Volunteers Extraordinaire

PLEASE NOTE: Since the Covid-19 Pandemic starting in March of 2020, all employment operations have been moved online. All references to work location below should be regarded as if they were referring to working remotely online.

The AAHP provides strong training in the ethics and practice of volunteerism for causes larger than one’s own needs and interests, and which enrich the community as a whole. Opportunities for children, teens, and adults wishing to volunteer for its own sake, or to satisfy civic requirements set by school, houses of worship, etc., may include, for example, working with our special needs artists, and assisting practitioners with English as a second language.

For prospective volunteers

Dear Prospective Volunteer, or Parent,

This is Ana E. Soto-Canino at the Academy of Art of Highland Park (AAHP). You have, or your youngster has, excitedly reported to us an interest in volunteering at the AAHP. We too, have been eagerly waiting for this possibility! We would love to see you/your youngster contributing to our artistic community here at the AAHP. Meanwhile, volunteerism self-validates and is self-rewarding in its own right.

Though volunteers do not work for pay, the presence of volunteers in the workplace is highly regulated by federal and state regulators. Workplace insurance companies also want to have a say. And we at the AAHP impose our own set of regulations to ensure safety and security of al; staff, whether paid or volunteer. Our own regulations have kept us accident-free for 19 consecutive years, and while serving more than 7,000 alumni of all ages. These lovely numbers stress the point that all volunteers must be kept safe, comfortable, and able to work in ways that reward both their effort and our cause as a student-centered apprentice studio.


For individuals under age 18
Academy of Art of Highland Park
Highland Park, NJ USA


The AAHP offers volunteer opportunities at its art studios. Please note that the AAHP has three studios and two small offices in Highland Park; we have one small studio and office at 332 Harper Place, and two small studios and a small office at our class center, 727 Raritan Ave, Highland Park. Volunteer work takes place at our class center. On rare occasions, we work at 332 Harper Pl. Those exceptions are addressed in advance and also require written parental consent.


Volunteer positions are available across two tracks defined by age, and in four work programs, defined by tasks:


For youngsters 13 years old and up.

This track may entail actual assistance to teachers during live classes. This track requires:

(1) mandatory attendance to at least two of our three annual mandatory safety-training meetings at the AAHP, and

(2) attendance to at least one of our monthly junior staff training meetings. All staff meetings concerning youngsters take place on Fridays. Our next mandatory safety training meeting is slated for Friday, Jan 5, 2018, 4-6pm.

The first training meeting requirement is imposed by federal workplace regulations; the second one is the AAHP’s additional imposition. This age group may be asked to help with organization at our Annex at Harper Place.


For youngsters 9 to 12 years old.

This track is for very young artists who love to be part of the studio beyond their role as student artists. V TRACK 2 volunteerism entails studio operations during live classes, but not actual assistance with pedagogical delivery. All our current and past V TRACT 2 volunteers have contributed tremendously to studio operations.


For V Track 1 Volunteers:

Work takes place initially and mostly at the AAHP premises, with occasional work at the Annex, with parental consent.

For V Track 2 Volunteers:

work takes place only at the AAHP premises at 727 Raritan Ave.


The AAHP offers several volunteer positions for youngsters seeking to satisfy service requirements per

(1) their own generosity and commitment to their art practice and creative communities, and/or

(2) their school programming requirements for community service, and/or

(3) ethical education requirements devised by the youngster’s faith-based community. Here, please note that the AAHP is a private educational business. Please let us know whether your youngster needs to specifically serve a special social cause, or whether simply volunteering at a private, educational, and community-centered site is sufficient.

If needing to serve a special cause, your youngster may be able to work with our (1) free program for special needs artists, and/or with our (2) free scholarship program for immigrant and refugee youngsters, and for youngsters from critically impoverished or fragile households, or through any other means of bridging the AAHP to a target community needing special support.

