Martin Mc Laughlin is the Community Services Manager at Rehabcare Navan. Here he manages a Resource Centre for people with intellectual disabilities to provide a respite and promote independent living and social skills. They have almost 80 adults attending their service that range in age from 18 to 65 from all over Co Meath. Martin spoke to us about his experience with volunteers.
Why did you begin to involve volunteers?
It was partly by accident and partly strategically. Our service users generally have very low contact with the wider community but we believe that it is crucial that they have the opportunity to mix outside our centre. By involving volunteers we are actually bringing the community into the centre and what’s inspiring is that when you bring people with new skills set and different personalities it has very healthy and positive impact on our service users.
Tell me about some of your volunteers?
We’ve had approximately 14 volunteers involved with us over the last 12 months thanks in no small part to Meath Volunteer Centre. One of our volunteer is an artist from Kells. He has done some tremendous networking and doing artwork which is linking us to the community. There’s another lady who does cookery and gardening. She has a wonderful personality. I find that everyone who comes up and wants to get involved has something meaningful to offer. Another guy has joinery skills and some of the lads have really enjoyed working with him under supervision. We’ve also had some young students who are doing social care courses and want to enhance their experience by coming in here and working with people with intellectual disabilities. They also bring a new perspective to it. Another lady does a talking books class with the service users and they love seeing her come up.
What has your experience of volunteers been?
It’s like a breath of fresh air, they bring a new skills set, they inspire our service users; give us a greater connection with the community. It really offers us the opportunity to create new opportunities and new relationships but it’s primarily about befriending. One of our service users has been particularly inspired by the volunteers. I’ve really seen him grow in confidence since he’s started to interact with the volunteers. He now volunteers his own time elsewhere and that all started from experiencing volunteers coming into Rehabcare. A classic example of this is the fact that he went live on LMFM when he was on the bus here to advertise a bring and buy sale we were having – now that’s confidence for you. That’s all thanks to the concept of volunteering. It’s almost that every cloud has a silver lining, in this economic down turn we now have this opportunity for people who are more community spirited and community minded who now want something to do. We have wonderful volunteers so committed that one of them is even coming back in the evening time to finish off his project – I just think it’s fantastic.
What advice would you give to any organisation thinking of involving volunteers?
I think the most important thing is the first meeting. The managers need to engage with the volunteers from the start, give them a proper profile and outline of what the organisation is about and really try and inspire the prospective volunteer that this is the place that they want to volunteer. After that it’s about having a good induction, having proper volunteer policies and procedures. The clearly defined roles are hugely important to ensure the volunteer has a structured and meaningful day when they are here. The volunteers have been a huge benefit to us but I think it’s important that the volunteers themselves get tremendous value in terms of their own self esteem. Whether it’s up skilling themselves or adding to their CV, it’s important that the volunteer gets something back.