PEPS launches overhaul of its volunteer experience
By Shawna Gamache
PEPS reaches more than 3,000 families a year in living rooms across the greater Seattle area. At the center of every meeting is a volunteer PEPS leader, guiding new parents through early conversations and coaxing them into community.
PEPS is making life easier for the volunteers who are key to the PEPS model.
With a massive overhaul involving staff, consultants, and reviews by volunteers, PEPS leaders now have streamlined materials that make it easy to lead.
“As PEPS strives to continuously improve, we are committed to being a place where all families have the opportunity to find connection, support, and a sense of belonging. PEPS Group Leaders are the face of PEPS and we entrust them with so much. The resources, tools, training, and support we provide to our volunteer leaders are critical to supporting them as they lead groups,” said Jessica Lawmaster, executive director at PEPS.
The revamp included changing the look and feel of the volunteer materials and trainings, moving resources online to keep them up-to-date, and emphasizing PEPS values of inclusiveness.
A new look and feel for materials
An instructional design consultant from the University of Washington helped zero in on how people read a page and what works for effective layout, Volunteer Manager Cate Palmer said.
“We want the leaders to be able to use the topic guides in the moment, in the group, and way more easily,” Cate said. The new guide uses more effective layout, including clearly visible prompts and pullouts, bullets, and sidebars to highlight key ideas.
“A leader will be able to glance down and easily find a prompt to keep a discussion going if it lags, or grab a relevant nugget of information to share with the group.”
The new design includes quotes from volunteers and parents, along with photos from past PEPS groups to help remind leaders why we’re all “in the room,” Cate said.
PEPS passed the new guide on to several experienced leaders to get feedback. Volunteers say the new guide makes leading a PEPS group easier — and more fun.
“The prior version was perfectly clear, but it looked like a 200-page Word doc,” said volunteer Anne Renz, who has led three newborn groups. “This one is much more visually appealing and makes me want to dive in and read further.”
Anne, who has a 3-year-old son, said the photos and quotes from new parents provide an excellent refresher for leaders who may not have had a newborn in several years.
“I like the pared-down feel to the pages — the substance feels more concentrated, with plenty of ‘white space’ on the pages for adding my own notes,” volunteer Beth Morris, who is currently using the new guide while leading her fifth newborn group.
Making volunteering better—from start to finish
PEPS wants to make the entire volunteer process even better. That meant overhauling the volunteer training and reorganizing the leader binder to make it more intuitive, and adding materials to help volunteers plan meetings and report back.
A curriculum consultant was brought in to help revamp the training, and the result was more interactive exercises, a reordering of the training materials, and pulling written content into visuals.
Volunteers lead more than 250 groups each year, and about 150 of those groups are led by new leaders. The overhaul makes planning and leading easier for volunteers—including those who may not have experience with PEPS or weren’t in a PEPS group themselves—and it makes it easier for them to report back to PEPS with their experiences.
The new guide includes a meeting planner worksheet for each topic that aims to help leaders plan, stay organized and take notes.
Cate said making it easier for volunteers to keep track of what happens in meetings improves the feedback they are able to give PEPS—and that in turn helps PEPS to keep improving.
Volunteer Pam Linxwaller said she thinks new leaders will appreciate how easy it is to see conversation prompts, especially in early meetings or with a group that is slower to gel.
“Those can be really helpful when there’s a big lull in conversation and they’re not running with it,” said Pam, who has led six groups.
The new guide makes leading lower-maintenance, said Polly Jirkovsky Gual, a volunteer who has led more than 20 PEPS groups and was recently hired as the PEPS Community Connector for the Southern Region.
“New leaders won’t have to spend much time ‘studying’ the guide, so they can spend more time with the parents and babies in their groups,” Polly said.
Keeping materials up-to-date—and making them more inclusive
Changes were also made with an eye on bringing materials up-to-date—and keeping them that way. PEPS now houses a resource folder for each topic online so they can be easily and regularly updated.
The printed guide includes QR codes to make it easy for PEPS leaders to quickly access the relevant resources online.
Some resources aren’t based on specific PEPS meeting topics, and include Diversity and Inclusion, Parenting in Difficult Times, Apps, Baby-wearing, and Meals and Dinnertime.
The changes also include rewriting some topics to reflect changes in terms of caregiver roles, working outside the home, parenting styles, and family structure. Like rewriting and renaming “How Dads Parent Differently” to remove any implied bias that Moms do it “right” and to reflect less stereotypical notions of who works outside/inside the home, who is primary caregiver and to be more inclusive of LGBTQ+ families, Cate said.
Language was changed throughout the materials to refer to “parents” rather than giving gender-specific pronouns, Program Director Kintea Bryant said.
PEPS will continue to grow and update volunteer training materials as PEPS strives to reach more parents in our community, with an intentional focus on inclusion so that “all parents feel heard and included,” said Kintea.
“The goal is to equip the leaders to set the stage for a warm, welcoming, safe space for everyone to show up with their stories, background, culture and innate parenting wisdom,” Cate said. “We have 13 staff and 400 volunteers, roughly 250 group leaders, and they deliver our programming—they ARE PEPS, the rest of us just oil the engine, so to speak.”
About the Author
Shawna Gamache is a former newspaper reporter who occasionally catalogs her personal chaos at Critical Playdate. She is mama to Ruby, 5, Quinn, 7, and Nora, 2. In her quiet moments, Shawna loves writing, reading and avoiding eye contact with her laundry pile.