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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    

NextGenCityJam GroupShot

NextGen City Jam is increasing volunteerism – and you can too!

Imagine a room full of people excitedly anticipating for a concert to start. The room goes dark, lights flood the stage, and the crowd goes wild as the headliner takes the stage. But, this night isn’t just for anyone. This concert is exclusively for dedicated volunteers who generously donate their time to their community.

What is City Jam?

NextGen City Jam is a night full of live music in Edmonton with stellar bands that both thanks volunteers for their hard work, and also encourages volunteerism in the community. In exchange for 10 or more hours of their time, volunteers receive exclusive access to this event. Just one of the ways NextGen is engaging youth to get involved in their community.

“We know the important impact that young people can have on the future of this city,” says Christine Causing, Edmonton’s NextGen Coordinator. “This is why we’re hosting City Jam to encourage more Edmontonians, especially those between 18-40, to get involved and experience how rewarding it can be to give back.”

Encouraging volunteerism locally

Last year, NextGen City Jam helped raise 11,000 volunteer hours! That’s 11,000 hours given to local nonprofits to carry out their missions that they didn’t have before, with the assistance of one enticing event centered around engaging existing and first-time volunteers.

“It’s a brand new experience, something I’ve never really done before. And it’s giving me the opportunity to try even more new things. This is all great for me and is even better because I know and can see first-hand that I’m making a difference,” – Anonymous, Volunteer at Boys and Girls Big Brother Big Sisters of Edmonton Area.

Increasing the number of first-time volunteers

Last year, 10% of 400 volunteers were first-time volunteers. This year, NextGen’s goal is to increase the number of first-time volunteers, even if it’s for a minimum of 10 hours. To do this, NextGen will support first-time volunteers by hosting opportunities where they’d go out for the day and volunteer at a charity, event or nonprofit organization.

City Jam is an example of a new and exciting way to engage volunteers; it creates new opportunities for people to come together and contribute to their community.

NextGen consists of a group of volunteers who work together to provide a platform for new and engaging ideas and create a vibrant community. Do you want to participate in City Jam? Volunteer for a minimum of 10 hours at a local charity or nonprofit between June 1 and November 28, and then submit your hours to NextGen to register to attend the concert taking place on December 1.

Blog written by: Navi Bhullar, Volunteer Alberta Intern

Lineup announcements:

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Did you know you are a People Engagement Specialist? Thinking & Acting Differently Part 2

Getting creative

Jodi was inspired and wanted to read more about how to improve her volunteer engagement, so she dove into the Volunteer Recognition Study published by Volunteer Canada in 2013… she found it highly relevant and insightful.

It highlighted that volunteer recognition could be enhanced with a deeper understanding about volunteer motivations and interests, and about how engaging volunteers in developing and using their skills could create mutual benefit and added value for the volunteer. The study provided her with even more motivation to engage volunteers in meaningful ways.

The very next day Jodi received the Volunteer Alberta Member Exclusive email… and in it was a rather intriguing worksheet promising a quick and easy way to engage volunteers by gaining a deeper understanding of their motivations and interests. It was called the Window of Work. ­ She downloaded it right away and started thinking about how she could use it.

Then it dawned on her, one of the steps she was building into her volunteer screening process was step number 10 – the feedback step! She decided to invite some of the volunteers to complete the worksheet, she started with the STP’s (you know, the Same Ten People, the ones who always show up but risk burnout at every turn.)

Jodi emailed them. She shared the Window of Work and gave simple instructions about how to complete it. She requested a 30-minute conversation the next time they were in to volunteer. Within a week she had 10 appointments scheduled!

Some simple changes

Jodi was happy to hear that everyone was grateful that she wanted to know more about them! They told her how valued it made them feel that she wanted to connect about their interests, motivations, and to get their feedback on their volunteer experience.

Jodi discovered a lot in those conversations:

