Member in the Spotlight: Simone Swinkels of Stichting IMC Weekend School

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Stichting IMC Weekend School believes that every child deserves the same opportunities in life, especially when it comes to education. We sat down with Simone Swinkels, Fundraiser and Relationships Manager, to learn more about this inspiring organisation and how they are working with businesses to help change the lives of children across the Netherlands.

Hello, Simone! Please tell us a little about yourself and how you came to work at IMC Weekend School?

I’ve been working at IMC Weekend School for 4 years now. Previously I worked in fundraising for the Red Cross for a long time, and then I moved to Amsterdam and a friend told me about IMC Weekend School. I wanted a change from fundraising and so I started in the PR and Communications department which was quite small at the time, so I built it up a little more and soon found myself falling back into fundraising. It felt different for IMC Weekend School though, as we have partnerships with companies where we give and take from both sides. I really like what IMC Weekend School does and see that it works, so it feels very natural compared to previous roles where I felt like I was just asking for money.

Tell us about IMC Weekend School!

We work in underprivileged areas in the Netherlands, where we offer weekend School on Sundays, and our other programs on weekdays. We bring volunteer guest speakers into a class from all different fields and they show children what it is like to work in this field. They don’t just stand in front of a whiteboard and say this is my job, this is what I do - they really want these children to feel what it is like to perform this type of job. We have different fields from law, to medicine, logistics, computer programming, and journalism.

The children are between 10 and 14 years old and are chosen from these specific neighbourhoods because they might not see these types of possibilities at home; some of their parents may not speak Dutch or may not be employed in such various fields of work, so the children don’t see these types of examples of what they could become at home, and that's what we want to show them.

When you are 10 or 12 years old, you may not really know what you’re good at or what you want to do when you’re an adult. We help them to find where their talents lie and what subject gives them a bit of a spark when they might never have thought about it before or even known that this particular type of job existed. We get to motivate children and when they are motivated, they really want to go to school and learn things and achieve a better place in society. They learn to ask questions and do presentations and they become much more confident in themselves.

How long is a child part of IMC Weekend School?

We have different programs which run for different lengths of time. The Weekend School is for 3 years, from the 7th grade and 8th grade of primary school and then the 1st grade of high school. The children really have to make a commitment - we have approx. 40 spaces available in every class, but there are many more children who want to come to this program. That’s why we tell them from the beginning that we ask for a certain level of commitment when they enrol, because otherwise there could be other children joining the class.

After three years of doing the Sunday Weekend School the children receive a diploma and become part of the alumni network, so there we can also help them to find maybe a traineeship, teach them how to apply for a job, how to write cover letters. If they’re in high school and are unsure of what to study we can help them to decide. We also bring them together with other alumni from all over the country so they can do fun things together. For example, there was a symposium recently about freedom of speech, and alumni who are interested in the subject can go there together.

After getting your diploma you really belong to the Weekend School family for good. There are a few alumni who went to the Weekend School who are now my colleagues, and some who come back as guest speakers. They are for instance 28 years old now and they’ve become a doctor or a writer and they go back to class and tell the children that they went to the Weekend School as a child and got a spark of what they really wanted to do, and show them what they are doing now. They recognise that they grew a lot through this program and learned a lot about themselves and want to give back. That’s very motivational for young children to see what other children of their backgrounds have become. So it comes full circle which is really nice!

How do your partnerships work?

We have partnerships with companies who want to share their field of expertise. For instance, a law firm or a building company could become a partner of ours. They pay to participate in the program and employees from the company will come into class and do some lessons with the children, where they talk about their field of work and what they do, what it entails. That is the most ideal way to have a partnership.

People may ask why companies pay to become partners, and the reason is that there is a lot that goes into running a professional organisation. We are in 62 locations all over the Netherlands and we see 3500 children every week. We have 165 people working at IMC Weekend School - people who organise these lessons every week, an HR department, finance department, communication and fundraising department, who are all employees. Yes, the lessons are given by volunteers but to make all of this possible we need €6.5 million per year.

That’s a lot of children that get these lessons every week. We’re also trying to grow but not too fast because it’s very important that the quality of the lessons stay at a high standard, which is something that we really monitor.

Who can become a partner of IMC Weekend School, and why might they want to?

Almost anyone can become a guest speaker, whether you’re a writer or a consultant or baker or whatever, anyone from any industry really has something they can teach to children. I think it is a nice program for companies to be a part of because they get to share their industry and business with the next generation, and they are giving something back at the same time.

We hear from our partners that they want to do good and to help good causes, and they really like that the employees of the company themselves become engaged. The whole company can feel that they’re not only giving money to a cause, but they are also really helping in the field that they’re supporting and are making a difference in children's lives.

When you begin a partnership with a company it can be difficult to find guest speakers who want to give their time on a Sunday or they might wonder how to explain to children what it is that they do, but most guest speakers come back again and again because it also gives them a good feeling. It’s surprising for some how much young children can already understand, and uplifting to see children who want to know what you do and think it's interesting - you become a role model for them.

We are always on the lookout for new partners, and if anyone within the Tribes network is interested in becoming a partner they are welcome to contact me at simone.swinkels@weekendschool.nl

Do you have other programs besides the Weekend School?

Yes, we also have a program that runs on weekdays in primary schools, so our guest speakers go into schools for a morning once per week for example, with their usual teacher also there. This is the program that we are growing as we don’t need our own building like with the weekend school, and so the costs are less. The good thing about this program is that you also reach children who are maybe not super motivated from the beginning and so might not volunteer to attend the Sunday program, but they become more and more motivated during the program.

We also have a program for newcomer children who came to the Netherlands with their families from places like Syria or Ukraine. The government offers these children Dutch lessons and then after about a year, they can enrol in the regular school system. We also see these children with our program and it turns out that it is easier for them to learn Dutch in a different setting, and also to learn about our society from different fields and guest speakers. It’s a really special group that we work with there.

Why did you choose Tribes and what do you like about it?

That it's not very office-like, the way they are designed gives it kind of a warm feeling. You think of an office and it's just plain and boring, but Tribes isn’t like that. When I think of the work we do, we feel more at home in an environment like Tribes. For us, we see all people as equals and everyone deserves the same chances no matter their background, kind of like how tribes work, so it fits well with what we do.

Great to hear! And lastly, what is your favourite part of your job?

I just love to tell people about what we do and to get other people enthusiastic to join us, because I think that together we can help children to find where their talents are and by exploring these talents they become more confident in themselves. All of my colleagues who work for the foundation are really passionate about what we do! We all strongly believe in what we do and it's a really nice environment to work in.

Thank you so much, Simone!

Are you or your company interested in becoming a partner of Stichting IMC Weekendschool? Reach out to Simone at simone.swinkels@weekendschool.nl to learn more.

You can also learn more by visiting www.imcweekendschool.nl

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