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Coping After Natural Disasters – Care for your community with Psychological First Aid

Guest post by Owen Thompson, Alberta Museums Association

Albertans are no strangers to natural disasters. We have been faced with the threat of wildfire, flood, avalanche, extreme storms, extreme heat, tornados, the list goes on.

Yet, even within the framework of an experienced and professional infrastructure, the unprecedented flooding in summer of 2013 left a lasting impression on Alberta. It very literally changed the landscape of the Rockies in some areas and along the Bow River specifically. As one researcher from UBC explained, “the river widened substantially and degraded up to two meters in some places as the channel pattern was reorganized completely.”

Billions of dollars have been spent to recover from those few days almost three years ago. But the damage was not just physical; it also had psychological impact on many people, such as nonprofit staff and volunteers who were engaged in the aftermath of the floods, as well as the individuals they helped.

ThoughtfuNatural disasters, like other traumatic events, can have a last effect on the mental health of all those involved. Years later, residents of High River continue to report feeling “jittery” in June, or when heavy rains come through. The stress levels and anxiety that come with facing such drastic events can be debilitating. Helplessness can set in and action may stop when it is needed most. However, similar to the ways we mitigate physical damage, there are also ways to mitigate psychological damage.

For that reason, the Alberta Museums Association, through its Museum Flood Funding Program, is proud to be partnering with Volunteer Alberta and Alberta Health Services (AHS) to offer two workshops on Psychological First Aid (PFA) in southern Alberta.

Psychological First Aid (PFA) provides the tools Albertans working in the aftermath of natural disasters need to help other members of their communities. PFA can also lessen the emotional and mental impact for those workers themselves.

The PFA workshops provides tools and methods to:

  • offer practical care without forcing it
  • listen without pressure
  • connect people to the information and resources they need
  • protect people from further harm

The PFA workshops will address the deep psychological effects of trauma, with a focus on the aftermath of disaster situations, by sharing methods that can aid in the recovery process. This training is a great opportunity for staff, volunteers, and individuals who work with those struggling after natural disasters.

The training uses a “stepped-care” approach that tailors the type of care to the needs of each person. Some people will need access to professional therapy, while other people will recover on their own. While PFA is the first line of defense against stress-related mental health issues, it cannot replace the level of care offered by a professional.

The PFA workshops will be held in two southern Alberta locations:

  • High River on May 12
  • Medicine Hat on June 23

Find out more information on the workshops and register today.


Owen Thompson
Flood Advisory Lead
Alberta Museums Association







Syrian Refugee Resettlement: What does it mean for nonprofits and supporters?

Guest post by Paula Speevak from Volunteer Canada.

Visit our Supporting Newcomers page for resources, tools, and referrals for organizations and individuals who want to help welcome Syrian refugees to Alberta.

*** Le texte français suit ***

Canada flagWelcoming refugees to Canada has been called an “important part of Canada’s humanitarian tradition.” As Syrian refugees arrive in Canada, many Canadians have been inspired to help.

The generosity of Canadians from coast-to-coast has been outstanding. There have been countless offers of household items, clothing, money and time.

Yet, despite the obvious need for donations, some Canadians may be wondering why no one has taken them up on their offers.

In times of natural disasters, health emergencies and other humanitarian crises, Canadians respond with overwhelming generosity. However, engaging their acts of kindness is anything but simple.

Although having a surge of interested volunteers and donors is indeed a wonderful problem to have, there are two things we must tackle: how to help organizations build their capacity to engage the surge of volunteers and how to keep Canadians from getting frustrated when their offers aren’t answered.

A typical settlement organization may receive 10 calls a month from potential volunteers. In times of crisis, such as the resettlement of 25,000 Syrian refugees, they may find themselves receiving upwards of 200 calls a day.

Beyond that, a lot of work goes in to recruiting and onboarding volunteers. Who answers the flood of phone calls and emails? Who evaluates potential volunteers’ skills? Who screens them to ensure safety? Who provides orientation and training?

