Monday, April 24, 2017

SRG: Two Hands for Helping

by Adriana Carr, MPA
Senior Center Director
Arlington County Department of Parks & Recreation

“As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands - one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.” – Audrey Hepburn.

Just about anyone who works with volunteers will agree that they are the reason the program is a success; the work gets done; they are backbone of the organization and so on and so on.  It’s hard to imagine the daily grind without them.   The benefits are reciprocal because volunteering also has a positive impact on the volunteer in a variety of ways.   According to research conducted by the Corporation for National and Community Service “older volunteers report lower mortality and depression rates, fewer physical limitations, and higher levels of well-being. (2015)”.

Other researchers found that the benefits of volunteering affect various aspects of a person’s life such as social, physical, emotional health.  For example, older adults who had few opportunities for social interactions in their lives found that volunteering increased their opportunities for friendship and the socializing helped to improve their self-perception. This same study connected social health to improved emotional and physical health.  I would suggest that keeping these ideas in mind may also help us manage our volunteers and volunteer programs better.

Take a look at how your volunteer program affects your volunteers.  They are certainly helping you out.   So think about how you can support your volunteers with a multi-dimensional approach. Go beyond the usual recognition activities and take the 7 dimensions of well-being into consideration to make your volunteer program a holistic one.   Affirming someone’s worth in the community, helping them remain vital and connected is the foundation of most of our work with our clients/participants.  It would be natural to extend that approach to our volunteers.

Some examples of whole person volunteer management from around the Old Dominion include:

In the Norfolk area,  Hope Lomax Jones of Recreation, Parks and Open Spaces Senior Programs tells us that older adults help out as volunteers all the time, especially during large city-wide events like Senior Olympics and Grand Parents Day Events.  Additionally, the volunteers are “either intrigued or feel a sense of empowerment that we value the use of their skills.” This also adds excitement to the event and helps to generate interest.

In Loudoun County, volunteers are a vital component of senior center operations and programs. Cheryl Wheeler of The Senior Center of Leesburg tells me that that volunteers share their time as Advisory board members, front desk and library staff; kitchen assistance, concierges who give tours, hospitality help, class instructors, kitchen servers and delivering meals to homes.  One special group, the Community Ambassadors provides a grassroots effort to enhance safety among the seniors in the community.

Volunteers not only help us do our jobs; they strengthen our connection with our communities.  If you take whole approach to developing your recreational programming, increase its value by implementing whole person management techniques with your volunteers.

Join the conversation by telling us what your volunteer management style is.