April 18th to 24th in Canada is National Volunteer Week, and this year’s slogan is “The Value of One, The Power of Many”. Nowhere is this more evident than here at Together We Can. One of TWC’s cornerstones of recovery is Strengthening Communities, and we do that by harnessing one of our biggest assets, our army of alumni.
As recovering alcoholics and addicts, we learn through the 12 steps that the best way out of self is helping others. This often means that when there are community events, or organizations in need, we can be there as volunteers to help build up the people and the community around us. Things have obviously been different this year since the Coronavirus pandemic as resident safety is our primary concern. Pre-covid, our residents volunteered with many organizations over the course of the weekend while in primary treatment, like helping sort items at the Greater Vancouver Food Bank, supporting events like Recovery Day BC, or by participating in many community clean-up initiatives.
During the current pandemic, our residents can still be found volunteering in a few ways, cleaning up neighborhood parks nearby our homes in Vancouver, or by participating in our own volunteer program where they learn skills that they can take with them as they transition back to regular life.
Frequently, the volunteer path turns into full-time staff roles at TWC, and like many others, that is how my journey at Together We Can started almost 2 years ago. Here I was, looking for a fresh start after getting sober, but what was I good at doing, and how do I build on that? My time in active addiction was chaotic, I remember one year I had 7 different jobs, in many different fields, some cooking in kitchens, some working in retail sales. Another year, I had one part-time job for about two months, and no other work for the rest of the year.
Now that I had some sobriety, I had no idea what I wanted to do, nor did I have any way to explain why I had so many jobs one year, and so many gaps of unemployment. With some clean time under my belt, I was thankful for the guidance of my peers, people who had come through the program ahead of me gave me advice, held me accountable, and helped prepare delicious meals that got me through my initial months in treatment. While the counsellors and group facilitators were there for me, it was the unsung heroes that worked in the kitchen, or volunteered as peer support that I found I could relate to the most, and helped me get out of my own way, and build a life in recovery.
I became part of the Volunteer Program at Together We Can, and learned skills in communication, boundaries, and life balance that help me to this day. My previous time as a cook in a few different restaurants opened the door for me to help prepare meals for clients overseen by talented chefs, and my experience with technology and design landed me a part time marketing assistant role helping to share the work that we do with the community at large. I got to ease back into life with a regular schedule learning to suit up and show up and put others’ needs ahead of my own. People got used to me being around and I became dependable, something I hadn’t been for countless years, and after a short time, there was an opportunity to join the team part-time with the community relations team. After a few short months, I began working full time as the Marketing & Communications Coordinator, where my days are fulfilling and I get to help others seeking a path of recovery.
Sam Hall, our Client Care Manager who helped develop our volunteer program a few years ago had a much different experience that led him to his role at Together We Can. 4 years ago, Sam who was a welder by trade, was coming up on a year of sobriety, and knew that he wanted to make a change in his career. After getting clean, he had an interest in working with newcomers, and supporting other people as they made the change in their life and started their journey to recovery. Without any experience in support, he wanted to be sure that this was the path he wanted to go, but struggled to find anywhere he could work, or volunteer without schooling or training. At his 12-step homegroup, he talked about his desire to help others, and his struggle to find placement in an organization, and a member suggested he stop by Together We Can.
Sam was introduced to a few of the staff who took notice of his eagerness to learn and shortly after he started volunteering once or twice a week. Those few days a week quickly became five days a week, talking to guys who just like himself, were working to better themselves. Volunteering was fulfilling and he found meaning and purpose, and was able to try out a few different roles. As an addict, he found he had low self esteem, and being able to volunteer, he found responsibility and accountability that he hadn’t felt before. He became dependable, and it strengthened his recovery.
By volunteering, Sam was able to build a strong relationship with TWC, and as they knew his work ethic and dedication, he soon became full-time staff. It was then he began to help build out a proper training program to help others learn and get set up for success with job shadowing and finding different roles within our society that people can help each other. These different roles all have different training needs, and opportunities follow those in the roles. Our volunteers have access to higher education through our Fallen Sons Memorial Fund, which pays for our staff and volunteers to take courses at institutes like Vancouver Community College, and BCIT.
Sam encourages everyone to try volunteering to use as life experience, they get to build up work skills, and get to feel meaning in their lives while getting on the job training and support as they grow and develop. There are opportunities for mentorship between the volunteers, staff, & residents and it strengthens all these relationships, becoming a launching point to brighter futures .
Volunteers are the lifeblood of every organization, and we want to thank each and every person that has helped us in all of our 28 years. Without volunteers we can’t grow and continue to support others, but with their help, together we can.