18/05/2020 - 10:47

Service providers adapt to accommodate volunteers

18/05/2020 - 10:47

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Some volunteer programs have been put on pause due to COVID-19 restrictions, while those continuing to operate are welcoming new volunteers.

Service providers adapt to accommodate volunteers
Tina Williams says the focus is now on retaining new volunteers and making sure the old volunteers return. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Western Australians by the thousands have stepped up to be emergency volunteers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Volunteering WA chief executive Tina Williams said the response by more than 3,200 people across the community had been impressive, but not surprising.

“They are registered to help with different roles which are really COVID friendly; there’s some driving, they can do some deliveries, there’s things like social support on the phone, checking up on people, welfare checks,” Ms Williams told Business News.

“I think based on the numbers, the stats in WA, we have a lot of great people in our community who really like to volunteer and help one another out.”

Although Volunteering WA did not have data on how many of the 3,200 volunteers had been given positions, Ms Williams said the organisation had been able to allocate some of those people across not for profits.

People registered for roles through Volunteering WA’s emergency website, which went live on March 31 and was purpose built for the COVID-19 pandemic.

“That site has also been given to Volunteering Victoria and Volunteering New South Wales, so we sort of pushed it out across the other states and territories,” Ms Williams said.

While emergency volunteers were needed by organisations running programs during COVID-19, a report from Volunteering WA showed that 65 per cent of organisations had to pause at least some of their volunteer programs by the end of April.

However, 36 per cent of organisations were able to quickly adapt volunteer roles, and 29 per cent developed new positions.

Aged care provider Baptistcare, which has more than 300 volunteers throughout the state, adapted its volunteer program so people at its residential aged care facilities could receive online calls, instead of face-to-face visits.

Chief executive Russell Bricknell said most of the organisation’s existing volunteers were retirees who preferred in-person visits, and so additional recruits were required.

“We put the call out for a new breed of volunteer who could give virtually, people who are tech-savvy, with their own smart devices or camera phones, and who are confident using platforms like Skype, Facetime and Zoom,” Mr Bricknell told Business News.

He said some current volunteers had made the transition to virtual meetings while others continued to develop less tech-dependent relationships via letter writing and traditional phone calls.

The Salvation Army’s Street outreach program, which delivers meals to the homeless in the Perth CBD, needed extra volunteers at short notice to fill vacancies and was able to fill the positions in 48 hours using the emergency volunteers website.

Recovery

About 600,000 Western Australians volunteer and contribute $39 billion of social, cultural and economic value a year, according to the Volunteering WA report.

Ms Williams said now that emergency needs were being met, the focus was on the recovery stage and making sure the organisation could retain new volunteers, and bring former volunteers back when it was safe to do so.

“That’s a big unknown at the moment, making sure we have volunteers there once the restrictions lift,” she said.

“We don’t want that goodwill to be lost and I’m sure there are a lot of people who are ready, willing, and able to support volunteering in many different ways after COVID.”

Volunteering WA is helping organisations stay in contact with volunteers to keep them engaged, and also trying to provide support around safeguarding volunteers to ensure it was safe for people to return to their roles.

One thing the organisation was considering, Ms Williams said, was how they changed roles to make them more attractive to younger people going forward.

Appreciation

This week (starting May 18) is National Volunteer Week, during which volunteers are acknowledged for their contributions.

While the occasion is usually marked with parties and events to celebrate volunteers, this year the campaign will be a virtual event.

“Particularly this year, when you think about the challenges we have had in the community, the bushfires we had, as well as COVID, has really demonstrated more than ever, how much we rely on volunteers in the community,” Ms Williams said.

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