It’s human nature for Canadians to want to give back now, when planes full of refugees are arriving. And while many Canadians want to directly help refugees, right now, many organizations need assistance with volunteer coordination and administration.

But, as my colleagues in settlement and integration organizations remind me, there is often a great deal of focus on the immediate aspects of settlement: finding housing, registering for school, setting up bank accounts, learning a new language and accessing health care.

Young girlIntegration, on the other hand, 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.

Consider volunteering for schools, breakfast clubs, recreation and community centres, summer camps, health centres or neighbourhood associations. They will all face increased needs in service and program delivery as refugees begin integrating.

Volunteering is more than just giving time. It shapes the communities we want to live in and, by extension, creates the kind communities we want to welcome people to.

You can help Syrian refugees by making your community more vibrant and resilient. There is no shortage of organizations that will indirectly assist with integration. Take stock of your skills and interests to find the right fit. Be patient after submitting your application and don’t expect to start volunteering the next day. Volunteers will still be needed later in the year and beyond.

Paula Speevak
Volunteer Canada

BrothersOn a dit que l’accueil des réfugiés «  fait partie de la tradition humanitaire du Canada ». À mesure que les réfugiés syriens arrivent au Canada, beaucoup de Canadiens sont inspirés à aider.

D’un bout à l’autre du pays, les Canadiens font fait preuve d’une générosité extraordinaire, comme en témoignent les innombrables dons d’articles ménagers, de vêtements, d’argent et de temps.

Cela dit, malgré l’évidente nécessité de dons, certains Canadiens se demandent peut-être pourquoi personne n’a donné suite à leur offre d’aide.

Lors de catastrophes naturelles, d’urgences de santé et d’autres crises humanitaires, les Canadiens ont toujours réagi avec grande générosité.  Cependant, la concrétisation de leurs gestes de bonté est tout sauf simple.

Même si l’arrivée d’une grande vague de donateurs et de bénévoles intéressés constitue un heureux problème, deux difficultés se posent : comment renforcer l’aptitude des organismes à tirer profit du nombre accru de bénévoles et comment empêcher les Canadiens de se sentir frustrés quand on ne donne pas immédiatement suite à leur offre d’aide.

En temps normal, les organismes chargés de l’établissement reçoivent une dizaine d’appels par mois de la part de bénévoles désireux d’aider. En temps de crise, comme lors du rétablissement de 25 000 réfugiés syriens, ces organismes peuvent être inondés d’appels allant jusqu’à 200 par jour.

De surcroît, beaucoup d’efforts sont requis pour recruter et mettre à l’œuvre des bénévoles. Qui répond au tsunami d’appels téléphoniques et de courriels? Qui évalue les compétences des éventuels bénévoles? Qui s’occupe du filtrage de sécurité? Qui offre les séances d’orientation et de formation?

Il est dans la nature humaine des Canadiens de vouloir redonner à la société tandis que des avions pleins de réfugiés atterrissent en sol canadien. Mais alors que beaucoup de Canadiens veulent aider immédiatement et le faire directement, un grand nombre d’organismes ont besoin de soutien pour coordonner et gérer  leurs effectifs bénévoles.

Comme le soulignent mes collègues actifs au sein d’organismes chargés de l’établissement et de l’intégration, il faut souvent mettre  l’accent sur des aspects immédiats de l’établissement : trouver un logement, inscrire les enfants à l’école, ouvrir un compte de banque, apprendre une nouvelle langue, accéder aux soins de santé.

Par contre, l’intégration est un processus qui s’étale sur plusieurs années.

TogetherOn continue d’avoir besoin de bénévoles pour aider les réfugiés syriens à s’intégrer à leurs nouvelles collectivités – et ce besoin va au-delà du mandat des organismes d’établissement traditionnels.

Songez à faire du bénévolat au niveau des écoles, des clubs de petits déjeuners, des centres récréatifs et communautaires, des camps d’été ou des associations de quartier. Toutes ces organisations seront appelées à répondre à de nouveaux besoins en matière de services et de programmes à mesure que les réfugiés s’intégreront à leurs nouveaux milieux.

