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Alberta Stepping Up and Collaborating to Help Fort McMurray Evacuees

As the wildfire crisis in Fort McMurray and surrounding communities continues, the whole Volunteer Alberta office has been paying attention and keeping our Fort McMurray colleagues, partners, friends, and family in our thoughts.

We have been incredibly inspired by the response from Albertan’s across the province. Some of the stories we have heard so far:

  • Individuals are stepping up as impromptu, informal volunteers to deliver gas to stranded motorists and offer food and beds to evacuees.
  • Businesses are sharing what they have, including vets and kennels opening to pets in need of shelter, restaurants serving free food, family attractions waiving admission fees, and hotels, dorms, and camps providing lodging.
  • Nonprofits in all subsectors are helping in their own ways, including recreation and community centres providing shelter, counselling and referral services supporting evacuees, and disaster relief organizations meeting immediate needs.
  • Government at all levels is getting people out of immediate danger, communicating regularly about what is going on, and providing funding and resources where they are needed.

Not only are people in every sector stepping up to help, collaboration within and across sectors to support evacuees has been amazing. Some examples:

  • Alberta Food Bank Association has organized for food banks in Edmonton and Calgary to transport large amounts of food to Athabasca and Lac La Biche food banks, using the strength of their network to meet emergency needs arising in those small communities.
  • Al Rashid Mosque in Edmonton is helping evacuees using the supplies, connections, and volunteers they have from welcoming Syrian refugees.
  • Airbnb is waiving service fees on listings from those wishing to share their accommodations with evacuees free of charge.
  • Both the provincial and federal governments are matching donations to the Canadian Red Cross, tripling donors’ efforts and enabling a coordinated disaster response. Many businesses are also donating and collecting donations to the Red Cross.
  • Oil companies including Shell and Suncor have been working with the evacuation effort to provide transportation and shelter to evacuees.
  • Volunteer Alberta has been sharing information and well wishes through Twitter, and waiting to hear how we can best help nonprofits, both from Fort McMurray and those helping around Alberta.

In the coming weeks and months, as both short and long term needs become more clear, communities will continue to respond and support evacuees and the community of Fort McMurray. I am sure we will continue to hear stories of Albertans in every sector and corner of the province finding ways to help out.

rogersIf you are looking for opportunities to help, keep in mind that the need has just begun.

Be patient as some organizations are experiencing overwhelming amount of support and donations, beyond what they can currently use or distribute! Your passion and enthusiasm is going to be very helpful as evacuees, organizations, and communities learn more about their ongoing needs – so hang tight.

To keep up to date on the help being provided for Fort McMurray evacuees, follow #ymmhelps on Twitter.

 

Sam Kriviak
Volunteer Alberta

Volunteers Promovo - Smiling Senior

Seven Habits of Highly Well People

Guest post from our partners at OASSIS.

In our busy lives, it can be easy to neglect our health. This is especially true in the nonprofit sector where our attention and energy is most often directed to the clients we serve.

It’s important to remember that being healthy and taking care of our self is not a selfish act. In fact, being in top shape is the best thing we can do for those we work with and work for.

So how can we work towards better health? We are sharing seven healthy habits for healthier lifestyles. Start by choosing one manageable habit to work towards on your own – or, even better, to focus on as an office!

1. Exercise regularly

Promovo Community - Biking TogetherBeing physically active is one of the best things we can do for our health. Exercise does not have to be as daunting or time consuming as you might think. Being active for 30 min each day is recommended; however, this can be broken down into short, 10 min intervals. It can be as simple as going for a walk during the lunch hour, doing a few strength training exercises during TV commercial breaks, or completing 10 min of yoga or stretching in the morning before work. Try having a walking meeting to get your whole office active!

2. Eat more vegetables and fruits

Canada’s food guide recommends 7-8 servings of vegetables and fruits for adult women and 8-10 servings for adult men. Ensuring you have a vegetable or fruit with every meal, including snacks, is an easy way to sneak more of these nutrient-dense foods into your diet. Adding blueberries to morning cereal, carrots and hummus for a snack, and a brightly-coloured side salad to lunch and dinner are a few quick examples. Keep this in mind when ordering catering for staff or an event!

3. Get 7-8 hours of restful sleep each night.

Adequate sleep aids in both our physical and mental restoration. It helps keep our immune system in tip-top shape and supplies us with a full tank of energy to deal with daily stresses. For better sleep, make sure your bedroom is a sleep-optimal environment: Control for noise and light disturbances, and ensure a cool temperature and proper ventilation. If you can, make an office-wide rule to not answer any agency emails or phone calls after a certain hour.

4. Avoid smoking

Group of friendsCigarettes are the leading cause of lung cancer, and linked to heart disease and respiratory disease. The good news is, once you quit smoking, the damage can become near reversible. If you’re looking for help with smoking cessation, Health Canada, the Canadian Cancer Society and Smokers Hotline all provide excellent resources. If a few of your organization’s staff smoke, try quitting together.

