19 May 2006
by Jesse Bowen
Long wait times between training sessions and small numbers of participants in volunteer training sessions are just a couple of the on-going challenges for volunteer resource managers (VRMs). For volunteers it is frustrating to complete training in one agency only to be told they have to start all over again when volunteering at a different agency. A group of innovative VRMs in a small city have found a win-win solution for all involved.
Volunteer Managers in Prince George, British Columbia, who utilize therapeutic volunteers formed a coalition and created a standardized basic training program. Therapeutic Volunteers have been defined as:people who work in a supportive way, either one on one or in a group setting, with people who are struggling with various life issues (e.g. disability, illness, poverty, death, transition). In 12 hours over the course of a weekend the training covers ethics, communication skills, cross-cultural awareness and self care. The training is a mix of lecture, small group and didactic work, sprinkled liberally with experiential exercises.
The above topics are imperative to training therapeutic volunteers regardless of the agency mandate. By standardizing these basics, volunteers can donate their time and skills to more than one agency without having to retake the same training. As the coalition is made up of agencies with various mandates, the volunteer is exposed to a greater selection of volunteer opportunities. The broader cross-section of agencies means greater diversity in the classroom and thus more indirect learning opportunities on social and cultural issues. The training itself is well rounded as it is the end result of the amalgamation of resources from diverse agencies. Since most agencies usually schedule their own training once or twice a year, and the coalition will run training four times a year, the volunteer's wait time between application and attending training is reduced.
One of the greatest benefits for the organizations is that each manager spends less time training as the coalition members take turns delivering. Six to eight agencies in the coalition means that each manager is responsible for delivery of the training only once every 1 1/2 to 2 years.
Each manager will still have to provide training that is specific to her/his agency and volunteer opportunities as the coalition can not provide job specific training. However the amount of time spent on agency training will be reduced as the basics no longer have to be covered.
The coalition is set to launch the first training session later this year. They have developed mission, value and principal statements and are currently finishing their policy and procedures manual. Since every community has its own unique needs, the coalition is hoping to develop a guide for other communities that will assist them in creating a similar project and adapting it to meet their own needs without having to reinvent the wheel.
The members of this coalition have a future vision to develop further training that will address the life issues that can compound and complicate therapeutic work. The compound issues training will address topics such as addiction, domestic violence, sexual assault, HIV/Hepatitis C, mental illness, grief and loss, gay/lesbian/trans perspective, and Aboriginal perspective. The training could be provided once or twice a year as weekend workshops or as individual modules throughout the year. It will likely be targeted toward volunteers who work with the most marginalized and disempowered clientele. These are the topics that benefit from guest speakers and "outside experts." The coalition believes it will be easier to book guest speakers for all the agencies in one place than when each agency is trying to address these topics on their own. Often time constraints and small numbers of interested volunteers means this type of training doesn't happen at all.