fly them and take care of them. By then, they value them and that helps with the survival rate of the planes.
- Facilitate peer-to-peer mentorship. Some kids will come forward as good candidates for this. Reward kids for helping others. Also you will find that some kids will do this naturally and will be rewarded by their peers and feel fulfilled without your intervention. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate and share leadership. Kids who help a lot may miss time to work on their project. I often give them an extra kit to work at home.
- Create a leader-board. The more ways children receive recognition the better so don’t miss this one. Kids all learn differently and also react differently to different kinds of recognition. I find the leader-boards are very popular with the kids! They always ask me when the next leader-boards will be posted. I also print several copies so they can be posted at various locations around the venue. I give extra copies to kids so they can take them home. They then get recognition from their parents, guardians, siblings, pets, friends and so forth. This can also help you promote your activity to keep the ecosystem healthy. You’ll loose kids to summer vacations, paper routes, sports and other schedule changes in their life. So give the program visibility.
- Schedule contests. After you have a good ecosystem with lots of kids that can make and fly planes you’re ready for a contest! I made up a contest form (right) which lets you gather lots of metrics. You can rank the scores for various metrics and have lots of winners! First, Second and Third for combined duration, duration, charisma and mentions for helping and cheering others. This is funner than it looks (Download SquirrelContestForm).
- Alternate activities. There is often an age cut-off for my programs. Younger kids come begging to be permitted into the program when then see all the older kids running around with planes. These younger kids need a lot of attention and support. Your own community may accommodate them automatically but have some simpler activities on hand. With younger children I teach paper planes such as the Peace Plane. I teach the kids to throw them back and forth like catch. If you make up some rolled paper, they can hold them like swords and attempt to catch the paper planes. This is challenging and you’ll need to have some tape on the floor to give them various distances to try. They will have a ball.
If you get permission forms signed you can take pictures of the kids and release them in the venue newsletter and other publications. Not only does this make the kids feel special, you might recruit more helpers!!!
Many leaders want to do a mass launch. Instead try a serial launch!
Children line up. One child launches. As it is landing the next child in line that’s ready will launch. You’ll be able to get better video and the whole event will be longer. Instead of a bunch of planes going in all directions (many landing quickly and some staying longer), you’ll have a longer event where more of the kids get noticed. Put the kids with better flying track records last. This will ensure that all the kids get the best applause at the end from whatever audience is present.
Save the mass launch for when your community achieves mastery and you have lots of planes flying well.
How do you know your program is successful?
When you drive through the neighborhood and you see children playing in the park on their own with model planes.
One of my favorite success stories.
A parent had plans conflicting with their child’s model plane night. The parent came to investigate because their child was crying and was adamant about not missing . I invited the parent to stay and attend the activity. He made his own model plane and flew in the gym successfully along side his sons (and other model planes). He was overwhelmed to see how much fun it was for him and his child and expressed much gratitude for the time I spent with him and the children. The community center wins too since this parent now values their programming more.
Here’s a video from one of my programs here in Ottawa. It’s a hand-wound Squirrel flight. This isn’t the community from my story above but this is one of my favorite fields to visit!
Live in Ottawa? Come join me and bring some snacks for yourself and the kids!
Model airplane community notes.
A common mistake existing model airplane enthusiasts make is to take on complex or traditional projects that take long (so the kids can do it “right’ and learn traditional methods). Some kids will go for this if there’s lots of time and lots of mentors. Especially with parental pressure or if they are especially interested. But this doesn’t work as well for the wider audience and our sport needs more than a few kids being micromanaged to do things the old way. We need lots of people having fun in their own way. And in new ways. Kids also need free play time to experiment and contemplate rather being just shown what to do from tradition. Don’t forget we’re competing with the immediate fulfillment of buttons (computer games, TV remote and microwaves). We can’t fight it through constraint. We need to be open to new ways of making things. Things are changing in the model airplane and wider industries. In fact there is a movement. We can bring a little of it back but we can’t force it on people.
Eventually kids will come forward that will want extended mentor-ship for complex projects. First build your community then wait for these awesome opportunities. If you start trying to discover or create prodigy in the beginning you’ll have less success and sustainability in your community than if you build the community organically.