Volunteer Victoria — a new way to grow

By Rita Button

“People want to give back,” said Lisa Mort-Putland, Executive Director, Volunteer Services, Volunteer Victoria. That’s the basic premise for Volunteer Victoria’s work of creating relationship-filled communities. Motivated volunteers help make it happen.

In the Central Building on View Street, we are sitting in someone’s office—Lisa’s is too messy—talking about the nature of volunteerism. Her effervescent personality would invite everyone to give a hand. Lisa understands the needs of volunteers as well as the needs of those reaping the harvest of volunteers’ work. It’s a great combination. Part of the responsibility is for Volunteer Victoria to “unpack the abilities of the volunteers as part of the process in fitting the person to the required niche,” Lisa maintains. Sometimes, volunteers are unaware of their abilities which blossom as a result of the project or position they have been given. And, it’s important to fit the needs and the abilities of the volunteer to the position that needs filling.

Lisa believes that people frequently volunteer because they want to learn more about their own abilities and characters. Sometimes these needs arise as a result of an upheaval in their lives such as a new job, a move, a separation, or a significant change. Sometimes, volunteers make themselves available because they seek new friends and want to expand their horizons. When people offer their help, it’s important to assess their skills and match them with opportunities that await just beyond their usual scope of experience.

Volunteer Victoria’s recent research has shown them a new way to approach the world of volunteerism. They question what volunteering will look like in ten years’ time. In questioning, they wonder how they can engage people to continue the work in communities as both the communities and the volunteers change and age?

Focus groups with people who were labelled as Seniors resulted in a new piece of knowledge: seniors prefer to contribute because of their abilities, not because of their age; hence, they would prefer not to be tagged or labelled as seniors. Similarly, young people eschew adults’ propensity to lump them into one group by assuming they are all the same. Individuality is valued by all ages! Lisa understands, as a result of the research, that if volunteering is to continue, a way must be found to focus people on a challenge and discover disparate ways to meet that challenge, thereby engaging a myriad of people—ages, skill levels, interests, to name a few!

One project put forward by Volunteer Victoria required people of varying age groups to work together. The exchange of knowledge and skills, the inclusion of many different processes to create a solution empowered all age levels. Age became negligible as the work continued, resulting in the volunteers becoming friends with little attention being paid to the age of the new friend. The idea of inter-generational groups became a joyous reality. Working toward a common goal transcends age, ignores traditional boundaries, and inspires people to contribute in new ways, creating a work force bubbling with constructive energy.

Volunteer Victoria wants to create and develop the model that will allow diverse groups of people to contribute to a project no matter the place or the situation. What kinds of challenges fit the inter-generational mode? What kinds of people and skills are required? What are the cues for success? How will we measure the success? And how will we replicate this success in other places, spaces and modes? The inter-generational model will look after the attrition issue, because the work will be personal, engaging, challenging and interesting—a great combination for motivation and learning.

Isolation, ignorance, and inconfidence can be eliminated through this kind of approach.

Lisa is excited about inter-generational volunteering, but she is also quick to say that the city of Victoria and its environs has volunteers who are beyond ordinary. Many of them have been leaders, have started their own companies, have implemented unusual solutions to problems. In their retirement years, they want to continue to be the difference that makes a difference. And to do that, they often use a number of different philosophies and processes to create a vibrant group teeming with energy, creating success.

Creating a framework and pushing it forward is one of Lisa’s goals. But she is not alone; many people in the organization contribute to the achievements Volunteer Victoria has created in its long tenure—since 1974—in the Central Building on View Street.

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