Behind the Scenes: Outreach at NHR

When you walk through the doors of any New Haven Reads location, the whole operation seems to run like a choreographed dance or meticulously rehearsed play. Tutors and students work in pairs while the site directors distribute snacks and stand ready to help. Parents chat while they wait for the end of the hour, and the occasional teacher comes in to select books. All are able to enjoy afternoons at New Haven Reads because, just like a dance or theater performance, a lot of work goes on behind the scenes.

Much of that work on the volunteer side is handled by Keri Humphries, our Outreach Director extraordinaire. When she joined New Haven Reads in 2012, volunteer recruitment relied on word of mouth and the Bristol St Site Director doubled as the volunteer coordinator. Needless to say, this process couldn’t keep up with demand, and Keri quickly started to build the volunteer program from the ground up.

Keri responds to email from her desk at the Book Bank location.

The first change she made was to handle all volunteer intakes. She formalized the process, improved response time, and began building community partnerships to build the pipeline. Seven years later, Keri’s efforts have contributed to a significant reduction of the waitlist and she now manages two Outreach Assistants who help with intakes. Despite their hours, Keri is still the nearly-universal port into volunteering at NHR. During a typical day she responds to volunteer applications and processes paperwork in the morning. Then, in the afternoon she interviews potential volunteers – four to six a day during the busiest times of year! That may sound like a lot, but Keri says that meeting members of the community is her favorite part of the job.

Her work, of course, extends far beyond volunteer interviews and orientations. During her tenure Keri has overseen NHR’s move from “an Excel sheet with 900 names in it” to an actual volunteer database, which she calls her “pet project.” Additionally, she initiated an annual volunteer survey. Feedback from those surveys directly inspired her efforts to strategically expand tutor trainings, as well as to provide opportunities for connection through site socials and book club meetings.

Keri gives a new volunteer orientation.

Despite all of the ways she’s grown NHR’s volunteer program, the most difficult part of Keri’s job is the constant need for more tutors. Every time a parent signs their child up for the waitlist – which currently has 112 students – that’s another tutor Keri has to recruit and train. It’s a natural result of NHR’s growth and the high need for literacy support in local communities. Nevertheless, she remains indefatigable in her efforts. After all, each new tutor means that one more child can come off of the waitlist, and that’s what it’s all about.

For more information about volunteering at NHR, please click here