Friday, March 9, 2012

Volunteer Recognition

By Stephanie Barr

Stephanie Barr
It’s been six months since I joined ywca clark county as the Director of Volunteer Development and the highlight of this role has been getting to know the volunteers who invest so much of their time, energy, and hearts into our programs. I recently sent out a survey to learn more about our volunteers’ experiences at ywca clark county and reading through their responses a theme of personal transformation emerged.

One volunteer shared, “I’m not sure if I can articulate how this has impacted me, but I know that it’s had a strong influence in how I view the world and how I view others who are in disadvantaged circumstances.” Another revealed, “Doing this type of volunteering makes me more accepting and less judgmental of people in different circumstances than my own.”

Statements like these are a big part of what motivates me to work with volunteers. An important part of the social change we strive to make as an organization happens through the hands of volunteers. Impact is made on an individual level, by taking on the healing role of a sexual assault support group facilitator or supporting pre-school children as a classroom assistant with Y’s Care. It also happens in a systemic way through volunteer participation in lobby days and other public policy events. Yet many volunteers don’t see their personal journey as a seed of social change.

It inspires me to hear that a volunteer has been changed by their experience at ywca because it means they have opened themselves up and created real, meaningful relationships with the participants in our programs. Their openness makes them more effective listeners and advocates for survivors and it also makes them stronger advocates of the mission of ywca clark county.

After only six months I still haven’t met every person who volunteers with us, but I know without a doubt that these passionate, dedicated people talk about what they do here and why they’re involved. They tell their family, friends, church groups and children why the entire community should end domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse and neglect, homelessness and other forms of oppression. They ask the people close to them to volunteer with us, to donate to our programs, and to find their own way to make a difference on the issues facing our community. This is how social change happens!

Maybe I’m making this sound easy, but it’s actually the most challenging part of volunteering. Although many people have the desire to help, it takes a lot of work to question your own beliefs and values, to take responsibility for your biases, and to learn how to relate to people who may be different from you in authentic and empowering ways. Many ywca volunteers are also survivors and have gone through their own healing process before returning as an advocate for others.

April 16th-22nd is Volunteer Appreciation Week and I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the commitment and strength that it takes to volunteer within ywca clark county programs. I am so grateful to all of our volunteers for their support, and hope they engage in this work with the laughter and hope I have witnessed thus far. You are making a difference!

-Stephanie Barr, Director of Volunteer Development, ywca clark county

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