Karen Swales

Karen Swales

Volunteers offer community support

Community Support Volunteers take their training to heart to support clients of Vernon's Family Resource Centre.

Volunteering can have some unexpected effects.

“You go in thinking you’re going to give and just naturally you start getting so much back,” said Mark Sandberg, as he and Johanna Sauve, who took part in the Community Support Volunteer training last year discuss the experience.

“I heard about the program and thought about it for six months but I knew it was right for me because I work for The Salvation Army and there is a social work aspect to that, and because of the personal development part of the training,” said Sauve.

Community Support Volunteers take extensive training which prepares them to counsel Family Resource Centre clients on a variety of life issues. The volunteers are supported by a mentor program with the centre’s professional counsellors and can refer clients to them as needed. Clients can be any community members who usually self-refer to the Community Support Volunteer counseling when they want support with issues which may include relationships, life changes and losses and stresses in a confidential, non-judgemental environment.

“The clients know the volunteers are doing this without pay, to give to the community, and they are very appreciative that this opportunity is there for them to tell their story without cost,” said Karen Swales, Family Resource Centre coordinator of volunteers.

While men do a lot of valuable volunteer work in the community, they may not think of being a trained community support volunteer as an option. Yet the need is there as some clients, particularly men, feel more comfortable talking to another man.

“I have been in a position of receiving help from people who were willing to lend a hand and ask nothing in return,” said Sandberg, who has a background in the trades. “So I thought this was my way to give back. The training was incredible and you get to meet incredible people. There is so much self discovery that helps you while you are learning to help others.”

Sauve also appreciated the training.

“There is such an openness to everyone where they are at and you learn and grow as part of a group. I learned the importance of being a blessing, not only in my own life, but in the lives of others, how important it is for us to care for others. The discovery is life long.”

Swales said the self-awareness work is an important part of the training which also includes listening and empathetic response skills and practice in with practical skills.

Sandberg said, “People can get lost in the confusion of life and need just a little support. It is not about giving them solutions but being there while they become aware of their patterns, habits and choices and find their own solutions.”

Sauve said she was nervous seeing clients at first but she soon forgot herself as she was able to help others make their own way.

“It was humbling for me to see clients. It brought me the knowledge that we are all in this ride together. It shows the unity of life’s journey for all of us. I admire people who have the courage to work through their stuff.”

They both appreciated the mentorship program to help as they grow and develop as counsellors.

When the community support volunteers finish their training, they are committed to spend 150 hours with clients, to be completed on their own schedule. Volunteers meet clients at The People Place days or evenings as agreed on with allowance made for holidays and other personal commitments. Some volunteers have remained with the program for years since it started 14 years ago. There is currently a waiting list for people who would like to see a community support volunteer.

“We want the program to be flexible. Volunteering should enhance your life,” said Swales.

Sauve encourages people who think the program might be for them to start the application process.

“Life is busy but people are more important. You can’t really put a value on being heard, the relief that people feel at being heard,” she said.

Sandberg said volunteering will always be an important part of his life.

“You know you’re in the right place volunteering when you never think of it as giving up your time. It has to be in your heart as something that is part of your journey. We have to remember that everybody needs help sometime.”

The Community Support Volunteer program training starts Sept. 30, Tuesday evenings and some Thursdays with appropriate breaks, and runs through April 28, 2015 at The People Place. For more information and how to apply for the program  call Swales at 250-545-3390, email kswales at vernonfrc.ca or see www.vernonfrc.ca.