FAMILY VOLUNTEERING : a win-win-win situation
Creating a lifelong volunteer habitYou don't have to convince Linda Morcom that family volunteerism is a powerful idea. Morcom, coordinator of Volunteer Calgary's Families Volunteering Together program, says, "If volunteers start young, the odds are that they will continue into adulthood. The findings of the Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating tell us that children and youth with positive, early volunteer experiences are more likely to volunteer as adults. That alone gives us reason to be interested in family volunteering."
The Families Volunteering Together program was started in 1996 and focuses on increasing the capacity of organizations to engage family volunteers as well as promoting the concept of family volunteerism to families. The program offers training and consultations, an online searchable database of family-friendly volunteer opportunities in Calgary, and the Kids Whoo Care program that includes the new children's storybook series, Patrick and Sara Volunteer.
The first storybook was released October 2002 and chronicles the story of Patrick and Sara as they go on a volunteering adventure and find out that they can make a difference. Together with their aunt and grandparents, they learn that not everyone has a home to live in or food to eat. The storybook is told from a child's perspective and encourages families to view volunteering as a family activity. It is available through the Volunteer Calgary web site and now through Chapters bookstores.
Thinking of families as group volunteersAfter the release of the first storybook, Morcom reports that organizations were "inundated with families referencing the storybook," including the Calgary Inter-faith Foodbank, the featured family volunteer opportunity on the Volunteer Calgary website the month that the book was launched. The foodbank was well prepared to deal with the increased interest by family volunteers because they are used to groups approaching them to volunteer together. Margaret Elle, volunteer recruitment supervisor, explains that there are 190 groups who volunteer over the course of the year and one-quarter of them are families.
Some volunteer for a one-time event while others make an ongoing commitment. Elle has had retired couples volunteering together, parents, and single parents with children, as well as extended family units with nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, and grandparents all volunteering together. As long as every member of the group is over 12 years of age (due to the fact that the foodbank is a light industrial warehouse), families or groups can volunteer on-site. Elle has off-site ideas, too, for families with younger children who want to support the foodbank.
"Involving family volunteers is a tremendous option," says Elle. "They have a built-in team mentality for accomplishing tasks together." Furthermore, involving families gets word of the foodbank into the greater community. Adults return to work, teens return to highschool and tell others about the great experience they had volunteering at the foodbank.
No longer turning eager young volunteers awayDoris Thomas, director of volunteer services at Providence Continuing Care Centre, often had very ambitious, energized 10-12 year olds approaching her to volunteer at the hospital. However, hospital policy meant they were too young to be accepted as hospital volunteers. Now, with a family volunteering program, Thomas can say yes to those younger volunteers as long as they have a parent who will come and volunteer with them. Thomas gained two or more volunteers instead of just the one and, in light of declining volunteer numbers, that is another important bonus of family volunteering.
In total, Thomas has about 30 family volunteers and that includes grandparents with grandchildren, twin sisters, and several moms on one-year maternity leave. When those moms bring their babies into the hospital for visiting, "the benefits to patients are unbelievable. The whole visiting focus is changed," says Thomas.
Creating family traditionsSheryl Hayes doesn't need any convincing that family volunteering is a great idea. Hayes is the volunteer and employee development coordinator at Heritage Park Historical Village, a living historical museum in Calgary, AB. The 83 families who volunteer are a boon for Hayes during the peak season when the park needs 400 paid employees and 2,000 volunteers in order to operate. Not only do family volunteers provide the people power for special events and interpretive programs of the Park, seasoned youth volunteers make great summer employees because they already know the park well.
Family volunteers at Heritage Park Historical Village have lots of fun and lots of choices. Volunteers dress in period costume and families can volunteer all at the same activity or split up to suit their interests. For instance, Hayes says, two members of a family may want to host tours on a boat while other members of the family may be more interested in volunteering with the horses. Families are even establishing family traditions of volunteering together for a particular event each year and the park benefits from the continuity.
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