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From the vault: 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 $3,000 to support nonprofit organizations facing resource and capacity challenges in the area of volunteer screening. Applications open May 7th, 2019! Apply today.

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

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Member Spotlight: St. Albert CIVC builds community through volunteer appreciation

It is essential for towns and cities to have a place to go for volunteer matching to create vibrant communities. And, St. Albert Community Information and Volunteer Centre (CIVC) does exactly this.

Also known as St. Albert’s hidden gem, St. Albert CIVC is celebrating their 40th birthday this year as the go-to place for volunteer opportunities and guidance. This is due in large part to St. Albert CIVC’s understanding that community building stems directly from volunteer appreciation.

The importance of volunteer appreciation events and programs

St. Albert CIVC recommends that nonprofits recognize their volunteers to engage and retain them. And, one way to facilitate volunteer appreciation is through planning recognition events, such as National Volunteer Week (NVW).

According to the Director of Volunteer Centre Services, Tracy Aisenstat, volunteer appreciation is what makes NVW special, “because volunteers really do appreciate the thank you.”

When it comes to planning volunteer appreciation events, Tracy says that keeping it simple always works best.

One way St. Albert CIVC keeps it simple is with their Coffee Break Coupon Program. St. Albert CIVC’s program partners with local coffee businesses to distribute coupons for free coffee to volunteers as a way to thank them for their contributions in the community.

“It doesn’t have to be a parade of fireworks, it can be as simple as a cup of coffee.”

Through their Coffee Break Program, St. Albert CIVC enhances their community by building connections between the private and nonprofit sector.

“Both the organizations and the volunteers love it. It’s the notion of giving the coupon that matters, rather than whether or not it gets used. It’s the idea of ‘you matter to me’” Tracy says.

Celebrating inspiring volunteer stories during National Volunteer Week

While planning a volunteer recognition event like NVW can take up to 50% of staff time, the best part of planning a recognition event is the chance to celebrate and share inspiring volunteer stories.

For example, St. Albert CIVC shared and celebrated this volunteer story at one of their recent NVW events. And, it is just one example of how St. Albert CIVC builds community through volunteer matching and encourages the spirit of volunteerism through storytelling.

St. Albert CIVC connected a stay-at-home dad with a volunteer opportunity to fulfill his community service hours. With his newborn baby in tow, he ended up volunteering at a thrift store! He enjoyed volunteering so much that he eventually recruited his wife, mother and two friends to volunteer as well.

Stories like this exemplify how volunteering provides people with the opportunity to integrate back into the community, giving them the chance to turn over a new leaf, reignite old connections or make new ones.

St. Albert CIVC’s plans for this year’s NVW event

This year, St. Albert CIVC plans to keep the Coffee Break Coupon Program running, along with scheduling NVW events in the evening, since this is when most volunteers can attend.

Tracy says she is seeing a trend towards these events becoming less formal with more of a focus on getting together to laugh and enjoy the company of other members in the community.

Tracy looks forward to NVW this year, as it is a great opportunity to celebrate how volunteering strengthens the sense of community connection in St. Albert and area.

Since 1979, St. Albert Community Information Volunteer Centre (CIVC) has provided community information and volunteer services to community members. The CIVC connects people in the city of St. Albert and area with the information and community services they need.

Do you need support for National Volunteer Week? Hire a SCiP intern!

 

Niabi Kapoor

Volunteer Alberta SCiP intern

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Member Spotlight: IVC for Strathcona County’s spirit of giving

As the holidays draw near, you can feel that the spirit of giving is in the air. It’s a great time of year that reminds us of how powerful giving back and spreading kindness can be. But, Alberta nonprofits remind us each day; they model this spirit of giving by voluntarily and selflessly giving back to their communities year-round.

Throughout the year, the Information Volunteer Centre (IVC) for Strathcona County generously gives back to their community through their various programs and services. But, one program, in particular, is unique in how it supports other nonprofits in the community.

