Reimagining Volunteer Programs in the Network

5 October, 2023 | Initiatives and Projects

As the world continues to find its footing after a period of isolation during the pandemic, several Réseau Compassion Network members are focusing their attention on reviving long-dormant volunteer programs to help create connection and community.

Starting with Actionmarguerite, Villa Aulneau and Résidence Despins, staff from the Volunteer Services department at St.Amant have been hosting information sessions and gathering feedback from staff, residents and families.

“This is all about creating meaningful relationships,” shares Tracy Laluk, Manager of Volunteer Services and Community Connections at St.Amant. “We asked folks what a volunteer program could and should look like. What we heard that everyone needs someone to spend time with, even if they have friends and family who visit.”

Funded by a Community Services Recovery Fund grant from United Way Winnipeg, the volunteer program project is finding ways to focus on individual needs and not just generic experiences. The volunteer services team at St.Amant was more than happy to lend their expertise to support the organisations looking to reinvigorate their program. Kamillah Elgiadaa from Volunteer Manitoba, Charisse Dimacali from Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries and Hélène Vrignon, a communications consultant, are also partners on the project. Each of the staff are working as Community Engagement Specialists, funded by the grant.

“We met with staff at all the organisations, who are all so eager to welcome a volunteer program,” shares Laluk. “They truly want the best for the individuals they’re supporting. We even had a maintenance person ask us if there were any other ways he could help residents feel more at home. It’s been so heart-warming to meet so many people who care so much.”

Laluk’s colleague, Sarah Van Mackelbergh, has enjoyed learning more about the needs of different people within her community, outside of those she usually works with as Supervisor of Volunteer Services at St.Amant. “We met a 96-year-old man named Cam,  a resident at Actionmarguerite, who used to run a hot dog stand and that’s my favourite snack,” she shares with a laugh. “We had a long debate about the best fixings to add. He swears by fried onions! It was a great reminder than despite the 60-year age difference, we still had lots in common.”

Cam, a resident of Actionmarguerite, who’s looking for support to continue his hobbies.

According to Laluk and Van Mackelbergh, a little something in common is a great place to start when it comes to pairing up volunteers. Cam, for example, makes bird houses and would love to have someone stop by to help him set them up in his little shop at Actionmarguerite. Yet another resident at Résidence Despins would like to go to bingo. Some are just looking for someone to stop by weekly and have a visit in the garden.

While meaningful connections are the goal, the volunteer program project is also setting out to create best practices and a guide for how to recruit, train, onboard, recognize and retain volunteers. “We’re going to try to reimagine the volunteer programs at each site,” explains Laluk. “We’re starting from the ground up so it will take us some time but we’ll have manuals, policies and procedures set up to set the program up for success. And we’re hoping that we’ll be able to expand these programs to other organisations in the network. They can customize it to fit their mission and values, of course, but this is a solid foundation.”

There is a real need for volunteers who are willing to get to know new people in their community, and people of all ages, abilities and interests are welcome. “All we want, any of us doing this type of work, is to know that people have people to be with, to talk to and to connect with. We’ll work with volunteer’s schedules and interests to find the right match. We hope to see these programs really thrive!”

If you are interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities at Réseau Compassion Network, please click here.