April is National Volunteer Month. Volunteerism takes several forms at The Resource Center and Filling the Gap, Inc. — families and community members give their time to serve on boards and committees, assist with special events, and help out in programs and homes; self-advocates and staff volunteer in support of our events and by giving back to dozens of local charitable organizations and causes; and employees volunteer their free time to improve the lives of people with disabilities.
While most of The Resource Center’s employees work directly with people who have disabilities, many staffers in TRC’s administrative support departments have limited opportunities to interact with the people the agency supports. For those employees, volunteering in their off hours is a way to experience TRC’s mission firsthand.
One support department employee who decided to give volunteering a try is Maggie Evans, Payroll Clerk. “Volunteering was something that I naturally wanted to do. I really like Gandhi’s quote, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others,’” Maggie said. “I’m lucky to be able to go home every evening knowing I work for an agency that helps others in our community, but I wanted to do more.”
She went through the formal process of applying through TRC’s web site, listing activities such as reading and playing games as things she would like to do in her volunteer time. Michele Albaugh, Director of Learning and Development, shared the information with Mary Jo Hamilton, Director of Intellectual and Developmental Disability Services, and Mary Jo decided that the “Hunt Road” home in the Town of Busti would be a good placement for Maggie. She’s been going there weekly and has enjoyed interacting with residents and staff.
On a typical Thursday, Maggie arrives at the home around 5:00 p.m. After exchanging greetings with some of the home’s staff and residents, she makes her way to the bedroom of Sandy Clark. A visual impairment leaves Sandy unable to read, so Maggie reads to her. The pair has gone through a number of novels, a favorite being The Secret Garden.
When a staff member comes into the room to alert the reading partners that dinner is ready, Sandy heads off to wash her hands. Maggie makes her way to the dining room and sits at one of the two tables. She interacts with residents while they eat, sometimes helping to reinforce staff reminders to certain residents to make sure they chew or swallow properly and have something to drink between bites of food. Sometimes Maggie shares a meal with residents and staff.
After dinner, Maggie remains at the table and talks with Joe Belka while he writes in his journal. She then makes her way into the living room and spends time with David Adams, playing a game with him or assisting David with putting together a jigsaw puzzle. She’ll then read to Sandy for a while longer before leaving the home at about 7:00. She packs a lot into her weekly two-hour visits.
“Thursdays are now my favorite night of the week,” Maggie exclaimed. “The connections I’ve made with the residents at Hunt are special to me, and I hope to them as well. The ladies and gents there always put a smile on my face, and we usually have lots of laughs together. The pure joy on their faces melts my heart sometimes.”
Her experiences at the home have also deepened her appreciation for the jobs that TRC’s direct-support employees do.
“I’ve also had a good time getting to know a handful of the staff members at Hunt,” Maggie said. “I appreciate the compassion I see and their dedication! They represent all direct-care workers here at TRC. Thank you, everyone, for your caring hearts!”
Staff and residents at Hunt enjoy Maggie’s visits. “Maggie has been a wonderful joy to Hunt Road, and I love hearing from those whom we support: `Today is Thursday. Yay! That means Maggie is coming!’ It really means she is making a difference in their lives,” said Amber Wilson, Site Supervisor.
“We’re thrilled to have her,” Mary Jo said of Maggie. “She fits right in. She does a good job. She’s just amazing.”
Michele said volunteers such as Maggie are important to TRC in several ways. The primary benefit provided by volunteers is that they enhance the lives of people with disabilities.
“People we support develop many relationships with paid staff; it is important that they have multiple opportunities to have relationships from non-paid people,” Michele said. “Having volunteers gives them that opportunity as well as the opportunity to gain new experiences from what the volunteer can bring/share with them.”
She added that TRC and the volunteers themselves get something positive out of the volunteer experience.
“In having volunteers, the agency gets dedicated, interested people to help us fulfill our mission,” she said. “For those volunteering, there are many benefits. The first benefit that people think of is the positive feeling you get from helping and sharing your time, but many times volunteers learn new skills, learn different things about themselves, may see a new career opportunity, meet new people, and make new connections. Volunteering is an opportunity to make a difference with others while having the chance to improve yourself and alter how you see yourself in the world.”
Michele said TRC currently has volunteers working in a few of its homes, Day Programs and clinical locations. TRC operates some 30 homes, several Day Programs and a few clinics, so there are lots of options where people can volunteer. TRC welcomes volunteers with a wide range of talents and interests.
“All of our program areas would benefit from volunteers. There is no limit to the opportunities or talents that we are looking for in a volunteer. Gifts and talents are meant to be shared,” Michele said. “Each volunteer opportunity is looked at individually – What is the volunteer looking for? What can they offer, and how does that work with our programs/services?”
She said there is no minimum amount of time that a volunteer is expected to contribute each month, but that TRC tries to establish a schedule and routine for each volunteer.
Maggie believes others would enjoy volunteering at The Resource Center.
“I would encourage anyone who is interested in volunteering in a home to go for it. It’s awesome,” she said. “The experience will be a blessing to you, I promise!”
People interested in being a volunteer at The Resource Center can apply apply online by clicking here. For more information about TRC’s volunteer program, phone Michele at 661-1517.