Le bénévolat suppose beaucoup plus qu’un simple don de temps. Il influence nos milieux de vie et, par ricochet, aide à créer les genres de collectivités au sein desquelles nous sommes heureux d’accueillir les gens.

Vous pouvez aider les réfugiés syriens et rendant votre collectivité plus dynamique et résiliente. Il y a plein d’organismes qui sont en mesure d’aider indirectement les réfugiés à s’intégrer. Tenez compte de vos compétences et intérêts particuliers pour trouver ce qui vous convient le mieux. Une fois votre demande de bénévolat envoyée, soyez patient et ne vous attendez pas à commencer du jour au lendemain.  L’aide des bénévoles sera encore requise au fil des mois et des années à venir.\

Paula Speevak
Bénévole Canada

Guest Blog: Time for Art

Interested in alternative ways to recruit volunteers? Learn more about Timeraiser in this guest blog post by Timeraiser Edmonton:

ArtistDoes art have value? We think it does – especially for nonprofits.

Timeraiser uses art as a way of bringing together volunteers with organizations in need of people power. It’s a silent art auction with a twist, asking attendees to bid their time to nonprofits in exchange for art that has been purchased from emerging Edmonton-area artists.

It’s a win-win scenario: artists are paid fair market value for their work, and nonprofits find the human capital they need.

The 2015 Edmonton Timeraiser is seeking local nonprofit organizations to participate in this year’s event.

Organizations will be given the chance to connect with potential volunteers in a fun and engaging atmosphere. Attendees can find out more about the work an organization does in the community as well as what types of roles are available. Nonprofits can learn what skills are available and whether a volunteer might make a good fit for their team.

VolunteersAfter the matchmaking is done, participants pledge up to 100 volunteer hours to the nonprofits of their choice in an attempt to out-bid other guests for a selected piece of art.

Last year’s Timeraiser helped raise more than 4,000 volunteer hours for the nearly 30 nonprofits in attendance. This year’s event, the 7th Edmonton Timeraiser, is on track to be just as successful and will feature 20 nonprofits from a variety of sectors.

Nonprofit selections will be 50% curated by Edmonton Timerasier and 50% selected by jury. The jury will consist of individuals that are involved in Edmonton’s nonprofit and volunteer communities.

The 2015 Edmonton Timeraiser will take place Thursday, November 5, 2015 in the lobby of the new EPCOR Tower. This volunteer fair and silent art auction will also feature music and entertainment from local performers and culinary delights to fuel the fun.

Calls for nonprofit applications close on Monday, September 14, 2015.

Apply today and let Timeraiser help you build your volunteer force!

Interested in Timeraiser’s approach to volunteer recruitment and want to learn more? Read the previous Volunteer Alberta blog on Sam’s experience with Timeraiser Edmonton.

Not in Edmonton? Learn more about Timeraiser Calgary and Timeraiser Wood Buffalo.

Part I: Charity Village’s ‘20 Questions’ for the Nonprofit Sector

For their 20th anniversary, Charity Village has asked the nonprofit sector to share our collective wisdom through answering some of their ‘20 questions’. We love the idea, and decided to enlist some of our staff to help add to the growing wealth of answers! Check back later this week for more.

Visit Charity Village’s website for more information and to hear responses from others in the sector.

What’s the most creative nonprofit campaign you’ve seen in the past 20 years?

Campaigns, both nonprofit and for profit, have seen major changes over the last 20 years. With these changes, the best companies are using platforms that work for their cause. Be it visual, video, print, radio, music, the possibilities are endless.

The nonprofit campaign that popped into my head first is a YouTube video the Winnipeg Humane Society created in 2011. It has humor, a fast talking salesman, and is full of cats. In my opinion, they nailed it!

