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Welcoming newcomers: A volunteer story

How we can support and welcome newcomers

Supporting and welcoming newcomers to Canada grows our communities and makes our communities more vibrant, diverse and strong. But, the integration process for newcomers is not easy.

In 2016, Paula Speevak from Volunteer Canada wrote the following about nonprofits’ and volunteers’ roles in assisting Syrian refugees:

“Integration is a years-long process. The need for volunteers to help Syrian refugees connect with their new communities will continue – and that need goes beyond traditional settlement agencies.”

Between October 2015 and February 2018, nearly 52,000 Syrian refugees arrived in Canada, and Albertans have opened their homes and hearts to these refugees. This means we, as community members, have the opportunity to help where we can. Refugee families in our communities require ongoing support such as food services, health services and community programs including language services.

How one volunteer made a difference

Often, having a friendly neighbour they can turn to can make all the difference. Volunteer, Kirsten Madden is one of these Albertans who opened their home to a Syrian family and recently shared her experience with us.

What inspired you to look into volunteering with a refugee organization?

“Over the years, we felt that there had been a lot of discrimination against Muslims and people fleeing to Canada from Syria. We have always been strong advocates for acceptance, love and peace across the globe, and understand that there are bad things that happen in every culture. This inspired us to open our family and our home.

We don’t believe in us versus them, we believe in We. We hoped that if we paired up with a family from Syria, we could learn more than what was just in our hearts, and hopefully be able to inspire others to realize that people are just people. Not to view others through our differences, but to recognize our humanity and that we are more alike than different.”

What was your volunteer experience like? How did it impact yours and your family’s life?

“It has been the most amazing experience. We don’t consider it volunteering anymore. In fact, we stopped submitting volunteer hours a long time ago. We consider them family.

We have learned about their home-life, culture, their food, their language, their struggles, beliefs etc., and visa versa from us to them. Our children have become friends.

For us it makes us feel like we have travelled to Syria in some small way. We have shared their pain when they have talked about the bullies that have destroyed their home, and we have shared their relief when they describe that they feel safe in Canada.”

How would you recommend other volunteers get involved in something they are interested in?

“Just do it! It will enrich your life, and open your heart and eyes.”

 

The inclusion of all people of different races and cultures enriches our communities, broadens our horizons and deepens our understanding of one another. If you are interested in engaging and supporting newcomers in your community, but don’t know how to get started, we recommend checking out our Supporting Newcomers page.

Adrienne Vansevenandt 

Volunteer Alberta    

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Building safe vibrant communities with Volunteer Screening

Growing communities and risk mitigation

Sometimes, our communities can grow faster than we can establish appropriate policies to meet the needs of those joining and participating with our nonprofits. When we can’t keep up with the increasing changes, this can put our organizations and communities unintentionally at risk.

Volunteer screening helps foster safe communities and supports organizations to fulfill duty of care – for clients, volunteers, and community. It also can be a tool to protect vulnerable populations.

Developing screening policies to meet growing community needs

For the last 25 years, the Muslim Community Mosque of Edmonton had run a couple of schools and various programs, which included vulnerable populations such as students and seniors. However, the Mosque, like many organizations, began to realize that its growing community meant they needed comprehensive volunteer policies in place.

“We had no screening for our volunteers at all! A scary thought, now that we have developed policies,” says Mohamed El Bialy, Social and Da’awah (Outreach) Coordinator at the Muslim Community Mosque of Edmonton. “Thankfully, we never had any issues in the past, but now it seems crazy that no policies regarding screening had ever been developed.”

By accessing Volunteer Alberta’s Volunteer Screening Program and the Screening Development Grant, the Mosque created the proper tools and policies based on sector best practices.

“We have already received positive feedback from community members, as well as constructive remarks,” says Mohamed. “These policies will help us ensure that we have responsible volunteers who will create a safe environment for the vulnerable populations that we interact with.”

The Volunteer Screening Development Grant is designed to help support the development of effective screening practices and processes. The grant provides up to $3000 to support nonprofit organizations facing resource and capacity challenges in the area of volunteer screening. Applications are open until July 15th! Apply today.

Adrienne Vansevenandt
Volunteer Alberta

GabbyGibbs

Guest Volunteer Blog: The Hands that Give are Never Truly Empty

The hands that give are never truly empty. – Gabby Gibbs, Leader of Tomorrow

If there is one thing I have experienced as a volunteer, it is that I am surrounded by individuals who love as if it is their last day on earth regardless of where I happen to be.

