Volunteers are the heart of our organization. I use the word “heart” most intentionally. I could have used “center,” but that doesn’t cut it. Heart reflects the organic and critical nature of what volunteers do for our clients, and for us. Without them, the MOWGLV “body” won’t work. Without their compassion, our clients wouldn’t be treated with kindness and dignity.

This past year overwhelmed us all with change in every aspect of our lives. I challenge you to think of one area which has been unaffected because I can’t. The volunteer experience at MOWGLV has been no exception.

At our Volunteer Summit in December, a theme that emerged was that volunteers could use more support and, specifically, peer support. Collectively, you have all been doing this work for 50 years in the Lehigh Valley and there hasn’t been too much change in terms of how we work with our volunteers. It’s because there are working systems in place and, while those systems will be periodically tweaked, they generally remain unchanged. However, COVID shone a bright spotlight on systems and showed us where there are some holes and how we can adjust the systems to work better for the people in them. In this case, it’s our volunteers.

A new shared staff and volunteer initiative that we’ve developed is the “Volunteer Support Team,” aka, “VST.” We are all behind it and want to see it be successful. What is the VST and how will it operate?

As the name implies, the goal of this effort is to provide support and facilitate communication between volunteers and staff.

We have two generous volunteers—Terri Hineline and Michael Perruso—who will be the VST co-chairs for FY2021 (7/1/2021-6/30/2022), but they are starting a little early. You can reach them by either calling the MOWGLV office and we will pass on a message, or by emailing them at VST@mowglv.org.

But, what is it that they will actually do? How will this work? Although the work plan is still in development, it will look a lot like this:

  1. Recruit members to assist. Terri and Mike can’t cover all the meal pick-up sites, nor is that the intent of this project. They will need a few key people at the meal pick-up sites who have knowledge of the various procedures at the different sites, or even within the different volunteer opportunities (grocery shopping, food pantry, office work).
  2. Provide Newbies with a check-in. If any of you came on during COVID, you may likely remember—with horrifying clarity—your reaction to meal pick-up and understanding the route notebook. Someone from the VST will call a Newbie prior to their first volunteer experience to ask if they have any questions, give a general overview of what to expect, and connect them with someone on site. After their first time, they will check in to see if the Newbie has any questions, concerns, or needs any other help. This will provide a much warmer introduction and support to the volunteer experience than staff have been able to provide in the past year.
  3. Work with MOWGLV staff on the volunteer onboarding and training process.
  4. Be available to you to discuss concerns or suggestions you might have, or to provide more of an explanation as to why things are done a certain way.
  5. Provide staff with input on volunteer events.

I hope you can see that this is an impressive undertaking. We use many volunteers in many ways so there is a lot of volume!

We also want to be there for you during stressful situations you may experience in your work with MOWGLV. Volunteers encounter deceased clients, as well as those in distress. The impact of these experiences varies greatly among volunteers depending on your personal circumstances.

For the next year, we have contracted with Peter Keady of the First Responder Chaplain Corps. I met Peter through his photography exhibit focusing on first responders. The photos of firefighters and paramedics preparing for work, or in the line of duty, were stunning. Peter brings an array of experience to our world through his work as journalist, corporate photographer, associate pastor, and now as a first responder chaplain. He is certified in disaster and crisis response, trauma and stress management, and pastoral care. His twenty years in pastoral ministry and his now seven in serving first responder agencies has equipped him in helping others navigate the difficult events life presents. His compassion for people and specific training allow him to effectively care for all people in the community. The First Responder Chaplain Corps serves five local fire departments, an EMS agency, and two municipal police departments, and the PA State Police. He lives in Palmer Township.

Peter presented a Grief Education seminar to volunteers a few weeks ago. He will work with me on some other zoom education opportunities. The purpose of the VST is for you to provide input, so please use that resource if you have suggestions for topics. Once we get a bit more flexible in our gatherings, Peter will be at some meal pick-up sites to introduce himself to you.

How will you use Peter? Honestly, in any way in which you feel comfortable. If you have experienced a stressful event, Peter is available to unpack that with you over the phone. We don’t intend for him to be your spiritual guide as that’s very personal and sensitive. He understands that life experiences cause trauma. You may just want to talk to someone who has worked with others who have been exposed to death or distress. He can direct you to available resources, or simply be a good, neutral sounding board for what you’ve experienced. We want you to have a trained, competent, knowledgeable resource.

The staff and co-chairs of the VST want to hear from you. We value what you do for us and want you to know that there is support when you need it, whether it’s for something as simple as knowing how to handle a route, to talking about a more difficult and stressful experience. We invite you to be a part of this process so that the volunteer experience at MOWGLV is as meaningful as it can be.

In closing, please look for information from your VST co-chairs and, as usual, contact me if you have any questions.