  • Almost all of them gave incredible insight into “why” they kept coming back… and she realized she could use those reasons to help recruit instead of just saying “volunteers needed!”. She made new volunteer recruitment posters and wrote a variety of social media posts that spoke directly to the meaning people experienced because of being engaged as volunteers in her organization.
  • One volunteer identified their love of meeting and talking to new people – so she invited them to come help with recruitment at the volunteer fair booth during NVW.
  • Two of them gave fantastic feedback and ideas about the training process – and one of them, who’d been with the organization for nearly a decade, even volunteered to help with training! The volunteer felt recognized as a resident expert and valued as a champion of the organization! And as a bonus, some of Jodi’s time was freed up to be strategic and to keep building new people engagement possibilities. 
  • One of her newest volunteers was an aspiring writer in his second year of communications in college. Together they came up with a project he could do as an intern through Volunteer Alberta’s Serving Communities Internship Program (a total Win-Win for them both! The student would get a $1000 from the Government of Alberta after successfully completing his internship and her organization was going to get a series of newsletters – which could really help improve outreach.)
  • One volunteer shared how much they loved photography and indicated an interest in photographing the special events. So she created a new position, Event Photographer, and together they outlined the expectations. (This was a huge bonus because they could use the photos on the website and social media to help with outreach!)
  • That same volunteer was working at a café but really wanted to put her Art History degree to work, but didn’t know where to get the vital job experience she needed…. After thinking about it together, they came up with another idea! Together they could create a display about the organization’s history and impact in the community that could travel between the local elementary schools and share important information with the younger generation!
  • One person revealed how much they wanted to volunteer with their family more. She had six kids and Jodi didn’t really have an opportunity for her to do… but thankfully Jodi remembered her colleague, the one from the Volunteer Managers Group, had lots of family-friendly opportunities! So Jodi advised the volunteer to contact that organization and provided her with a referral to the volunteer manager there.
  • Another volunteer was reluctant to reveal that they weren’t enjoying the weekly volunteer position anymore. It was too hard to make it on time and he was starting to feel obligated, which was disappointing to him because he really believed in the cause… Jodi suggested he become a special event volunteer instead and put his training to use by helping fill in here and there when he could. The volunteer felt valued and had a renewed understanding of the impact he could make for a cause that really mattered to him!

Jodi was on her way to becoming a People Engagement Specialist. You see, with a little research, creativity, a subtle shift in your thinking and a willingness to make some simple changes to your work, you can create new possibilities for meaningful people engagement.

In the making of a People Engagement Specialist, there are three the key ingredients: knowing volunteer’s interests and motivations, understanding impact, and creating meaningful engagement.

Katherine Topolniski

Volunteer Alberta 

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Did you know you are a People Engagement Specialist? Thinking & Acting Differently Part 1

Our blog today is in the form of a story… one part fictional story, informed by real-world information, one part practical information that might help change the way you work, one part mindset shift that could change the way you think, and one part shameless promotion of helpful resources and information.

The tale of a Volunteer Manager who became a People Engagement Specialist. Jodi was doing it the way it was always done…. As Volunteer Manager, she was in charge of recruiting, training and recognizing volunteers. It was a very busy position; she often struggled to recruit and keep the amount of volunteers she needed – turnover was high and she was always training new people. She didn’t have much of a budget, or much support from other staff – they were always as busy as she was.

She needed volunteers for special events, service delivery and to help with outreach. She needed many outreach volunteers because it was how her organization was getting the word out about their services and special events.

She had posters up all over town. Each one said, “Volunteers needed” in bold, red font. On Facebook she posted “volunteers needed”, and she asked everyone she knew. Does this sound familiar?

Research

Hoping to find a solution to her recruitment woes, she signed up for a Volunteer Alberta webinar called Screening Volunteers In. Not Out. Jodi had heard about it from a colleague at the volunteer managers group she attended every few months.

In the webinar, she heard about Volunteer Canada’s Screening Handbook (a resource she would certainly download for future use!) and learned about the 10 Steps to Screening. Jodi realized, that like many other volunteer managers, she was following seven out of the ten steps to screening, but the process wasn’t formalized at her organization.

That week she started pulling together existing materials that might help her with the process of screening and onboarding volunteers. While she did that, she realized the volunteer position descriptions hadn’t been updated for many years, and there were no volunteer screening policies in place. That’s when she remembered hearing about the Volunteer Alberta Screening Development Grant and realized maybe there was a chance her organization would be eligible for it!

As it happens, her organization met the eligibility criteria so she applied. Later that summer they received a $2000 grant to help with developing volunteer positions and policies. After a few months she had created a volunteer screening process manual for her organization.

Then one day, in the not too distant future, she was surfing Volunteer Alberta’s website once again, and found some Volunteer Canada research – a Pan-Canadian study called Bridging the Gap.  The research was from 2010, but as she read it, she realized it still rang true. The study indicated a need to enrich the volunteer experience by closing the gap between what Canadians are looking for in volunteerism versus how organizations are engaging volunteers.

Shift in thinking

She had an ah-ha moment! A subtle shift in her thinking and mindset that gave her a new perspective and changed the way she thought about volunteers and her role as a volunteer manager.

Her responsibility was to create the space for volunteerism to exist!! Beyond filling the existing, traditional service delivery positions, she was responsible for creating meaningful opportunities for people to contribute to her organization, to the cause, and more importantly to their own community!

That evening her mind raced with excited thoughts. How could I create more meaningful volunteer positions? How could I better recognize volunteers?

It all seemed overwhelming and she didn’t know where to start. She had no control over programs or services, she didn’t have a big budget, she didn’t even really have a lot of extra time…. AND she still had a bunch of volunteers to recruit, train, and recognize…

Katherine Topolniski

Volunteer Alberta 

Make sure you read part 2 to learn how Jodi became a People Engagement Specialist!

 

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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