I have been involved in international service trips for the last four years of my life, travelling with a few different organizations to Ecuador, India, Zambia, and this summer, the Philippines. Volunteer travel for me, and even talking about my trips, give me a rush similar to a breakaway in hockey, or the excitement before going down a rollercoaster. It may sound kind of silly, but I think everyone has that one thing that they love so much that it just gets their blood pumping and heart racing.

My first volunteer trip was an incredible adventure to the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador when I was only 16 years old. My parents responded – as most parents would – with a lot of questions and concerns. But with some research and explaining, I eventually won their support.

While in Ecuador, I was working on the construction of a school to serve a community that previously had to send students hours away for an elementary level education, which often prevented them going to school at all. This community was brand new to the organization I was working with so it was crucial to establish a good relationship with the community.

After a week of incredibly hot days digging the foundation, it becomes really easy to feel like you’re making no progress at all. I call this the “not-so unexpected trip slump”. It’s a part of a volunteer trip no one really talks about, but it’s where you learn the most about yourself. About half way through a workday, I was talking to one of the foremen on a water break, and he shared with me the story of how their entire culture is based on what is called “Minga”.

He said, “Do you notice how the children will come and go, bringing different tools to the parents helping us build? Do you notice how the different men and women will come by throughout the day when they have time?”. I nodded; I had noticed this. He told me that ‘Minga’ is a way of life for them in Ecuador. It is when everyone in the community collectively rallies and works towards a common goal. That no matter what you accomplish on any single day, it is the foundation of teamwork and community working towards completing a goal that is what matters most.

From an outsider view, yes, we flew to Ecuador to build this schoolroom. But, I left Ecuador with the irreplaceable lesson that it isn’t about how fast you do something or how much of a project you complete. It is entirely about the journey and the people on it with you. I left this conversation with him saying “manos que dan nunca estaran vacias” which means “the hands that give are never truly empty”. This quote along with the ‘Minga’ lifestyle is to this day one of the greatest gifts in my life.

The silent heroism and selflessness I have experienced in these countries drives me to share their stories in their honor. Knowing they will never be on any headline and they will not be recognized for their life-changing work, but they still do it with all of their hearts and put it all on the line.

Gabby Gibbs grew up in Okotoks, Alberta and graduated from Holy Trinity Academy in 2017. She is passionate about international development and international law and is currently studying Policy and International Business at Mount Royal University. She also has a Certificate in International Volunteering through The Global Travel Academy and has recently completed her Global Collaboration Certificate in Cross Cultural Management at Mount Royal University. She will be completing her Teaching English As A Foreign Language Certificate through the Center for Communication and English Language Teaching this summer in the Philippines while at placement in a local school.

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How to Recruit and Retain Quality Employees

Healthy and happy staff are more effective and engaged!

One of the biggest barriers for nonprofits to recruit and retain quality employees is the inability to offer valuable and comprehensive compensation packages. We all know it’s not always easy to find affordable, effective ways to increase value in employee packages within nonprofit budget constraints.

“We have had benefits for many years, but our premiums were increasing each year,” says Esther Kesler, Payroll & Benefits Coordinator of the Southern Alberta Community Living Association. “We are always aware of rising costs, and we try to do the best for our staff.”

The Southern Alberta Community Living Association (SACLA) has provided benefits to their staff for 30 years. It’s just one of the ways they retain quality employees and community connectors, who are an integral part of their work providing quality serices for individuals living with a developmental disability.

After several years with another benefit provider, SACLA decided to move to OASSIS, a nonprofit that offers employee benefits specifically for nonprofits. ‘We were looking for ways to save our employees and our organization dollars,” Kesler says. “Being able to offer an alternative option like OASSIS was great.”

Employee benefits not only add value to your staff compensation package, but they also promote the health and wellness of your staff. SACLA offers their team benefits like health and dental, long-term disability, life and accidental death insurance, critical illness, health care spending accounts, and more through OASSIS.

Volunteer Alberta partnered with OASSIS 27 years ago for these exact reasons- to help organization build capacity at a much lower cost. When nonprofits choose other nonprofits as vendors, they support and leverage the buying power and capacity of the entire sector. Social enterprise partnerships keep dollars within our sector’s economy and within the nonprofit communities we serve.

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

If you are looking to save money on your benefits or thinking of getting benefits for the first time, contact OASSIS to find the right plan to suit your organization and employees’ needs.

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