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Volunteering with mental illness: 6 tips to get you started

Posted By Lisa Robinson, January 24, 2018
Updated: January 23, 2018
 Ask Kelly Banner

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

 

As I write this, it’s blue Monday—the saddest day of the year. Winter weather and shorter days, especially in January, can have a drastic impact on our mood. Living with mental illness myself, I agree—this time of year is far from easy.

So what’s the good news?

It’s known that community can be an antidote for feeling low. And what better way to connect with others than through volunteering? However, finding a volunteer position can be overwhelming, especially if you’re already feeling down. Knowing this, I’ve put together six tips that can take your volunteer search from blah to yah!

 

Start by listing your skills

Hey you! Yes, you. You have skills, lots of them. So go ahead and write them down. What have you learned from your experiences? You’d be surprised at how valuable your skills are. Take a few minutes to reflect on what a great asset you’ll be as a volunteer.

Determine your intentions

Now that you know that you’ll be a valuable volunteer (see your list!) it’s time to think about what YOU want out of volunteering. Are there any skills you want to learn? A specific neighbourhood where you’d like to give back? Or a cause you feel inspired by? Your answers will help narrow down which roles to apply for. Remember, you should get just as much out of your volunteer experience as you put in. You deserve it!

Find the right fit

Volunteer roles are different everywhere you go. Some are really formal and require a big commitment. If you don’t feel ready, that’s okay! You can always explore other opportunities, there are hundreds of non-profits in the city! Find a volunteer role with expectations that motivate you, not overwhelm you. Not sure you’ve found a good fit? Ask to try out the role. You never know until you’ve given it a shot!

Share your intentions

Remember those intentions you created? Share them. Share them with someone in your social network. Share them with (potential) volunteer managers. By sharing these intentions you’ll get support. And hey, you might even find a volunteer manager that adapts a role for you.

Share your needs

Just as important is to share what your needs are. I’ve personally found it helpful to talk to my volunteer supervisor about living with mental illness. If nothing else, I don’t feel like I have to hide when I’m having a bad day. At best, they might work with you to determine how they can support you in your role. Remember, this is your information to share. Only share if you are comfortable.

Follow your gut

It’s important to listen to your gut feelings. Are you achieving what you intended to in a volunteer role? If not, then don’t do it. But don’t give up either. There is an opportunity out there for everyone!

 

As you embark on your volunteer journey, remember you have valuable skills to give. Consider volunteering this winter, and throughout the year, to feel more connected to others. Explore hundreds of opportunities in Toronto using our volunteer opportunities database.

 

Lisa Robinson, Program DeveloperLisa Robinson  is leading the research and development of Volunteer Toronto's first ever placement support program to help Torontonians that are facing barriers to achieving their volunteering goals. Whether they are new to Canada, have accessibility challenges, or find it hard to navigate computers the program is being designed to give everyone the resources they need to find a meaningful and supportive volunteer role.

Tags:  Give Back  Help finding a volunteer position  how do I get a volunteer position  How to start volunteering  Make a Difference  Mental Health  Questions about volunteering  Respect  Volunteer  Volunteer in Toronto  Volunteer questions  Volunteering  Volunteerism  Ways to volunteer 

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10 places you can volunteer to support mental health

Posted By Kasandra James, Subscriber Coordinator, December 15, 2017
 Ask Kelly Banner

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes | Written by Kasandra James

 

Mental health and mental illness affect people from all walks of life and in countless ways. While confronting mental health can be overwhelming, there are many ways to support mental health as a volunteer and make an impact in other’s lives. Check out these Toronto organizations and find out how you can give your time, skills and abilities to support their mental health programs:

 

Cota supports adults with mental health and cognitive challenges, helping them to live well within their communities. They provide services including supportive housing, short-term residential beds and day programs.

  • Location: Numerous sites across Toronto
  • How you can volunteer: Cota is often recruiting Adult Day Services Assistants who engage clients in meaningful activities to explore their strengths and develop new skills.

Davenport-Perth Neighbourhood and Community Health Centre is a multi-service agency in Toronto’s West End, providing health and community support services for infants, children, youth and seniors.

  • Location: Davenport Road and Old Weston Road 
  • How you can volunteer: As a Community Dining Assistant, you’ll help with set-up, clean-up and cooking for Wednesday community dinners. 

Family Service Toronto helps people facing a variety of life challenges, by assisting families and individuals through counselling, community development, advocacy and public education programs.

  • Location: Numerous sites across Toronto
  • How you can volunteer: As an Options Program Tutor and Life Skills Coach, you’ll maintain a supportive, friendly relationship with individuals who face mental health challenges. 

Fred Victor fosters long-lasting positive change in the lives of homeless and low-income people living across Toronto. Their services include: affordable housing, emergency shelter, job training and counselling, and community mental health outreach and services.