5. Limit Alcohol Consumption

Over indulgence in alcohol has been linked to heart disease, liver disease, and various types of cancer. To avoid the associated health risks, follow the consumption guidelines set out by Health Canada: Women should limit alcoholic beverages to a maximum of 9 per week and men to a maximum of 14, not exceeding more than 2 drinks per day. If after-work drinks are a big part of your office culture, consider other fun activities you and your coworkers could do together.

6. Maintain close and positive social connections

Studies show that people with strong social connections are more likely to have better cognitive and physical health. Maintain close ties with friends and family, get involved in our community, and seek professional support when necessary. Make time for bonding and friendships at your office – have lunch together, or make an effort to learn something new about your colleagues.

7. Limiting stress

SillyResearch has demonstrated that high amounts of stress and the perception that stress impacts heath are associated with poor physical and mental health, along with an increased risk of premature death. Individuals who cope well with stress are better able to reduce their risk. For stress-busting techniques focus on deep breathing, meditation, and positivity training. Don’t treat stress like an inevitable part of work at your office and make sure you and your colleagues support each other through stressful times.

 


OASSIS is an employee benefit plan provider for the nonprofit sector. OASSIS created a partnership with Tri Fit Inc. to provide wellness programs and resources free of charge to all plan members. Tri Fit Inc. is Canada’s leading provider of workplace fitness and wellness programs.

For more information on OASSIS Benefits Plans please visit www.oassisplan.com and for more information on Tri Fit Inc. please visit www.trifit.com.

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Building Strong Communities through Informal and Formal Volunteering

Volunteer AirdrieHappy National Volunteer Week!

This year for National Volunteer Week, Volunteer Airdrie is celebrating with a Red Carpet Event. As Melanie Taylor, Vice Chair of Volunteer Airdrie, explained: “We are rolling out the red carpet for our volunteers, providing free movie tickets and concession as a thank you for all they do to make our community great.”

To make the event even more unique, and as inspiration for continued volunteerism in Airdrie, volunteers won their tickets to the event by completing formal or informal volunteer activities and sharing their volunteering stories with Volunteer Airdrie.  Find more information about how Volunteer Airdrie is celebrating National Volunteer Week here.

Melanie explained: “Informal volunteering opportunities are all around us. Helping a fellow Airdrie resident, family, friend, or neighbour directly [is informal volunteering]. Formal volunteering includes activities where you volunteer your time with social/nonprofit organizations, service clubs, community associations, and so on.

Here are some ideas to inspire you to take informal or formal action in your community:

Informal volunteering:

  • Shovel your neighbours walk
  • Pick up garbage in your neighbourhood
  • Run a carpool
  • Babysit for free
  • Help a newcomer practice their English
  • Drive a senior to their appointment
Formal volunteering:

  • Volunteer at a casino fundraiser
  • Coach minor hockey
  • Sit on a nonprofit board
  • Become a peer-to-peer counselor
  • Sort donations at a food bank or thrift store
  • Walk dogs at a shelter

 

Volunteer Airdrie’s campaign for informal or formal volunteering was a huge success!.

“We received more than 100 stories and they were all amazing examples of Airdrie’s community culture and spirit,” said Melanie, “By contributing time, energy, and skills to our community, people gain a greater sense of belonging and connection. They are more likely to care for their environments and the people around them; imagine less graffiti, more local shopping, less crime, more block parties, and increasing community pride. This is especially important in a rapidly growing city like Airdrie, where we are seeing the strains of growth and the current economy.”

And Airdrie volunteers seem to be enjoying the red carpet treatment as well – just look at them!

Airdrie3 Airdrie1 Airdrie2

Sam Kriviak
Volunteer Alberta

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Creating vibrant communities starts with you

Promovo Community - Biking TogetherBuilding vibrant communities is complicated work. It relies on cooperation, participation, inclusion, and diversity. This means people from all walks of life, in all areas including business, government, community, and nonprofit organizations, must work together.

Volunteerism, in particular, has the power to transform your life, the lives of others, and entire communities. As nonprofit professionals, we know volunteers are the roots of our communities and our work depends on them!

When people, like you, come together, at home, in your job, or as a volunteer, positive impact can be made. Volunteerism creates vibrant communities.

Next week is National Volunteer Week (April 10-16), and, to celebrate, Volunteer Alberta has created a short, informative video. This video not only tells the story of how a single person makes a difference, it also introduces some complex ideas that we are exploring about system change through combined and collective efforts.

Last fall Volunteer Alberta explored these idea when we hosted, interCHANGE, a unique one-day conference (learn more about it here). We brought dynamic players from government, business, and nonprofit sectors together to explore how to tackle complex challenges that affect people’s quality-of-life.

interCHANGE was a step forward in a collective attempt to answer the question: “What relationships need to exist in order to create the conditions to make a positive impact in Alberta’s communities?”.

