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MAVA Voice

Engaging Volunteers with Disabilities
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Very helpful information!  Thank you Sue.
Ellen Cleath
Hi Ellen,
This is a very challenging situation as you don't want to turn away volunteers from contributing to your community.

I too have had an organization who requested to bring about five of their residents who are mentally and physically challenged to volunteer at our long term senior care facility.  They have a supervisor who is with them and oversees them while they are here.  What I have learned over the two years they have volunteered with us is that they have to be placed with other staff or volunteers who have the same goal in mind:  To allow both the residents and volunteers to engage and have a meaningful experience.

Currently, I have a volunteer who has been with me for over six years and loves to do crafts with our residents.  She is very qualified to work with people with disabilities as she was a preschool teacher for many years and has an understanding and love for both residents and volunteers with multiple challenges.  We have a great relationship and communicate openly.  She tells me when someone just isn't working out.  Like if the volunteer who has come to help her do the activity is really becoming more like a resident and wants to do the activity instead and needs help.  I work with the group's adviser who also wants everyone to succeed in this activity.  When I let her know there is a problem, she will do what she needs to in order to correct the problem.  That may mean replacing that volunteer with another client volunteer.  She realizes that she is responsible for her clients and I am responsible for our residents and that allows us to work well together.  She also is able to tell me when a client has a concern with us which I appreciate very much.

My volunteer who is responsible for the craft activity also has about 3 other volunteers helping her as well so she is never alone without support.  She tells me that these challenged volunteers relate well to the elderly and it helps to have them just sit with one of our residents to get supplies needed or just talk with them.  If they aren't helping, then we would rather not have them with us volunteering and that is o.k.

As long as you have a team in place ahead of time that you know will communicate well together and will work as a team, I think you will have success and have a win/win experience.

I am also interested in what others have to say on this topic.  We are a long term care facility, and recently had an interest from a Special Olympic team, ages 12-40's, express interest in being able to give back to the community.  I am really struggling with finding opportunities that would benefit our residents.  Due to limitations with communication abilities on both sides, coming in for casual conversations or assisting with programs would be extremely difficult.  I'd love to hear what others are doing as well, in the long-term care field as well as other community volunteer engagement opportunities. 
Hi Kaylen,

This is a great conversation that other MAVA members began having at our last MAVA Connections event. Kasey Tunnell at the Ordway is the chair of the Professional Development Committee, which hosts MAVA Connections. Please reach out to her and she'll be able to connect you with the resources we discussed at that meeting. Her email is:

Animal Humane Society is highly interested in engaging more volunteers with disabilities. While our current volunteer opportunities are somewhat inclusive, we recognize that we could offer a lot more and be a lot more inclusive. 

How do you make reasonable accommodations in your organization? Do you have particular volunteer positions that you've found the requirements of to be very inclusive, or do you allow prospective volunteers to share their skills with you in a more customized way? We'd love to hear what is and isn't working.

Thanks so much,
Kaylen Broms
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