Nov 2015 – Volunteering / Giving Back

We say we need volunteers, but are we prepared to accept, train, and recognize them?

At our December 4, 2015 meeting we discussed the following topics. How ready are you to accept volunteers in your organization? Do your volunteers need training? Do you do background checks? How many can you take on at once? How much lead time do you need to get ready for volunteers? What skills, characteristics, or gifts would be most helpful for your volunteers? How do you recognize your volunteers?

Ryan of Clay Habitat for Humanity shared that they have a one-page waiver release of liability form that volunteers sign. Clay Habitat does not have a problem getting volunteers due to the organization’s visibility and nature of what they do. People often seek them out to become a volunteer. Their volunteers include retired people, those needing community service hours or court ordered volunteer service, companies, and Navy personnel who are required to volunteer in order to move up in rank.

For Linda of Miriam’s Basket the challenge is keeping volunteers. She feels strongly that to be successful a volunteer has to have a heart for what they are doing, they have to get it. When looking for volunteers she recommends that you should be specific about what kind of help you need. Too often someone may start off strong, but become bored and just don’t feel connected.

Sandy from the Friends of the Orange Park Library told us about how they use students in the Bright Futures program. In this program high school students work in the library either during the summer, during the school year, or both. Background checks are not performed for these students.

Stephanie from Saint Leo University explained that she has interns that are looking for opportunities to volunteer in the community. She needs to have a way to connect the students with the opportunities.

Mitzi and Dan of Community Hospice shared with us how they handle volunteers. Teens that work in the Thrift Shop go through a Level 1 background check which costs about $15. For volunteers working with patients, they go through a Level 2 background check with costs $95. Also, volunteers that work with patients have an in person interview, must provide references, and go through in-house training. The process can take a couple months to become a volunteer working with patients. Community Hospice wants people with a compassionate heart. They mentioned a volunteer recognition program sponsored by Cabot Cheese.

Jose from the Florida Department of Health/Clay noted that they do both Level 1 and Level 2 background checks depending on what the volunteer will be doing. Those working in the clinic need a Level 2 check.

Krysta from the Quigley House said that background checks are not required for those working in the Thrift Shop. An application is completed for those who will have direct patient contact. Training is required which includes 3 days on domestic violence and a 30 hour online sexual assault program. For Quigley House confidentiality is very important.

Carolyn from the American Cancer Society explained that the Relay For Life is their big event. They have a volunteer match process in which a prospective volunteer goes through a one-on-one conversation and is then matched with a role in the organization based on their skills and availability.

Anna is an AmeriCorps volunteer with the Florida Department of Health/Clay and serves as a healthy weight coach.

Rachelle described the comprehensive volunteer program that Baptist Health runs. A volunteer-to-be completes an application, provides 2 references, and undergoes a background check, interview, and health screening, including a TB test. For summer volunteers they use Bright Futures students. Baptist Health wants a one-year commitment from its volunteers, so they keep checking in on the volunteer’s progress and participation. They recognize volunteers during volunteer week, hold a Thanksgiving potluck, and as volunteers progress give them ribbons for their badges.

Judy of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) explained that all of the organization’s volunteers have been touched by mental illness in some way – either as a patient themselves or being a family member of someone with mental illness.

Susan from the Way Free Medical Clinic told us that they really need volunteer RN’s, doctors, dentists, and dental assistants. The do get student nurses as volunteers, but the challenge is in keeping them. Another challenge is staffing the front desk with volunteers. Some of the older volunteers find that working with the computer is beyond what they want to learn. The younger volunteers are there for a short time before moving on. For their coordinator position someone needs to take a Health Department course. The Clinic does make sure to recognize its volunteers.

Allie from Big Brothers / Big Sisters conducts background checks and requires references. She noted that it’s important to know when to say ‘no’ to someone who would not be a good fit with what is expected of being a Big Brother or Big Sister. There are other ways that they can contribute within the organization such as manning a table or attending school volunteer fairs. BB/BS expects a one-year commitment because the students connect with their mentor and don’t get the full benefit of the program with multiple mentors during the year.

Doug of the Clay County Literacy Coalition noted that their volunteers complete an application and come in for an interview. Doug does the training which includes a focus on sensitivity. Many of their tutors are retired educators. They hold a holiday celebration and a pot luck dinner to recognize the contributions of their volunteers.

Samantha from the ILRC (Independent Living Resource Center) sent ahead a copy of their Volunteer Application, a Release of Liability form, and a Confidentiality Statement. For those volunteers working directly with people that have a disability, sensitivity training is very important.

Mike from Clay Today commented that people may romanticize about volunteering and may not have a realistic perspective of what’s involved. It’s important not to turn people away, but if an organization can’t use a volunteer we need a way to refer them to other organizations that they may wish to consider.

Some of the ideas we brainstormed included:

  • Hold a volunteer fair (April?)
  • Approach Clay Electric and Clay Utility Authority to include bill inserts which suggest ways to volunteer in Clay County
  • Find out if Kohl’s Cares For Kids is a resource that would be helpful for an organization. They provide 5 volunteers at a 4-hour event and give a $500 grant.
  • Connect with Hands On Jacksonville to see how they might be able to assist in Clay County
  • Create a process that connects students at our schools such as St. Johns River, Saint Leo University, and Fortis College who want to intern and volunteer with organizations in our community that need volunteers.
  • Do some online searches using different keywords about volunteering in Clay County to see what comes up. This may give us some ideas for how we can start making the connections between volunteers and organizations. Note: when I entered ‘volunteering in Clay County, Florida’ the first website that came up was volunteerclaycounty.com, (Volunteer Network of Clay County, Iowa). We need to have a Clay County, Florida resource that comes up first.
  • Check out the Bright Futures program if you are not familiar with it – it may be a fit with your organization. It gives high school students a framework in which to volunteer and be recognized. While not paid monetarily, these students receive new skills, new contacts, valuable insights in learning more about themselves, personal satisfaction from helping others, and ultimately an edge in getting a paid job.

On December 17, 2015, Clay Today published an article by staff writer Mike Ford entitled “Many face volunteer challenges” After attending our Shaping Clay meeting, he interviewed people from the Way Free Medical Clinic, Friends of Clay County Animals, and Community Hospice to get their perspective on volunteers. Here’s a link to Mike Ford’s article http://claytodayonline.com/stories/many-face-volunteer-challenges,378. But first, if you missed this article because you don’t subscribe to Clay Today, please call them and sign up (904) 264-3200. It costs $34 per year, and in their weekly editions they cover great information about our schools, government, companies, environment, faith-based organizations, and nonprofits. It’s a must read to keep up with what’s going on in Clay County! You can start with five free weeks to try out Clay Today before paying.