  • Location: Downtown East, multiple sites
  • How you can volunteer: Arts/Craft Instructors conduct weekly sessions with community members. 

Massey Centre is an infant and early childhood mental health organization supporting pregnant and parenting adolescents, aged 13-25, and their babies. Their programs include pre-and-post natal residential care, primary health care and maternal infant mental health.

  • Location: Broadview Avenue and Danforth Avenue
  • How you can volunteer: Parent Relief Volunteers provide basic child care while young mothers take much-needed breaks or run errands. 

Senior Persons Living Connected (SPLC) provides programs and services that meet the diverse needs of older adults and their caregivers. Services include seniors housing, counselling and social, recreational and fitness programs.

  • Location: Warden Avenue and Finch Avenue
  • How you can volunteer: Friendly Visitors spend time with seniors, engaging in conversation and leisure activities. 

SickKids Centre for Community Mental Health (formerly The Hincks-Dellcrest Centre) combines prevention, treatment, research and education to support children, youth and families facing mental health challenges.

  • Location: Keele St. and Sheppard Avenue West or Jarvis St. and Wellesley St. East
  • How you can volunteer: Research Assistants contribute to CCMH’s inter-disciplinary, evidenced-based mental health treatment and support system. 

The Gatehouse provides support, community and resources for individuals impacted by childhood sexual abuse, including an Investigation Support Program, Art Therapy and the Transforming Trauma Conference.

  • Location: Lakeshore Blvd. and Kipling Avenue
  • How you can volunteer: Give your time as a Peer Support Group Facilitator, supporting those impacted by childhood sexual abuse. 

Victim Services Toronto provides immediate crisis response, intervention and prevention services to individuals, families and communities affected by crime and sudden tragedies. Programs include The Trauma Dog Program, High Risk Support Services and Teens Ending Abusive Relationships (TEAR).

  • Location: Yonge St. and College St.
  • How you can volunteer: Crisis Counsellor Volunteers work alongside professional crisis counsellors to support victims in Toronto. 

Yorktown Family Services is dedicated to providing effective, accessible, quality mental health treatment, prevention and outreach services to children, youth, women and families. The agency is divided into a Child and Family Centre and a Shelter for Women and their children, fleeing abusive relationships.

  • Location: Dufferin St. and Eglinton Avenue West 
  • How you can volunteer: Walk-In Clinic Counsellors bring their professional counselling experience to the Family Centre and Shelter, on a monthly or bi-monthly basis. 

Is your perfect volunteer role not in this list? Most of these organizations have multiple volunteer opportunities, so make sure you visit their websites to find out more. If you still can’t find the right fit, search Volunteer Toronto’s database using the keywords “mental health” or contact our Referral Counsellor at 416-961-6888 x 232 or referral@volunteertoronto.ca.

 


Kasandra JamesAs Volunteer Toronto’s Subscriptions Coordinator, Kasandra James is the first point of contact for non-profits looking for support. She facilitates monthly Subscriber Circles - discussion groups for managers and coordinators of volunteers, contributes to our Sector Space newsletter and social media communications, and makes sure our subscriptions package continues to help non-profit organizations build capacity through volunteer involvement. 

Tags:  Abuse Stories  Activism  Activists  Anti-Bulling  Frequently Asked Questions  friendly visitor  Give Back  health care volunteer positions  How to give back  How to start volunteering  how to volunteer  How to volunteer in Toronto  Leadership  Make a Difference  Mental Health  Mentorship  Questions about volunteering  skilled volunteering  Skills  Toronto volunteers  types of volunteer positions  Volunteer  Volunteer in Toronto  volunteer leaders  Volunteer questions  Volunteering  volunteering in Toronto  Volunteerism  Ways to volunteer 

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Why group volunteering isn't as easy as you think

Posted By Melina Condren, Director of Services for Non-Profits, December 15, 2017
 Ask Kelly Banner

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes | Written by Melina Condren

In the past few years, we’ve seen more and more for-profit organizations seek out group volunteering in order to boost employee engagement and expand their social responsibility strategies. Unfortunately, finding a volunteer opportunity for your team AND making a big impact with a non-profit partner isn’t always easy.

On a practical level, many non-profits simply don’t have the space to accommodate a crowd of people. In addition to taking a lot of space, it also takes a lot of time and effort to organize team opportunities. Between planning a task, making sure everyone is properly trained, setting up and cleaning up the space, and all the other responsibilities that are part of holding a successful large-scale event, many volunteer managers don’t have the time to invest in group volunteering. Finally, the type of work that can get done by a group in one day isn’t always the type of work that’s needed most.

To make sure your volunteer experience steers clear of these pitfalls, here are five tips to get you started in planning meaningful, high-impact group volunteering:

 

Plan ahead

We get a lot of last-minute inquiries about group volunteer opportunities, but the truth is that many of them fill up months in advance. Start planning early to make sure that you find an opportunity that aligns with your organization’s mission and values, and to give the non-profit you’re working with plenty of time to prepare.