Volunteerism as a Step Towards Teen Employment

The AAHP also uses volunteerism as a preparatory stage when a youngster is interested in working for pay, which can take place when he or she turns 14. However, please note that volunteering is not a requirement for qualifying for payroll jobs at the AAHP. Nor is it a tacit expectation. We simply use it as a preliminary stage if and when the youngster desires it that way.

Currently, there are no current payroll jobs open at this time for coaching. However, if your youngster wishes to strictly volunteer at this time, that service can and will count as training, should the volunteer become interested in applying for a paid position at a later time.


We would love to enter the volunteer registration process with you or your youngster. If the volunteer is a youngster, we do need your involvement as parent or legal guardian, being that your youngster is a minor in the eyes of the law. We also need to know of your specific expectations as we care for your youngster in situations that are different from those of taking class.

This is where we get to the juicy part about safety and security. Like its cousin, the science lab, an art studio is a potentially dangerous place. And ours has a lot of floor traffic too. We have many controls in place that have let us serve over 7,000 alumni of all ages, and for 19 consecutive years, with no accidents beyond a paper cut. We must keep it this way.



You or your youngster can volunteer at the AAHP through FOUR different Programs:


Join our Studio Management & Responsive Teaching Trust (SMaRTT) as a volunteer teaching assistant. For V Track 1 volunteers only (ages 13 and up). This program is open only to V Track Volunteers. This program began in 2003 and has become a fine platform for high achieving teens; members are known as Coaches. SMaRTT is a leadership-training program, where servant leadership skills and sensibilities are taught through small teamwork dynamics as we work to keep the studio safe, operational, and thriving. As part of SMaRTT, your youngster would serve as volunteer teaching assistant to senior staff members Aaron Balavram, in his capacity as Senior Instructor, and myself, in my capacity as Director/Chief Instructor/Chief Safety Officer. The volunteer Coach can work across any class slot other than his or her own.


Join our Studio Management Leadership Program (SMLP). THIS IS THE MANDATORY ENTRY OPTION FOR ALL V TRACK 2 VOLUNTEERS. The SMLP is our teen leadership program that uses business operations, as opposed to teaching, to train teens as employees. This crew is supervised at all times by adult senior staff, and are responsible for the upkeep of the studio operations, including safety ops, repairs, purchases, cleaning, organization, and laundry. If volunteering during hours anytime Sunday-Thursday, and Sunday, the volunteer works under Ana and Aaron’s supervision.

If working as part of the Friday Work Crew (strictly studio ops), then the Volunteer also will be directly supervised by adult Senior Staff Shannon Donaghy.

–The volunteer in any Track can work as a 1-person crew at this job during any teaching hours other than their own class time.

–V Track 1 Volunteers can also serve alongside the teen Friday work crew (FWC) on Fridays, 3-p.m.-p.m. The FWC crew is supervised by Mr. David Learn. He is one of our adult alumni, and father to three AAHP students.

All Volunteer Coaches are to work under the senior teaching staff—again, Aaron Balavram and I—to ensure the student’s (1) safety, (2) comfort, and then, (3) his or her pedagogical needs and interests. Meanwhile, none of us can do this if we are not attending to our own safety, comfort, and needs and interests. This matter is core to all our teamwork training and work. Volunteer Coaches also receive guidance from experienced Coaches, under the supervision of the Senior staff.

All V TRACK 1 Volunteer coaches start working with children younger than themselves, and remain working with his or her juniors until becoming an older teen, usually around age 16, when he/she might then work pedagogically with fellow teens. All our volunteer Coaches expressing interest are also, though slowly, taught to work with high-performing special needs artists who attend our regular apprenticeship program, and not our special weekly slot for those needing more specialized attention. Volunteer Coaches are not authorized to address queries or concerns from parents or adult practitioners at any time.

The AAHP ranks all Coaches by level of experience, work-place skills, personal strengths, and demonstrated commitment to service. During active duty, all Coaches bear wrist cuffs on each arm, and which indicate rank, so as to visually and readily facilitate classroom management and safety operations.

