This summer, RCRG had two amazing co-op students: Mikaela Nuval and Crystal Man. While Mikaela worked diligently updating our Community Services Directory and launching the RCRG Instagram account, Crystal spent four months immersed in our Seniors Community Support Services department. Her main role was arranging transportation for clients, which was a huge job in itself, but it turned out to be just one of Crystal's many contributions. Read on as she reflects on her summer with seniors.
My summer at RCRG was one of great professional and personal growth. As a Program Assistant in the Seniors Community Support Services department, I had the privilege to learn about the day-to-day operations of a non-profit organization and work with a group of incredibly caring people. The staff team was very welcoming and supportive, and provided mentorship and opportunities for me to learn. The willingness of volunteers to give so freely of their time and energy also amazed and humbled me.
Given the breadth of the agency’s services, I was able to participate in many different programs at the same time. One of my major responsibilities was helping coordinate volunteer drivers for over 100 trips a month for the Better at Home Transportation program. It was challenging to match volunteers’ schedules, preferences, and abilities with seniors’ crucial medical appointments and other valuable activities. However, it was more than worth it to secure safe and reliable transportation for seniors in need. I’ve never been so happy to see the words “trip confirmed” or even just a simple “OK” from our volunteer drivers. Even after four months, their readiness to help is still astounding to me.
Based on my work with the Transportation program, I took on the project of updating the volunteer orientation manuals for volunteer drivers and friendly visitors. I used online resources and my experience interacting with volunteers and clients to contribute to a guide of potential challenges and situations that volunteers may face.
Another task I had was assisting with the launch of a new grocery shopping program, at PriceSmart, at the end of June. I learned about the careful planning and organization involved in setting up a new volunteer program: recruiting and training volunteers, enrolling clients, liaising with the host store, preparing paperwork, and more. I enjoyed interacting with the seniors at Group Shopping and getting the chance to meet some of the seniors I’d spoken to many times over the phone.
Grocery shopping may seem like a mundane task to most people, but to some seniors it means a lot to have the freedom to go out and pick the food that they would like to eat. It was eye-opening to me and something I will keep in mind every time I go grocery shopping.
I had the opportunity to receive extensive training on the process of Information and Referral (I&R), which educated me on services available for seniors in Richmond and how to effectively help seniors access them. I assisted with interpretation for Chinese clients and saw that much of the time an I&R appointment isn’t as simple as providing information. The volunteer sometimes has to really delve into a senior’s situation to suggest a resource or help apply to services that can make a lasting and significant difference in their lives.
As a psychology student, I was especially aware of how the services that RCRG provides are aimed to not only improve the physical, but also the mental well-being of seniors. I experienced first-hand how impactful social interaction and freedom of choice can be for the clients. I also noticed how empathetic colleagues and volunteers were, and how that allowed them to be more understanding and to forge deeper connections to others. This observation has caused me to examine my interactions more, not only in the workplace, but in my personal life as well.
In learning about seniors and volunteerism, I also learned a lot about myself. I am not sure about the exact career I want to pursue, but working at RCRG has cemented that it will be one where I can support and bring joy to people in need. It was incredibly rewarding to know that every day I was helping to improve seniors’ quality of life. I am very excited to stay on for another co-op term, this time to assist with the Richmond Christmas Fund. My summer at RCRG was an educational and fulfilling experience, and I am definitely looking forward to more.