Split up into teams

Finding two volunteer opportunities for twenty people may be easier than finding one opportunity for forty. If you have a large group and you want everyone to volunteer, consider breaking up into smaller teams and helping out a few different causes. You’ll be able to choose from a much wider range of non-profits to work with, since so many can’t accommodate crowds.

Be prepared to donate money, not just time

Engaging large groups of volunteers takes a lot of time, effort, and resources, so the return on investment just isn’t worth it for many non-profits. Be prepared to make a financial contribution to help cover the costs of the staff time and resources that are being invested to make your volunteer experience successful or donate the food and supplies for the program you’re assisting with. For example, if you volunteer to pack welcome bags with toiletries, towels and pyjamas for a shelter, you might be expected to donate the supplies, not just the time it takes to pack them.

Build lasting partnerships

There are many different ways that employers can support volunteering and give back to their communities—not just by having a big, one-day volunteer event. You could organize a recurring fundraising event and donate the proceeds to a charitable partner, getting your employees involved by contributing or helping to coordinate the fundraiser. Or, you could encourage your employees to volunteer individually in ongoing programs for causes they care about, and support them in doing so with flexible work hours or extra time off. You could even volunteer as a team for the same organization each year, helping to plan, staff and provide the supplies for an annual event. Whatever you choose to do, making an ongoing commitment to a non-profit that goes beyond a single day of service is one of the best ways to make a meaningful impact.

Learn best practices

If you’re reading this blog post, you probably want to learn more about how to incorporate volunteering into your organization. As a next step, I recommend taking a look at the Canadian Code for Employer Supported Volunteering. It’s a great resource put together by Volunteer Canada that provides guidance to help you establish or improve an employer supported volunteer program.

 

Group volunteering isn’t easy, but when it’s done well it can be a great way to make a difference and give back. By following these five tips, you’ll be well on your way to creating a volunteer experience that your team, and the non-profit you support, will be grateful for.

 

  Melina oversees all of Volunteer Toronto's services for organizations, including our training program, volunteer management conference, subscriptions program, and new Grassroots Growth project. Her priority is to ensure our services are effectively helping non-profits build capacity through volunteer involvement and continue to meet the ever-evolving needs of the voluntary sector.

Tags:  Activism  applying to volunteer  Career  City of Toronto Development  Event Volunteering  Give Back  group volunteering  How to give back  How to start volunteering  how to volunteer  How to volunteer in Toronto  How to volunteer to help the homeless  Leadership  Make a Difference  Office Volunteer  poverty reduction  Questions about volunteering  short-term volunteering  skilled volunteering  Skilled Volunteers  Skills  Toronto volunteers  types of volunteer positions  Volunteer  volunteer engagement  volunteer for one day  Volunteer for the holiday  volunteer in group  Volunteer in Toronto  volunteer leaders  Volunteer questions  Volunteering  volunteering in Toronto  Volunteerism  volunteers  Ways to volunteer  What's It Like To Volunteer  Work 

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Making Your Court-Ordered Community Services Hours Time Well Spent

Posted By Andre MacKay, Guest Blogger, April 25, 2016
Updated: April 14, 2016

Andre volunteering at the Dance Marathon

Andre (left) and Megan voluntering at Volunteer Toronto's Dance Marathon in support of SickKids

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

After receiving a traffic citation, I was required by court order, to complete 80 hours of community service, which at the time, seemed a very daunting task given my hectic, deadline-driven work schedule, long commute to and from home, as well as periods of extended travel. I began by looking to my personal and professional networks for connections that worked in the non-for-profit space that could perhaps refer me to volunteer positions that would allow me to leverage my work experience and skills. I noticed there were many volunteer positions that required candidates commit to a recurring schedule over the course of a few months, but due to my hectic schedule, I needed to find a volunteer position where I could help on either a single event or small number of events. Enter Volunteer Toronto…

There are several great online resources throughout the GTA that aggregate volunteer opportunities and offer a convenient listing of those positions. In general these websites allow you to search, review, and register for a variety of different tasks, events, and programs. After searching casually on a few, I kept coming back to the Volunteer Toronto website because I found it to be thorough and intuitive with a great variety of potential opportunities. The site allows you to search by category and surface specific types of work assignments: such as events that involve group activities, those that support people with disabilities, fundraising positions, consulting, and clerical tasks or some combination of the many options offered. What’s more, users can search by keyword if the particular category they’re seeking isn’t listed and then further sort through assignments by location. Further still, the site offers the ability to search based on duration of availability so one can find a one-day assignment, a short term (less than 3 months), long term (greater than 3 months) or indicate that the duration “doesn’t matter.” The search tools are robust and really help take any guesswork out of the process in addition to aggregating and providing consistent updates of the available positions.

