Penticton Better at Home orienting volunteers on ‘self-care’

Better at Home is a program that values independence and healthy aging.  In Penticton, as in the rest of the province, Better at Home is helping seniors to maintain the delicate balance of remaining independent, while accepting a helping hand.

Often, sites are providing support to caregivers with high stress levels, who are simply coping with life circumstances.  The need for Better at Home services is great, and sites’ ability to deliver services is limited by their capacity to attract enough volunteers.  With more community programs relying on volunteerism, retention is crucial.  

Individuals who come forward to volunteer their time for the Better at Home program (some of whom are also seniors) often have strong values in service to community.  We all love to have those volunteers who are willing to take on whatever is asked of them, with seemingly endless energy.  The downside is the fact that some helpers have difficulty in saying “no”.   Not only are these volunteers at risk of burnout, but those who over-give their time and energy, unknowingly can emit a warning to others not to get involved because of their own demanding experience.  

Recognizing this challenge, Penticton Better at Home incorporates a self-care component into volunteer orientation.  This helps volunteers to increase self-awareness; to recognize experiences of both personal drainers and fillers to make the most of their volunteer experience.

Volunteer burnout is very real and can lead to an unhealthy outcome for both the volunteer and the program. “I am trying to instill throughout the program that we can better take care of others when we first take care of ourselves” explains Myrna Tischer, Penticton Better at Home Program Coordinator, “For example, one of my active volunteers ended up in hospital last week and, of course, she was worried about the seniors she was to provide support to the next day. It is very important that she knows the team will have her back and we will find a way to take care of things. Everyone who was part of covering that unforeseen situation experienced a sense of belonging. This is what I want to nurture in the team as it makes us all stronger.”

One thing included in the Penticton Better at Home volunteer training is the “Helpers Creed” where they discuss the topic of caring and the difference between feeling responsible for people, where there is a tendency to rescue and take on the problems of others; and feeling responsible to people, where empathy and awareness are the front line emotions. Penticton hopes to expand upon this idea of healthy boundaries as Myrna notes, “I have had good feedback from volunteers using this as a guideline for working with our participants.”

The goal of this approach is intended to create a strong volunteer base with a supportive community connection.   Building for the future with a quality foundation will help to reduce the effort needed to recruit new volunteers because people who feel supported and appreciated will tell their friends.

Penticton Better at Home started providing services to vulnerable seniors this July, 2013 and we are excited to see how these innovative volunteer support initiatives help to keep seniors independent and connected to their communities.