The ranks are: Co-Captain (CC, red wrist cuffs; we appoint two at any time. Any CC must have provided at least two years of extraordinary service, or demonstrated equally outstanding levels of service, if less), Chief Coach (ChC, orange cuffs, also more than two school years of service), Senior Coach (SC, yellow cuffs, more than two years, but less than three), Junior Coach (JC, green cuffs, more than one year, but less than two of service), Rookie (RC, black wrist cuffs, one school year of service or less), and Volunteer Coach (VC, white cuffs, off payroll, but no lesser than any other Coach in relevance and merit).

Red, orange, and yellow cuffs indicate ranks to which we, the Senior Staff, can assign greater classroom management demands, and which we would mobilize during any urgency or emergency. Green, blackand white cuffs indicate ranks that are less experienced, and may not be able to render certain tasks during urgencies or emergencies. However, all ranks are fully trained in routine emergency operations. Emergencies might include fire-related evacuations, lock-down and lock-ins, and support to Senior Staff as we deliver first responder aid, etc.


Join us as both Coach and Studio Management Teen Crew during class time as needed.


Design Your Own! Propose a volunteer project to us! If approved, you get to design and implement a strategic project that will benefit any aspect of our community of artists at the AAHP, or any larger part of our surrounding communities. The volunteer can, by appointment, converse with the senior staff about his or her idea. The final proposal must be in writing, and approved by the AAHP for feasibility, including relevance of content, cost, timeline, and other requirements. Past examples include setting up a public exhibition for our special needs artists, and organizing the AAHP’s art library.


Adult administrative/managerial/creative assistance to the Senior Staff. For adult volunteers only.



1st STEP

Please let us know of your interest in volunteering at the AAHP. If the volunteer is an adult, please go to Step 2. If the volunteer is a youngster, please converse with us at the AAHP and with your youngster about our mutual interests in working together. You and your youngster might consider comparing the hours for which we need assistance against your availability. He or she must also consider the ethical norms of our studio culture. There’s no use in going through all the effort if our respective scheduling needs don’t match, or if the youngster doesn’t care to comply with the Dress Code, for example.

As one of your youngster’s first formal supervisor at a work site, we are willing to bear the costs of training someone to be a responsible volunteer or paid worker here, and anywhere. But only to a point; the AAHP reserves the right to furlough or terminate or otherwise remove from our ranks of volunteers any youngster who, after repeated interventions requiring that he or she show learning and improvement, may fail to make the grade. The young person wising to join our volunteer staff must be made aware of this.

2nd STEP

Please read the AAHP’s online documents on working with us. On our website’s navigation bar, please click on Employment at the AAHP, and then on Employment Opportunities.

3rd STEP

Complete and submit the AAHP Volunteer Registration Form online, on our website.

4th STEP

Once we receive your AAHP Volunteer Registration Form submission, we will email you an acknowledgement as well as instruction for accessing the AAHP’s Employee Manual and Comprehensive Safety and Health Protocol (CS&HP, 35 pages).

Parents of minors must read and review this document with their youngster. All AAHP safety and security training is based on this document. At this time, we will also settle on your preferred work hours.

The AAHP is still drafting an online Volunteer Manual. In the meantime, we ask that volunteers familiarize themselves with our Employee Manual. Said document covers important matters, such as dress code, scheduling, and the mandatory attendance of staff-wide training meetings. Three safety meetings are held per school year; all workers, whether employed or volunteer, must attend at least two of them. The AAHP also holds regular and mandatory training staff meetings on the first Friday of the month after school, September through July. These cover safety as well as pedagogy, customer service, etc. It is important to become acquainted with these matters so that parents do not inadvertently schedule the youngsters for other appointments during such training hours.

We look forwards to the day we receive you with an AAHP T-shirt in hand, gifted to you as a new volunteer, and as a token of welcome.

Any and all volunteers at the AAHP will face a steep learning curve. For that reason, the training program begins as a three-month probationary period. During that time, the AAHP senior staff can share with you and the volunteer our assessments of their service.


Please let us know of any interests, concerns or questions you may have.

Sincerely, A.E. Soto-Canino Director/Chief Instructor AAHP

DOI 12/17

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