Together we explored how boundaries between sectors and service delivery are blurring. If we embrace these areas of overlap, we can create opportunities for dynamic collaborations and social innovation.

We learned challenges in today’s society require adaptive responses in order to have positive results – and that adaptive responses have three components:

  • Participatory – you have to be involved to make changes
  • Systemic – the issues and solutions are interconnected
  • Experimental – we need to be willing to try different and new approaches

(Did you know: We regularly post articles on systems change like this one on systems thinking, and this one on systems learning, and we’ll continue to dive deeper into our findings from interCHANGE in the future.)

CoachLet’s consider participatory action and look at it through the lens of volunteerism.

Volunteerism provides an opportunity for us to get involved, experiment in our community, and learn about the experiences of different people who lead different lives, aka. the ‘other’. Volunteering provides the opportunity for everyone involved to develop newfound understanding and empathy for the ‘other’.

The video, Vibrant Communities and You, highlights the role volunteers play in creating vibrant communities and is our gift to you for National Volunteer Week. Please share it on social media, pass it along, or even play it at your National Volunteer Week event.

You can find the video on our website to watch or download, or share/embed it via YouTube and Vimeo.

Volunteer Alberta supports community-service learning, when students gain experience and develop their skills by contributing to nonprofits. We are proud to have worked with the students and faculty at Pixel Blue College to create the animation in this video and grateful for their hard work.

 

Katherine Topolniski
Volunteer Alberta

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3 ways being privacy conscious can improve your organization’s reputation

Typing Woman smallIn the twenty-first century, data and information are everywhere. Collecting information is truly foundational to everything we do in our daily work. Online activities that collect personal information, fundraising efforts, volunteer screening, and social media put a responsibility on nonprofits to consciously manage people’s privacy, information, and other data.

By being privacy conscious you can help strengthen your organization’s reputation, enhance the trust in your staff, and even increase the loyalty of donors, participants, and volunteers.

If you want to maintain a positive perception of your organization and the important work you do, a solid practice is to have processes in place for managing information and personal records.

Here are a few simple ideas and actions your organization can take to be more privacy conscious and protect the personal information and privacy of those people who interact with your nonprofit.

Enhance your organization’s reputation

Protecting privacy and personal information can improve your organization’s reputation.

In general, nonprofits that manage personal information in accordance with privacy legislation (like PIPA or FOIP) are seen as more accountable and trustworthy, by clients, volunteers, donors, and potential partners.

An improved reputation may mean that other agencies will find opportunities to work together with your nonprofit more attractive, especially if operating joint programs or if a partnership requires information sharing.

By simply reviewing how your organization currently manages personal information, you can begin to establish more formalized processes.

A simple review of your current practices may provide other benefits like;

  • assist you in making better decisions about what information is reasonable to collect and only collecting what you need
  • guide you to use the information you collect more effectively and intentionally
  • improve how you protect the privacy of those people who are important to you

Trust in your staff

Not having good personal information protections in place could hurt how your staff are perceived and trusted by your donors, volunteers, and clients.

Simply because a few standardized processes are lacking in their work, your staff may not be perceived to have the same level of responsibility and accountability as people working in businesses.

While initially it may seem like added work, you can help improve the level of trust your donors, volunteers, and clients have in your staff by involving staff in the process of protecting personal information.

Simple ways your staff can be seen as part of protecting privacy while collecting information include;

  • staff being transparent about how a person’s personal information will be used, providing those people an opportunity to ask questions or make requests that help them feel their information is respected
  • staff explaining how information will be stored and/or destroyed, demonstrating a professional level of accountability in the staff person and helping to develop a relationship of trust between the individual and staff at your organization

Loyalty from your donors, participants, and volunteers

GlassesPeople are asked to share their personal information many times a day, from entering an email address, to sharing a postal code at a store check-out, to signing into social media websites. Personal information is increasingly valuable in today’s world.

People are concerned about what data is requested of them, how much of the requested information is required for the service they want to use, and how their data is eventually used. While they may have differing thoughts and feelings about their expected privacy when it comes to their own information, one thing often rings true, people generally place more trust and respect in those who work to protect their privacy.

People who your organization counts on to volunteer or donate are not only important to your work, but also champions who will share the experiences they have with your organizations with others. It is a good idea to be transparent with those people about the steps you have in place to protect and respect their privacy.

Some simple solutions that you can incorporate;

  • a “privacy practices and policy” notice on all donation forms or receipts
  • be upfront about the personal information that is required for volunteer screening processes (ex. is a police information check required, references, or employment history?)
  • set clear expectations during volunteer interviews or orientation about how their personal information will be used, stored, and destroyed

If your organization is already taking some of these steps for privacy protection – great work! Please keep it up and share any tips you might have about your processes in the comments.

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