Oklahoma Marriage Initiative (OMI): A Process Evaluation. Building Supply: Creating A Network of Community Volunteers


Community workshop leaders are individual volunteers who typically provide OMI workshops on their own time, rather than as part of their paid employment.  By the end of 2007, the OMI had sponsored the training of 1,194 such individuals in PREP® or one of its adaptations.  The people were from across the population spectrum: college students, social workers, business people, pastors, community activists, educators, therapists, retired citizens, professional counselors, even law enforcement officers.  However, the majority  more than three-quarters  identified themselves as either connected with the faith or counseling communities.  About 41 percent indicated that their primary occupation was in the clergy or other faith-based setting; another 35 percent identified themselves as counselors, mental health workers, clinicians, or social workers.  According to OMI staff, volunteers typically hear about the initiative through the media, word of mouth, their religious institutions, place of employment, or through other means.  Some are recruited directly by OMI staff.

The OMI asks each trained workshop leader to deliver at least four workshops within a year of their training.  The workshops are to be offered for free to interested individuals and couples.  The request to provide free workshops in exchange for curriculum training is not unreasonable.  There is a real value to training beyond its usefulness in the OMI, especially for some individuals.  The market rate for PREP® training is about $555[8], and in addition to the training, the OMI provides each leader with materials worth about $350.  Counselors, marriage therapists, social workers, and other professionals may receive continuing education credit, build their skill set for working with families, and even charge for services that involve the curriculum once they have met their obligation to the OMI to provide four free workshops to the public.  The training is also valuable to clergy or others in the faith community who often seek training to work directly with premarital couples or couples in distressed marriages. 

Motivation and enthusiasm.  Most community workshop leaders are true volunteers in the sense that they are not usually paid for their time through an employer, unlike most staff at public or private institutions who have been asked to lead workshops as part of their job duties.  Although many community workshop leaders first learn about the OMI through an organization, such as their church or a counseling center, and may even provide workshops to members of these organizations, the organizations themselves do not typically manage or organize workshops, as is usually the case in the institutional sector.  Community volunteers are also distinguished from agency workshop leaders in that they must usually identify and recruit their participants themselves and find a location to deliver the classes.  These factors all suggest that community volunteers must be highly motivated to be successful in operating OMI workshops.

Many volunteer workshop leaders bring great enthusiasm and are passionate about the OMI mission.  Focus groups with workshop leaders indicated that many were concerned about broad social changes in family functioning and felt that supporting the OMI was one way to help their communities.  Some felt that offering workshops could provide not only skills but hope to individuals and couples  hope that healthy and stable relationships and marriage are possible.  By the end of 2007, volunteers had led 1,500 workshops, serving 25,404 participants.

Challenges to workshop delivery.  Despite the enthusiasm and energy brought by some leaders, the OMI learned early on that it would not be sufficient simply to train volunteers, because many did not go on to offer workshops as expected.  As described in Chapter V, about 16 percent of volunteers led at least three workshops.  To understand why this was the case, OMI staff began, in 2003, to contact all workshop leaders in an annual survey of their experiences.  Through this feedback loop, they have learned that volunteers face several obstacles in preparing for, delivering, and reporting on workshops.  Sometimes community volunteers are not used to public speaking, need help marketing or publicizing their events, or  working on their own  lack a physical location for holding workshops.  Many want to receive credit from the OMI for co-leading workshops.  Failure to understand how to complete OMIs paperwork or enter information on its web-based information system may result in a lack of documentation, making it appear that fewer workshops were conducted than was actually the case.  However, the most significant challenge for volunteer workshop leaders has been finding prospective participants.

