Jason Flynn is a Volunteer Coordinator at Depaul Ireland, where he manages and continually improves their volunteer programme. Jason has responsibility for recruiting, training and supporting full and part-time volunteers and students and coordinates their Erasmus+ Volunteering projects.
Depaul is a charity that supports people who are homeless or marginalised. We believe that everyone should have a place to call home and a stake in their community. We’re a cross-border organisation, established in the Republic of Ireland in 2002 and in Northern Ireland in 2005. Our services include:
We have fifteen years’ experience of supporting volunteers from Ireland and abroad. We engage volunteers not as a necessity, but to work alongside our staff and augment the service they can deliver. A crucial part of any volunteer’s role is to bring social interaction, warmth and humanity into the services, perhaps by arranging specific activities, or simply by being a friendly presence. Our managers and staff might be too busy with the practicalities of running the services to have any real fun with our service users, and that’s where volunteers can make the greatest contribution!
Léargas supports us each year in engaging five Erasmus+ volunteers across our Dublin-based projects, for a period of 12 months each. The volunteers live together for the duration of their placement, in a house near Dublin city centre. They encourage our service users to develop new skills and interests through a varied programme of activities, and to learn about diverse cultures.
Volunteers gain a comprehensive experience, and learn to appreciate the issues faced by [our service users]. Our volunteers bring skills, abilities, ideas, objectives, energy and enthusiasm to the organisation, enriching our work and supporting our aims, our vision, mission and values. They form informal relationships with our service users that are unique and valuable. In return, they receive support, supervision and mentoring, and have ample opportunities to explore new interests, develop themselves and seek challenges.
Volunteer management has become my specialism; I worked in HR for several different organisations for a number of years, while simultaneously doing volunteer management for a festival, in a voluntary capacity. I joined the charity sector three years ago, working for another homelessness organisation, and have been with Depaul Ireland since September 2017. So I've brought to my current role a lot of knowledge and experience of volunteers and what motivates them and keeps them happy in their volunteer role. I see volunteering as a two-way process that has benefits and rewards for both parties.
The best part of my job is helping people to develop and learn. Our volunteers have a month-long initial induction to Depaul and our services, learning about homelessness, addictions and other issues. They also attend on-arrival and midway training with Léargas, which helps with their transition and progress. It’s often the volunteers’ first time living away from home, so they take time getting to know their fellow volunteers and housemates, learning to live together and divide chores. They know that the Volunteer Department is there to help them with any problems they might have in the house, but that they must be self-sufficient to a degree – we want them to take some responsibility for the running of the household!
Volunteers are supported to work on their own initiative to plan and carry out activities and projects that match their own interests and abilities, and also benefit the service users. They build competencies in project management, interpersonal and intercultural skills, researching, promoting ideas, negotiating with management and staff and influencing team activities. They develop cultural awareness and improve their language skills in both English and their mother tongue.
The reflective process is a very important part of Erasmus+, and we encourage our volunteers to engage with it before, during and after their placements. Through exercises and the mentoring process, we help them to develop the skill of reflection – to examine incidents not just in terms of what happened, but what impact they have on the volunteers – how they felt, what they learned and how the experience can benefit them in the future.
Almost anything can be a learning experience, and we encourage our volunteers to document things as they happen, in a journal or other document. This way, they capture their lived experiences, such as their nervousness in coming to Ireland; their apprehension about entering the services; even their uncertainty of what route to take or how to sign in. After a few days, all these things become routine, and we forget how apprehensive we were, and therefore forget the valuable learning and insights into ourselves that can be derived from the experience. Keeping a reflective journal means the volunteers can look back on their experiences, and this is invaluable for their YouthPass projects.
In Depaul we are committed to best practice in volunteering, and we strive to offer opportunities for meaningful and supported experiences. We constantly renew and improve our working practices to provide the best possible support to the young people who join us. We are very active in sharing knowledge and expertise abroad with partners and similar institutions. As evidence of our commitment to quality in volunteer management, we were awarded the ‘Investing in Volunteers’ quality standard in 2015, and are working towards its renewal in July 2018.
Erasmus+ gives us an opportunity to reach young people from diverse backgrounds, who bring a unique perspective to our work. They make a lasting impact, and are highly valued at Depaul. We understand the size of the undertaking involved in coming to live in a new country, getting to know the city, becoming proficient in a new language, and joining a new organisation. The support and expertise we receive from Léargas enables us to help our volunteers to develop the skills, attitudes and experience necessary to take them on this multifaceted and exciting journey with Depaul Ireland.
Image credits: Jason Flynn. We welcome contributions to ‘Insights’ at email@example.com.