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A Volunteer’s Journey: Looking Back

8 Jan

I’ve boasted before about why volunteers should journal.  Since I have decided to inject a little more life into my blog for the New Year I felt it would be appropriate to take a snapshot of my most memorable former  volunteer roles and reflect on what I’ve learned and my accomplishments with each. The collection here of course does not include paid positions, internships or episodic volunteering.

Organization: Canadian Red Cross

Volunteer position: International and Youth Services Leadership Volunteer

Duration: February 2003-June 2007 (position ended upon gaining employment as Coordinator of the program)

What I learned: The most important thing I learned as a volunteer in this program was the civilian impact of conflict. In my team of volunteers we raised awareness across the Niagara Region and other cities in the Province of Ontario about humanitarian issues in conflict such as the global impact of indiscriminate weapons use (i.e. landmines and cluster munitions), and how vulnerable populations are impacted by conflict such as women, children as child soldiers and refugees, and migrants. The Seven Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement became and will always be my guiding principles for raising awareness about humanitarian issues.

I also learned much about the real impact of raising awareness through presentations and workshops, from the mechanics of tracking outcomes (i.e. number of attendees, pre-test, post-test, and evaluation scores) to monumental indirect outcomes such as follow-up campaigning and fundraising from inspired attendees, as well as follow-up service and policy changes from stakeholders in the field.

What I accomplished: In my volunteer team, we piloted the first scripted presentation for the Canadian Red Cross Even Wars Have Limits Campaign and utilized high profile support in the form of a guest presentation from a local de-mining officer with his de-mining dog. We also included the always compelling relief video from the IFRC: “Where the Streets Have No Name” with the song generously donated by U2. As the team evolved, I helped market and deliver over 20 Even Wars Have Limits assembly sized presentations (audience of 500-1500) across the Niagara Region which inspired many follow-up campaigns and donations from local high schools.


Organization: Corporation of the City of Kitchener

Volunteer Position: Volunteer Research Consultant

Duration: February 2010-June 2010

What I learned: How to harness my qualitative research skills and interest the public in an innovative participation process through facilitation of a World Cafe.

What I accomplished: With an intern co-leader I helped develop a World Cafe Facilitator’s Toolkit for a round of Who Are You Kitchener 2, a citizen engagement process that allows the public to choose success indicators for the City of Kitchener so that a citizen council can evaluate City of Kitchener Departments on an annual basis. By delivering a presentation to launch the facilitator’s toolkit to staff and volunteers of the Corporation of the City of Kitchener, I helped gain faith from staff and volunteers in the qualitative research process. By co-facilitating one of the scheduled World Cafes and evaluating one of the indicators that re-emerged (Environment), I witnessed first-hand the power of individual and collective input to influence the operations of Municipal Government.


Organization: Ian Somerhalder Foundation

Volunteer Position: Volunteer Consultant

Duration: January 2011-October 2011

What I learned: How to maximize outreach, support and engagement to affect real change by connecting with networks of like-minded organizations, grassroots support groups, major media outlets, and celebrities using social media. I also increased my eco-know-how and discovered how connecting with individuals who are passionate about similar causes via social media can spark a few long-lasting professional relationships and friendships.

What I accomplished: In a small volunteer team, I helped behind the scenes to research, write, and launch the organization’s first campaign to lobby the BC Ministry of Agriculture for stronger animal cruelty penalties and a retirement plan preserving the lives of working animals. This followed the slaughter of 100 sled dogs in Whistler, BC. With the support of over 60,000 people who signed our petition, celebrities, and major media outlets the Foundation was named as one of the top influencers in the task force report. Once the BC Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act was amended according to the recommendations in the Task Force Report, the Foundation celebrated our efforts as a major success. In my volunteer team, we were also responsible for gaining the Foundation a partnership with the Best Friends Animal Society.

I also lead a team of international youth volunteers and supporters in the Foundation’s participation in the upcoming UN Rio+20 Summit on Sustainable Development in 2012.  This involved writing the Foundation’s first campaign page and developing a Sustainable Development Survey seeking input from our youth audience towards the Foundation’s contribution to the MGCY Zero Draft document.  After analyzing the survey responses and sharing the results with the international youth team, the survey results were compiled with their additional input so that I could write our contribution in the form of feedback to the draft of the Zero Draft from the Major Group Children and Youth. The final Zero Draft document from the Major Group Children and Youth which included feedback from contributing organizations like the Ian Somerhalder Foundation was submitted to the UNCSD on November 1st, 2011.


Indirect Service Volunteering – Pursuing Strategies for Understanding Outcomes

5 Nov

After a long vacation away from my blog I return in awe of all I have learned about indirect service or “macro-volunteering” in my academic and work environments. One remarkable finding is that reflection exercises, guided by the appropriate probing questions can help volunteers become more clear about the outcomes of their indirect service work. Guided reflection can help volunteers visualize how their service outputs travel through the channels of all of their target stakeholders to reach their intended clients.

Volunteers engaging in reflection exercises to become more clear about their work is one goal of Community Service Learning at Wilfrid Laurier University. While I am impressed by the demonstrated success of the Community Service Learning model, I find myself hungry for more examples of the tools and strategies that organizations working with indirect service volunteers use to make the outcomes of macro-level service volunteering  more clear. I encourage readers of this post to share those strategies.

Volunteerism is at the Heart of Healthy Communities

25 Nov

My philosophy is that volunteerism fosters healthy communities. Volunteers give to and grow within the communities they serve and are at the heart of service delivery. I have seen so myself as a professional immersed in the world of volunteerism through many roles, including volunteer coordinator, researcher, and most importantly, a volunteer. I hope to share my knowledge of the reciprocal benefits of volunteerism to keep communities and individuals enthusiastic about volunteering.