Stadtinsel Hamburg: a typical live business

Municipal tasks in a large city like Hamburg are very diverse and challenging, especially when it comes to reaching out to citizens throughout the entire city area. Even more important is the role of individual constituency initiatives that achieve great things on a small scale. The non-profit organization “Die Stadtinsel eV” in Hamburg provides a fine example of intensive work in the region, a successful approach and the involvement of children and young people from poor backgrounds. The association also excels in its professional coordination and motivation of the volunteers themselves.

Safe islands in city neighborhoods for the needy

“Helping those in need personally and operationally,” according to Tim Schindler, Vice Chairman and Chief Operating Officer, is the goal of City Island, which it seeks to achieve on different “islands” and with entirely different projects. Founded in 2007 by members of the Elm Church in Hamburg, the island is now closely associated with churches and other organizations in Hamburg, supports several diaconate projects and is represented in five districts of Hamburg and two refugee housing sites.

How does the area work?

Complex, direct, regular and easily accessible – this is the recipe for the success of the diverse offerings on the city island: there are, for example, “Kids’ Club” and “Jugendtreff” – diverse afternoon programs for children and youth in areas with increased development needs and accommodation for refugees, where they can Participants can experience workshops, games and excursions together. In addition, a children’s painting room has been set up in the refugee accommodation, which draws on trauma treatment approaches and helps children deal with traumatic experiences through painting. For children who are struggling in school, ‘Learning Island’ has been created, a project in which a permanent employee accompanies a child for a year and helps him or her deal with the demands of school. Under the motto of “chic and complete”, City Island is also cooperating with the Hamburger Tafel with its own food and clothing distribution.

Meeting, encouragement and support – Al Jazeera Al Madinah’s recipe for success

Whether in the kids’ club or when catering: 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 participated

Tim Schindler works full time at the association and is one of a total of nine employees, including interns, students, and federal volunteers. Even if the city island is operating independently, there is close communication with other regional projects and regular coordination in the round table on the work of the area. The association is also in close contact with the municipal youth welfare office and also benefits from municipal advice, for example when it comes to child protection. However, the main work is carried out by about 60 volunteers working on individual projects at the site. “The cornerstones of our work are relationship and consistency,” Schindler says. This is why there are fixed teams on site and employees are present at least twice a month. It is important for Schindler to stress that these are not educational offerings in a professional sense – rather, they are additional and important relationship work, which can also be done by volunteer and non-educational staff.

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

Stadtinsel offers a professional framework for volunteering

With an annual budget of €240,000, the association has a strong position, with 99 per cent of which is privately funded through foundations and donations. Funding is correspondingly uncertain from year to year. “Lobby work is very boring,” Schindler says, and there is often a lack of understanding on the part of society of the need for permanent jobs in order to make volunteer work possible on a stable basis. “If you want volunteer work to do well, and if the organization is of a certain size, you need full-time staff to accompany and coordinate it,” Schindler says. After all, the coordination of volunteers and especially their motivation and continuous participation is a key task. In the case of City Island, good forms are found here. “It is important that volunteers are valued,” Schindler knows from the experience. In his club, they keep this in the form of regular team meetings, birthday parties and joint activities. In addition, volunteers have the opportunity to educate themselves and attend training courses, for example on the topic of child protection, trauma management or first aid.

Persistence Despite Generational Change: The Volunteer Challenge

Schindler describes a particular “generational change” that he sees as a particular challenge when it comes to coordination among volunteers. For example, it is sometimes no longer normal for younger volunteers to reliably stick to appointments and prevent a day on their calendar from a certain commitment. “The work ethic and planning behavior have changed” – and here it is important to find a middle ground between contemporary conception and consistency in working with young people, Schindler says.

Perhaps the most important way to retain volunteers in the long term is to brighten the work itself, and this has a huge impact on the city island. “We actually don’t have to advertise our shows at all — kids come to us with word of mouth from their friends,” Schindler says, which is also a huge affirmation of volunteer helpers in their work. Best example: a 19-year-old, who was 6 years old, first joined the kids’ club, later the youth club, and today volunteers as a supervisor at Stadtinsel.

More information about the island city of Hamburg

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