Have you ever wondered how volunteers get connected to the places they are needed the most? Who makes sure all the gaps are filled, that events get coordinated and that volunteers are being given opportunities to meaningfully contribute? In many cases, the answer is that a coordinator or manager of volunteers is behind the scenes! These volunteer resources management professionals are an important part of the volunteer sector and today during National Volunteer Week we want to put the spotlight on the value they add!
We spoke to Lola Dubé-Quibell, a Coordinator of Volunteer Resources at Ottawa Public Health with more than 15 years of experience in the field of volunteer management and a lifetime of experience as a volunteer herself, about her role and how she has seen the wide reaching effects and positive impact of Canadian volunteering.
So what exactly is her role? Simply put, her role involves fulfilling an expressed need by engaging volunteers. In the context of public health, an example of that could be mothers who are struggling to breastfeed. A healthcare professional such as a nurse would assess the mother’s needs and then contact Lola to find a trained volunteer to assist the mother.
When asked what her most valuable volunteering experience has been within her role as a coordinator, Lola came back with a whole list of stories and benefits. Some of these included:
- a Syrian refugee who received a long overdue root canal from a volunteer dentist and who has had a huge boost in self-confidence
- a senior who reported back that the doctor was astonished at his progress after a heart attack, thanks to walking and exercising with volunteers
- a volunteer who helped several mothers struggling with breastfeeding and said she did not know volunteering could be so much fun
- a volunteer who needed a reference for entering medical school and was accepted
- a volunteer who sent a thank you note because they got a job based on their volunteering experiences
As a coordinator who helped make these connections, Lola gets to see the results and celebrate the value that volunteering creates each day, not just through her own volunteering efforts but also through the many people she has helped to find volunteer opportunities. When asked what she has gained, Lola says “from my experience as a coordinator of volunteers I feel more connected to my community and more aware of what volunteering can bring to its members.”
Specifically, from a public health point of view, Lola believes volunteering can help address some of the inequities of the determinants of health. Determinants of health are social, economic and environmental factors — including things such as education level, support networks, health care access and income level — that determine people’s ability to live a fully healthy life.
Volunteering can contribute to improving these factors. For example, a library volunteer may suddenly have access to resources and knowledge they were unaware of previously. A volunteer at a community theatre is exposed to art, culture and new community networks. These are just two examples of how volunteering can enrich the life of a volunteer and increase their access to things that improve their quality of life, health and happiness. On the flip side, it is evident that volunteers also contribute to the health of the clients they serve through their volunteering jobs.
Lola refers to this as knowledge transfer and knowledge mobility. The volunteers acquire new knowledge, access, skills, and networks and build confidence through their community contributions: knowledge provided by professionals, trainers, coordinators and other volunteers. They then are able to put this new knowledge into action at their volunteer placement and pass it on, sharing it with those they serve. Furthermore, every volunteer has their own sphere of influence; the things they learn while volunteering do not stay at their volunteering placement but are instead taken and shared with the people they know in other areas of life. The value of volunteering has a ripple effect that spreads widely and continuously gains momentum.
Managers and coordinators of volunteers are one piece of the volunteering mosaic that help get the ball rolling. They excel at capitalizing on the value of volunteers, especially connections, making sure volunteers are placed where they are most needed. Thank you to Lola for giving us an insight into her role and from all of us at Volunteer Canada, thanks to all professionals in volunteer resources management. We celebrate the value you add to volunteering!