Giving to local nonprofits and their community

The ‘We Care… so We Share!’ program helps to enhance the effectiveness of other nonprofits by providing much needed equipment or items free of charge. Many of the items can be used for fundraising events, and organizations are welcome to borrow any item. Items include a cotton candy machine, an overhead projector, a bookbinding machine, just to name a few.

“I can tell you it’s wildly successful. In fact, we’ve recently received a grant from Suncor to increase our inventory as we were getting so many requests for equipment,” says Judy Ferguson, Executive Director at IVC for Strathcona County.

Impact on the community

Many nonprofits can’t afford to rent or buy this type of equipment for organizational use. As a result, the ‘We Care… so We Share!’ program helps nonprofits in the Strathcona County community to save money.

“It’s an interesting program that is very popular here in the county, and I don’t know who else could do it,” says Judy. “It’s a difficult thing for other organizations to purchase equipment like that and make it available free of charge to community organizations.”

By spending less on equipment for overhead purposes or fundraising events, it allows nonprofits to maximize their dollar for their causes. That is, nonprofits can re-allocate their funds to achieve more social good.

IVC for Strathcona County actively works to achieve inclusion and affordability, and their ‘We Care… so We Share!’ program is an example of this work. By considering the needs of the community and filling that need, they support and empower nonprofits, big or small.

The Information and Volunteer Centre (IVC) for Strathcona County has operated for 43 years. The organization gives back and strengthens its community by providing pathways to connect, engage and empower residents with volunteer opportunities and services, and by providing training and information to other nonprofits and community organizations.

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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    

Supports

Member Spotlight: Giving a voice to Albertans with disabilities

The Voice of Albertans with Disabilities advocates for full participation

People with disabilities, the largest minority group in the world, struggle greatly to overcome physical, mental, emotional and social barriers. Often, those with disabilities find themselves isolated from the world due to discrimination: a sheer lack of understanding and empathy.

The Voice of Albertans with Disabilities is a provincial organization actively working to reduce barriers by encouraging and advocating for full participation, accessibility and equality. Through their programs and services, they are dedicated to improving the quality of life of people with disabilities, as well as ensuring people with disabilities’ voices are heard.

By creating and facilitating committees and working groups, the Voice of Albertans with Disabilities actively listens, brings forward and takes on issues affecting those with disabilities. Their advocacy work has resulted in broader awareness and accessibility.

“It’s the level of awareness that we strive to raise around those key areas that affect the daily life of individuals with disabilities,” says Meloney Patterson, Executive Director at the Voice of Albertans with Disabilities. “The community has an input into these initiatives.”

How you can get involved

Another way the Voice of Albertans with Disabilities is encouraging full participation is by offering disability awareness presentations. These presentations contribute to an accessible environment by educating others and providing an in-depth understanding of removing barriers.

“The Disability Awareness Presentations are given by individuals with disabilities and they start with teaching the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” says Meloney. “There isn’t supposed to be any discrimination against any individual as a result of disability; however, we know that’s quite different.”

The experiences and perspectives put into these presentations by individuals with disabilities engages the audience to learn about the importance of differences while promoting acceptance.

Schools, businesses and organizations can sign up to take part in discussions, learn appropriate use of language and appropriate interaction with a person with a disability.

Breaking down physical barriers, the Voice of Albertans with Disabilities also offers accessibility assessments to review blueprints and ensure that renovations and buildings are fully accessible to all individuals.

“These assessments have been well received by organizations. They save builders, municipalities and building contractors cost with upfront awareness of best practices for accessibility,” says Meloney.

Asking questions to enhance inclusion

Meloney believes that other organizations can remove service and structural barriers in their community through dialogue with an individual with a disability. “Take time to ask questions,” says Meloney.

Located in Edmonton, Alberta, the Voice of Albertans with Disabilities is a provincial cross-disability organization with 45 years of experience. They are dedicated to providing services and support to individuals, organizations, government representatives, schools, business personnel and employers to reduce the barriers and find solutions that prevent full participation.

Navi Bhullar

Volunteer Alberta Intern

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