Volunteering at an animal shelter is a great way for tweens, teens and young adults on the autism spectrum to practice and improve social and job skills. They also learn responsibility and a respect for animals. As visitors come into animal shelters to look at animals available for adoption, it’s the perfect place for teens to improve face-to-face communication. The experience they gain volunteering at an animal shelter molds them into more effective volunteers and prepares them for the work force.
Volunteering at an animal shelter is a fantastic opportunity, especially for teens with Aspergers. It has been widely discussed that children, teens, and adults with Aspergers form strong bonds with pets, and can greatly benefit from animal companionship.
Their time spent volunteering will produce better outcomes (adoptions) if they have good communication skills. Here are some top social skills from my book Smile & Succeed for Teens: Must-Know People Skills for Today’s Wired World to ensure teens maximize the chance of an animal getting adopted, and master important social and job skills:
1. Smile and Say Hello:
When you see another person, whether a co-volunteer, staff member or visitor, smile and say “Hello”. Your smile will set the tone for positive future interactions and brighten the person’s day. It may even lead to an animal getting adopted or a financial donation. It all starts with a smile!
I used to volunteer at an animal shelter walking dogs. Often I would be in the back of the shelter bringing a dog in or taking one out. There would be people in the back of the animal shelter looking for animals to possibly adopt. I would smile and say “Hello”. I’d ask if they had questions about any of the dogs I walked. Often they would. After telling them about the animals, I’d suggest they spend time with any animal they were interested in. About 70% of the time they’d end up adopting an animal just because I engaged them and was able to provide helpful information. You can do the same thing!
2. Turn Off the Electronics:
When you are volunteering, keep your phone at home, or turned off, on silent or vibrate mode, and out of sight. This is part of being a professional volunteer and lays the foundation for good work habits.
3. Say Please and Thank You:
When you request something always say “please”. When someone does something nice for you, always say “Thank you”. Good manners go a long way.
4. Say “You’re Welcome”:
When someone says “Thank you”, always respond with “You’re Welcome”. It shows respect. Never respond with “No problem” or “Yep”. A visitor may say “Thank you” after you helped them look at a dog or cat. When you respond with “You’re welcome” you impress this person and they form a positive impression about you and the animal shelter. This could lead to them adopting an animal, making a donation, or telling a friend about their positive experience. Good manners matter.
5. Pay Attention:
Listening is a must-know people skill. It builds trust, displays sincerity, and shows you care. Listening is essential for strong, positive relationships.
- Make good eye contact (I know this can be a challenge for many).
- Focus on the words they are saying.
- Ask questions when necessary.
- Engage in the conversation.
- Let people finish talking before you respond.
People often make the mistake of not listening carefully. They cut people off. They start to respond before someone is finished talking, leading to misunderstandings. They don’t ask clarifying questions. Paying attention to your friends, family, and customers leads to success in life and work.
Listen to what the visitor is saying to you and about the type of animal they are looking for and why. You don’t want to show them a German Shepard if they told you they want a small dog!
The word “listen” contains the same letters as “silent.”
-Alfred Brendel, Austrian pianist, poet, artist and author.
Animal shelter volunteer work for kids is important. Having good social skills is crucial to ensure that visitors are delighted. This leads to more animals getting adopted, and that’s the end goal.
by Kirt Manecke
Parts excerpted from Smile & Succeed for Teens: Must-Know People Skills for Today’s Wired World, Copyright © 2014 by Kirt Manecke. Kirt Manecke is the author of Smile & Succeed for Teens, a crash course in social skills and job skills. Smile & Succeed for Teens is the winner of the Mom’s Choice Gold Award honoring excellence, Teachers Choice Award, and the IPPY Gold Award recognizing excellence. Learn more at www.SmiletheBook.com.