Participant recruitment.  Finding and enlisting workshop participants was also the chief barrier cited in two focus groups with workshop leaders from the faith and counseling sectors.  Recruitment was relatively easy for some leaders, particularly those who had a single recruitment source, such as their church or clients from their job.  These connections provided access to a steady pool of potential participants.  Other leaders, however, reported that recruiting was a substantial impediment.  They did not feel prepared to find participants and struggled to cobble together recruitment sources throughout the community.  Relying on flyers and posters to bring in participants was not usually productive as the sole or major recruitment method.  Some felt their inability to find productive recruitment sources severely restricted the number of workshops they could offer.

Refining the strategy.  To address these issues, the OMI has implemented several strategies over the years.  First, it has become more selective about the individuals it agrees to train.  The OMI now requires volunteers to apply for training; the application requires that the volunteers identify their plans for finding prospective participants, and specify where they will hold workshops.  Second, tips on how to schedule classes and recruit participants are included in the initial three-day curriculum training.  The training was also revised to include a clear definition of expectations for trained leaders, information on how to use the OMI website to enter data about the workshops they conduct, and information on the process for obtaining curriculum materials and other resources.

Supporting the efforts of community volunteers.  In addition to greater selectivity and improved training, the OMI also began to strategically provide ongoing technical assistance to promote workshop activity.  To do this, PSI designates staff to monitor the activities of workshop leaders in each region and provide encouragement and assistance as needed.  PSI especially targets those who have been recently trained and have the potential to become actively involved, because the excitement generated by the training can quickly wane if a leader does not begin providing workshops soon thereafter.  Staff therefore encourage leaders to plan their first workshop shortly after training.  To assuage nervousness about delivering the first workshop, staff remind leaders that they are allowed to count one workshop in which they are a co-leader or coach toward their four-workshop commitment.

PSI technical assistance staff work to build relationships with trained leaders and serve as a sounding board for leaders ideas.  Staff and leaders often work together to refine plans for locating facilities and supports, scheduling classes, recruiting, and delivering workshops.  PSI staff may share community profiles to help inform leaders of available referral sources within their communities, help identify supports such as food and child care, assist with advertising and promotion, or talk with potential participants who want to learn more about the OMI.

Filling gaps in service availability.  Despite broad coverage in both the private and public sectors, capacity is still needed in specific areas and within specific population groups.  To overcome this unevenness in coverage, the OMI began to identify and target underserved areas and groups for capacity building.  These groups included the Latino community, Native Americans, African Americans, and rural populations.  PSI staff were designated to build capacity in these areas by building networks and connections with key organizations or individuals and engaging them in leading workshops.  OMI leadership learned that this work requires time, patience, and persistence, and that timing is important.  They learned that just because timing is not right when an individual or organization is first approached does not mean the timing will never be right. 

Part of the initiatives strategy for filling gaps is to develop standing capacity through an entity prepared to offer ongoing delivery of PREP® workshops at a regular location in the community.  The aim is to establish a predictable schedule for workshops.  One example is the Family and Childrens Services agency, a social services organization with local sites throughout Tulsa.  This agency designated specific staff at its sites for delivering PREP® on a regular basis and continuously has an ongoing and typically well-attended class.

New strategies for working with the faith sector.  While the OMI focused its initial efforts on the faith sector, anticipating a natural fit with its goals, it soon found challenges to widespread implementation.  As a result, it has been developing new approaches to its work in the faith sector.  It offers small-group retreats with religious leaders and their spouses to build interest in delivering services.  This experience exposes leaders to the curriculum and offers them an opportunity to network with other clergy.  After the retreats, OMI staff work directly with the leaders to explore how PREP® can be offered in their organizations.  OMI staff also provide mentor and small group workshop leader training to facilitate workshops for neighborhood-based congregational groups.

Despite the challenges faced by individual volunteers, OMI leadership believe there are other benefits to cultivating a diverse and widely distributed group of trained individuals.  Being trained in the curriculum may result in personal benefits to the individual and may also have beneficial implications at the broader societal level.  Trained leaders, even if not providing workshops, may spread OMIs message through word of mouth, and they may refer others to available workshops. 

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