Last Updated on Monday, 09 January 2012 14:04 Written by HIV Alliance News Tuesday, 19 October 2010 14:41
Volunteers Make The Difference
by Byron Snapp, HIV Alliance Former Volunteer Coordinator
Our Volunteer Coordinator tells us a bit about the volunteers at HIV Alliance and the work he does to make our volunteers so successful. This year, our Volunteer program saw a 54% increase from last year in volunteer hours; volunteers accounted for the hours it would take 5.6 full-time employees to complete. So props to our coordinator and huge thanks to our volunteers, so many of our programs would absolutely not be possible without them.
Volunteering at HIV Alliance…
We have volunteers from a wide variety of backgrounds doing a wide variety of tasks. Last year HIV Alliance volunteers ranged in age from 16 – 68, represented a wide range of education levels from not graduating high school through doctorate degrees, and were fluent in 12 different languages. An illustration of our diversity: at a typical needle exchange night we have eighteen year old college students with no knowledge or experience with drug use volunteering alongside former injection drug users that are looking for a second opportunity in life. Despite these differences, for many of our volunteers, the thing they have in common is the commitment to our mission.
What other roles do our volunteers fill? Some examples include:
• Administrative tasks, such as data entry, filing, creating safer injection kits
• Program development roles, such as developing new programs and evaluating existing programs
• Direct Service roles, such as distributing syringes, talking about safer sex in bars and clubs, and administering HIV and Hepatitis C tests
• Development work such as advertising and promoting HIV Alliance, writing grants, and planning events
And these are just a few examples. Some of our volunteers take on one role while others volunteer in many capacities at HIV Alliance. Some of our volunteers only volunteer for a few hours a month while other volunteer for 20 hours a week.
The Importance of Volunteers…
Volunteers are important to nonprofit agencies like HIVA for three main reasons.
1) Volunteers allow us to deliver services in ways we wouldn’t be able to deliver them with only staff. Volunteers are a big part of our service delivery strategy in our Prevention and Education programs.
The entire Prevention Department would look very different without volunteers. HIV Alliance has a Prevention Program with the equivalent of just 3.08 Full-Time Employees (FTE). For the first quarter this year (July 10 – Sept 10) volunteers are averaging 3.53 FTE in the Prevention Department. Volunteers are donating more hours to the department than staff members are working. What an incredible use of volunteer time!
Also, it would be impossible for us to run services at our current levels without volunteers. For example, we currently offer HIV testing at our office three nights a week and our Needle Exchange 4 days a week. To run an HIV testing night, we need a minimum of 2 people, a receptionist and a counselor. To run the needle exchange program, we need a minimum of three people, two exchange workers and a counselor. Currently, we have both of those programs at the same time twice a week and on Thursday nights we also do HIV Testing at New Roads for at risk youth which would require a 6th person. Since there are only 4 people in our Prevention Department, and these nights require 5 or 6 people to run, without the help of volunteers, we couldn’t even provide our basic level of services on those nights.
2) Volunteers are an important part in the development and evaluation of our programs. Many of our volunteers have skills and experience that our staff members lack, providing our agency with an outside perspective from professions in the business or governmental sectors. It would be very expensive for the agency to constantly hire consultants. Luckily, many of our volunteers provide the advice and support necessary for developing and evaluating our programs.
3) As a nonprofit agency that raises money through donations from community members, we continually have to demonstrate to the that what we do is valuable to the community. Volunteers are a big part of this message. Our volunteers have firsthand experience seeing the impact our programs have on our clients and are the best people to share the story of the agency with potential donors.
Our goals as an organization, however, aren’t just to provide a basic level of services. We consistently exceed the minimum number of workers at each site, whether they are staff or trained volunteers, which allows us to better serve our clients. For example, a few weeks ago we had a group of 9 men come in to our Friday afternoon needle exchange to get tested for HIV and Hep C. With only the minimum number of people working the exchange (3), we would have had to ask some of them to come back a different day to get tested. As it turned out, we had 5 volunteers that day and were able to test three at a time. All nine men were tested, and were out of the office before the end of the exchange. With our extra volunteers we were able to continue to run the exchange for other clients.
The Drastic Increase of Volunteer Support…
The increase in volunteers and volunteer hours this year comes from a combination of reasons.
For one, the agency is growing. For example, we started doing an Outreach in the Parks program once a week in the 2009 fiscal year. Half way through the 2010 fiscal year, we upped that to twice a week. We added a Thursday testing night at our office, so we now offer HIV Testing four days a week at our office in addition to the four days a week we test offsite with the Needle Exchange.
Also, the agency has really stepped up our commitment to volunteers and has allocated resources that have allowed the program to grow. We now have a dedicated workspace for the volunteers: a volunteer workstation set up downstairs with tables, chairs, and a computer where volunteers can work.
We also increased the number of hours of the volunteer coordinator from a .5 FTE, 20 hours a week, to a .75 FTE, 30 hours a week and the NEX Coordinator (the program with the most volunteers) from a .5 FTE, 20 hours a week, to a 1.0 FTE, 40 hours a week. This allows more time to recruit, train, and supervise volunteers. The extra hours also add some time to do more long term and strategic planning around the volunteer program as opposed to the daily tasks of running the program.
Volunteers and Building Community…
Through our volunteers we have an opportunity to meet other members of the community and directly help some others. But, one of the best aspects of volunteering at HIV Alliance for many of our volunteers is that it opens their eyes to who is in the larger community. Many of our volunteers have lived their lives without ever knowing how many of our community members live or the issues that some of those in our community face. Volunteering allows you to better understand who is in the community, so you can build a community that is inclusive of everyone instead of just the community members most like you.
Individuals volunteer for a wide variety of reasons, and there are probably as many reasons as there are volunteers. Some of the more common reasons are: for school credit, to develop skills in a specific area or work experience, because they used to inject drugs and are looking to help out people that are in a similar situation to what they have been through, they are a client here and would like to give back, and because they lost someone to HIV or know someone close that has HIV.
As the Volunteer Coordinator…
The most rewarding part of the job is watching volunteers grow. For a number of volunteers, the experience of volunteering here changes their outlook on the world, their future career paths, and their goals in life.
The most challenging part of the job is juggling. I am responsible for coordinating the schedule of so many different people. This is especially true at the start and end of each academic term as we tend to have a lot of new volunteers, and lot of volunteers moving on to other things, and many of the volunteers that are still going to volunteer with us changing their schedules and the hours they have available to volunteer.
Volunteers are a huge part of HIV Alliance. As a staff, we are ever-grateful for the dedication and giving nature of volunteers.