Stadtinsel Hamburg: Exemplary district work

The municipal tasks in a big city like Hamburg are extremely diverse and challenging, especially when it comes to reaching out to the citizens across the entire urban area. All the more important is the role that initiatives play in the individual districts that achieve great things on a small scale. The non-profit organization “Die Stadtinsel eV” in Hamburg is a remarkable example of intensive district work and successful approach and involvement of children and young people from underprivileged backgrounds. The association also excels in its professional coordination and motivation of the volunteers themselves.

Secure islands in the neighborhoods for people in need

“Helping people in need personally and practically” is, according to Vice President and Operations Manager Tim Schindler, the goal of the city island, which it pursues on different “islands” and with vastly different projects. The city’s island, founded in 2007 by members of the Elim Church in Hamburg, is now closely linked to other churches and organizations in Hamburg, supports various diaconal projects and is represented in five districts of Hamburg and two housing for refugees.

How does the district work succeed?

Complex, direct, regular and easily accessible – this is the recipe for success for the various offers on the city island: There are e.g. “Børneklubben” and “Jugendtreff” – varied afternoon activities for children and young people in districts with increased development needs and housing for refugees, where participants can experience workshops, games and excursions together. In addition, a painting room was set up for children in refugee housing, which is based on trauma therapeutic approaches and helps the children to deal with traumatic experiences through painting. For children who are having a hard time at school, the “learning island” was created, a project where a permanent employee accompanies a child for a year and helps him or her cope with the school’s requirements. Under the motto “chic and full”, the city island is also part of a collaboration with Hamburger Tafel with its own food and clothing distribution.

Meeting, encouragement and support – the city island’s recipe for success

Whether in the kids’ club or when serving food: According to Stadtinsel, the idea behind the projects is always “to meet people in their life situations by creating islands in their environment where they can experience acceptance, support, encouragement and sustainable relationships”.

60 volunteers involved

Tim Schindler works full time for the association and is one of a total of nine employees, including interns, students and union volunteers. Although the city island works independently, there is close networking with other regional projects and ongoing coordination at the roundtable discussion on district work. The association is also in close contact with the municipal youth protection and also makes use of municipal counseling, eg when it comes to child protection. However, the main work is carried out by about 60 volunteers, who work on the individual projects on site. “The cornerstones of our work are relationships and coherence,” says Schindler. Therefore, there are permanent teams on site and the staff is present at least twice a month. It is important for Schindler to emphasize that these are not pedagogical offers in the professional sense – on the contrary, a supplementary and important relationship work, which can also be performed by volunteers, non-pedagogical staff.

Creative workshop in the children’s club on Hamburg’s city island

Stadtinsel offers a professional framework for volunteer work

With an annual budget of 240,000 euros, the association is strong, with 99 percent of it funded privately by foundations and donations. The financing is similarly uncertain from year to year. “Lobbying is very tedious,” says Schindler, and there is often a lack of understanding on the part of society that permanent positions are needed to enable voluntary work on a stable basis. “If you want the work of volunteers to work well, when the organization reaches a certain size, you have to have full-time employees to accompany and coordinate it,” Schindler says. After all, the coordination of the volunteers and in particular their motivation and constant involvement is a big task. In the case of the city island, good forms have been found here. “It is important that volunteers are valued,” Schindler knows from experience. They maintain this in his club in the form of regular team meetings, Christmas parties and joint activities. In addition, the volunteers have the opportunity to train and participate in courses, for example on the topic of child protection, trauma management or first aid.

Consistency despite generational change: the challenge of volunteering

Schindler describes a certain “generational shift” that he sees as particularly challenging when it comes to coordinating the volunteers. For example, sometimes it is no longer a matter of course that younger volunteers reliably abide by appointments and block a day in their calendar for a specific commitment. “Work ethic and planning behavior have changed,” says Schindler – here it is important to find a middle ground between a contemporary concept and coherence in working with young people.

Probably the most important means of retaining volunteers in the long term is the radiance of the work itself, which has a great effect on the city’s island. “In fact, we do not have to advertise our offer at all – the children come to us through word-of-mouth propaganda from their friends,” says Schindler, and it is also a huge confirmation for the volunteer helpers in their work. The best example: a 19-year-old girl who as a 6-year-old first went to the children’s club, then later to the youth club and is now a volunteer as a supervisor in Stadtinsel.

More information about the city island of Hamburg

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