Other nonprofits that have great campaigns include:

  • Alberta Cancer Foundation: Doug’s Story.
  • Spare Change Real Change: a social media and email campaign to increase donor participation. The award winning campaign was created for the United Way of London & Middlesex by Lashbrook Marketing and Public Relations.
  • In 2011, PFLAG Canada used QR codes (which we really big at the time) for their awareness campaign. Read about the campaign here and check out their current site.

solitaire20 years ago I was using my computer to…

 …play Solitaire and the other pre-loaded games!

What one thing should every nonprofit professional do for 20 minutes every day?

I highly recommend connecting with the people who matter most to your organization – volunteers.

Sometimes we get lost in our work and we forget about the relationships that are so important to our work. Talk to your volunteers – face-to-face or over the phone.  Volunteers are critical to our work in the nonprofit sector, we value that they choose to give their time and energy to our causes. Get to know them better!

  • Learn about their goals and motivations for volunteering with you. Show your appreciation for the reasons they choose to volunteer with you and work with those reasons in mind.
  • Ask about their volunteer experiences (both with your organization and others). Honouring their input will keep them engaged and help them get what they are seeking from their volunteer experience. It can also help you improve!

compy20 years ago I was using my computer to…

…learn to type without looking at the keyboard (with the help of Mavis Beacon) and write a novel – at the age of 13. On this bad boy:



The Greatest Roller-Coaster – Volunteerism

Being dedicated to changing the world is like riding a roller-coaster of emotions. Sometimes it’s the kiddie-coaster in a mall parking lot, other times it is the biggest, fastest, most flashy roller-coaster in the world. For me, I choose to ride the change-the-world-roller-coaster by volunteering my time, talent and energy.

My entire life I’ve been riding these rails, volunteering in service to the world. For me the ‘world’ I aim to change is not just the planet we all share; it’s the world in which I live and whatever community I happen to be a part of. It’s about the people I intersect with in life on a daily basis, including friends, family and passersby. It is this part of our big ole planet that, through volunteering, I’m working to change.

Have you ever taken a ride on the change-the-world-roller-coaster? Join me for a second…let me know, can you relate? It feels a bit like this…

I love volunteering. It’s a fantastic way to give back. I met new people. I got to be creative. I gained experience.

Wait… I didn’t get thanked. I feel drained. Nothing changed. Nobody cares. I hate volunteering. Volunteering sucks.

Hold on now, I’ve been appreciated. I see my value to the cause. I have been thanked by a person whose life I impacted! Volunteering is pure awesome. Never stop! Who needs money? Just VOLUNTEER – FOREVER! Creativity and volunteerism are the way of the future.

Oops… look at that, rent is due. I seriously have no money and no time. Why am I doing this again? What am I thinking? Stop me before I volunteer again…

…no wait, I can feel it, and now I can see it…I’m changing the world!

Let’s DO this! MORE! AGAIN!


Feels a little chaotic just thinking about it, right?

But in all seriousness, if Steve Jobs is right and changing the world is for the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels and troublemakers, then maybe I am on the right roller-coaster. Changetheworld

I’ve volunteered as a creative, a photographer, a graphic designer, a writer, and an event coordinator. I’ve had doors slammed in my face and have been greeted with open, appreciative arms. I’ve donated time, money, energy, creativity. I’ve sacrificed sleep, time and money. I’ve signed myself up with friends and family. I’ve been “volun-told” here and there. I’ve been a slacktivist on social media. I’ve coordinated grassroots groups to enhance my local community. I’ve experienced ageism, had my skills overlooked and taken advantage of.

I’ve volunteered mainly because my heart swells so big with passion for a changing the world I live in, that if I don’t volunteer my creativity, energy and skills, I am pretty sure I would burst.

I know that volunteering is a transformative experience. Even though it has its bests and worsts, ups and downs, I know I’ve made a difference through volunteering. I found something to love and learn about in each and every experience.

During this National Volunteer Week, my advice to you is: volunteer in whatever way you can on the change-the-world-roller-coaster, and let it make you crazy… because if you are crazy enough, you can change the world!

And isn’t that the point?

To volunteer is to change whatever world you live in.

Katherine Topolniski
Volunteer Alberta



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