Where are the Men?

By Stephanie Overbey, Associate Director

Every day, over 4,000 school-aged children in Kosciusko County will wake up in a home where there is no dad1. They will go to school and likely be taught by a woman (nationally only 18.6 of elementary and middle school teachers are male2), and if they receive mentoring or youth program services from a nonprofit organization, chances are they will be served by a woman (the majority of youth-serving nonprofits I surveyed have significantly more women than men volunteers).

This article is not about the responsibilities of fatherhood (a worthy topic!). It is not a plea for more men to enter teaching (a great idea!). It is, instead, focused on the need for more men in volunteer capacities – especially in youth programs.

So, why does it matter that more men aren’t volunteering?  Trina Hoy of Big Brothers Big Sisters said, “Lots of our kids come from single parent homes – usually the mother, and they may not have a male role model in their life… little boys need a positive male figure in their life – someone who can understand guy things and the way guys think.”

Boys Need Men

I am not an expert or researcher on the topic of nature versus nurture. I can only share from my own experiences as a daughter of a father, a sister of a brother, a wife of a husband and a mother of both girls and a boy. So, with that disclaimer out of the way…my 7-year-old son is very different than my girls. They are triplets. Therefore, it’s easy to compare their temperaments, personalities, etc. without having to account for differences in their ages. Until they entered Kindergarten, they were rarely separated. While all of my children have very different personalities, some traits really do seem to be amplified in my son. He is very physical. He needs to be on the move. He needs to run, climb, kick, jump, throw or wrestle. The most difficult part of entering school for him was sitting. He and his sisters were in the same two-hour preschool class for two years. The girls LOVED preschool. The crafts. The stories. All those worksheets. He hated preschool. The crafts. The stories. All those worksheets. I was told by both his preschool, Kindergarten and first grade teachers that his reaction to school is pretty common among young boys.

Like a lot of children, my son’s days are surrounded by mostly women. Me. His grandmothers. His daycare workers. His teachers and principal – all women. My husband spends a lot of time with our kids – fishing, playing outdoors, watching movies. Yet, my son still craves time spent with guys. He practically stalks our middle school aged neighbor boys – just hoping they’ll come out to play basketball or kickball so he can join them. Even though his nearest boy cousin is a toddler, he doesn’t miss a chance to go see him and is proud to show him how to do “boy things” which evidently includes crashing toy trucks and peeing outside. He and his sisters take turns choosing family movies and books. His sisters choose Barbie, princess, and lately gymnastics movies and books. He chooses sharks, dinosaurs and his favorite, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In my narrow experience, boys are different than girls and they long to share time and activities with other boys.

Girls Need Men Too

A boy’s need for a positive male role model may be more obvious than a girl’s need, but girls need men too! It’s important for all children to see men in a positive light, especially if their own experiences with men have been largely negative. Girls need to be appreciated, acknowledged, taught and mentored by men in order to relate to them. Why wouldn’t we want girls to be able to relate, trust and share positive experiences with a gender that makes up half our population? If men aren’t at the table, kids are missing out!

So Why Aren’t Men Volunteering?

There is frustratingly little statistical research about why more men don’t volunteer. And, much of what’s available is dated. A 1999 guide for “Recruiting Male Volunteers” published by the Corporation for National Service lists reasons for not volunteering given by men they interviewed4. Here are some of the reasons:

  • Not enough time – devoting energy to work/career.
  • Social implications that working with youth is perceived as feminine.
  • Fear of being falsely accused of inappropriate behavior with a child or having their motives questioned.
  • Discomfort with being the only male or one of a few males in a predominantly female environment.

Tips for Nonprofits to Help More Men Say “Yes” to Volunteering with Youth

Introduce men into volunteering with youth by making it a group or team experience. The one youth organization I surveyed that actually had slightly more male volunteers than female (55% vs. 45%) was Baker Youth Clubs. I asked their Director, Tracey Furnivall, why he thought their club was able to attract more male volunteers. He said their male volunteers tend not to enter one-on-one mentoring type relationships; rather they work with groups of boys around a shared activity – like basketball or a game. He believes men are more comfortable in group settings and when their volunteer role involves “doing.”

Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), an organization that connects volunteers with an abused or neglected child to advocate for the child’s best interests in court, has a 25% male volunteer pool.  CASA’s Executive Director, Mackenzie Cloutier, said that three of their male volunteers share the work with their wives.

Implement Policies that Protect Children and Volunteers. In addition to detailed background checks, organizations should consider what policies it could implement to ensure children and volunteers are safe. One male CASA volunteer I talked with said that CASA does a good job of training all its volunteers on appropriate conduct with children and that his interactions with the children he serves are always in public places (schools or restaurants for example), which helps him feel safeguarded against accusations of misconduct. Good volunteers want to make a difference, but are aware of the personal risk involved. Organizations need to do whatever they can to shape volunteer opportunities in such a way to mitigate risk for both kids and their adult volunteers.

Ask & Clearly Define Roles. Ask men to volunteer. The National PTA (Parent Teacher Association) published an article on increasing male involvement in the PTA. In their poll, the top reason men gave for not participating was time. However, nearly half of the men surveyed said they would volunteer if their roles and expectations were clearly defined5.

Part of asking men to volunteer includes making sure recruitment messages aren’t overtly feminine either in their imaging (are men pictured volunteering?) or messaging.

My Final Pitch

Bob Harkness, a retired elementary school teacher who has served as a CASA for seven years, said he feels his biggest responsibility as a volunteer is to help make sure kids are in a safe and secure environment. When asked why he volunteers, he said, “It’s not always enjoyable. It’s not always rewarding. I’m just trying to look out for kids.”

Men, are you up for that kind of challenge?

If you would like more information about volunteering, visit www.volunteerkosciusko.com, a site that is hosted by the United Way of Kosciusko County. Once there, you can click on the name of a community in which you would like to volunteer and see what opportunities are available.

Sources & Rationale:

  1. Kids Count Data and National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse. According to Kids Count 2015 data, there are 13,811 PreK-12th grade students in Kosciusko County. 35% of K.C. children live in single parent homes. According to National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse, nationally only 17% of custodial parents are male. So, 13,811 school-aged children X 35% in single parent homes = 4,834 X 83% living with their mother only =approximately 4,012 K.C. children living with their mother only.
  2. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012.
  3. Data from Baker Youth Clubs (55% male volunteers), Big Brothers Big Sisters (31% male volunteers), Court Appointed Special Advocates (25% male volunteers) and Junior Achievement of Northern Indiana (33% male volunteers).
  4. Recruiting Male Volunteers: A Guide Based on Exploratory Research, by Stephanie Blackman, National Service Fellow (July 1999).
  5. National Parent Teacher Association website (accessed 7.21.15) https://www.pta.org/programs/content.cfm?ItemNumber=1116