My first volunteer assignment was with Central Eglinton Community Centre.  They offer programs and activities for seniors, children, and the general public. Over the course of a few months I helped with general labour and organizing events as well as supporting the leaders, coordinators, and presenters during programs such as: health care information sessions, sales of baked goods and books, and other programs for members, employees, and volunteers. I also helped to supervise the computer lab during designated hours so that registered members could have computer access and I helped those who needed assistance with internet research, email, and word processing. In addition to supporting the wide variety of events and programs that the centre offered I also volunteered at one-off events including: The United Way CN Tower Climb and both Volunteer Toronto’s Grassroots Growth launch event as well as their Dance Marathon in support of SickKids.

The best advice I can give to those looking to contribute or in need of volunteer hours as part of a requirement is to take advantage of the resources offered on the Volunteer Toronto website. Beyond the volunteer opportunity search page, they also have information on how to get started as a volunteer, frequently asked questions about volunteering, stories from past volunteers about their experience, and even a bi-weekly newsletters volunteer opportunities, free information sessions, and special events.

In order to help ensure that the experience is enjoyable and mutually beneficial one should come with an open mind, flexible attitude, and friendly demeanour as the specific needs may change as the event progresses. Approach the volunteer assignment with the same level of professional, engagement, and willingness to contribute as one would have with respect to a paid position.

After volunteering at a number of different events, the one key takeaway is that there are many organizations throughout the GTA offering important services and making meaningful contributions to the lives of Torontonians that, in order to provide those services to the community, need the help and dedication of volunteers. After gaining an appreciation for the value they offer I will absolutely continue to lend a hand and encourage others to join and make whatever contribution of their time, skills, and experience that they can. 


Andre lives and works in Toronto. 

Tags:  416  Court-ordered community service  give back  mandatory community services  The6ix  Toronto  volunteer  volunteering in Toronto 

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The Easiest Resolution To Keep In The New Year

Posted By Samantha Glave, Volunteer Guest Blogger, December 30, 2015
 

 Estimated Reading Time: 3 Minutes

 

2016 is almost here! Perhaps, you're planning parties and family dinners or packing your suitcase for a relaxing vacation to end the year. Regardless of what you’re up to now, many people see the approaching New Year as an opportunity for change and self-improvement. Maybe you belong to the 50% of the population who make New Year’s resolutions and (with 2016 fast approaching) you’ve decided to give back to your community and volunteer!!

According to Psychology Today, researchers have found that after two weeks, most people return to their old ways. Although this reality is bleak and discouraging, you aren’t fated to be a part of this group! Below are tips to help you overcome some of the common barriers that people face when doing volunteer work: lack of time and lack of money.     

 

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION!

Many Canadians cite a lack of time as a huge deterrent to volunteering. To work around this, try looking for opportunities that are close to home, work or school or use your lunch hour to complete volunteer work. This way, you won’t have to find “extra time” to perform volunteer duties, and you won’t have to travel far to the charitable organization of your choice.

The Volunteer Toronto website has a helpful search feature, which allows you to tailor your search of available volunteer opportunities. To find roles close to you, search using the location field.


GET TO KNOW YOUR COWORKERS 

How about organizing an employee volunteer group at your workplace? Not only would this help you add organization, coordination and leadership skills to your resume, but involving others in your volunteer work will be a great way to get to know each other while keeping you accountable to your goal and making you more likely to keep your New Year’s Resolution.

To find roles you can do in groups with your coworkers, use the category field and select “4. Suitable for Groups”.

 

VOLUNTEER IN YOUR PJ'S!

With virtual volunteering, you can completely eliminate travel time. This option allows you to contribute to an organization from the comfort of your own home (possibly in your pyjamas and bunny slippers!). Don’t have a computer or a laptop? You can reserve a computer at your local public library… for free! Your travel costs will be reduced if your local library is much closer to you than the volunteer organization. Not tech savvy? Not to worry, organizations not only need people to contribute technical tasks (e.g. online research or website design) but allow people to perform non-technical tasks like virtual visiting and tutoring.

Try doing a keyword search of “virtual” to find roles where you can volunteer from home.

 

SPEND TIME WITH FAMILY

Between working full time, commuting long hours to the office and doing household chores, most of us want to spend the precious free time we do have with our families. Even if we are willing to sacrifice some of that free time for a good cause, it’s a hassle to find someone to watch the kids; it can also be an added cost. To overcome both the time and money issues associated with volunteering, why not involve the whole family? Not only will this activity provide bonding time, but it will teach children the concept of altruism, encourage teamwork and allow older children to add the skills gained from the experience to their blossoming resumes.  

To find roles suitable for families, use the category field and select “2. Suitable for Families (Parents and Kids)”.

 

Need more help? Volunteer Toronto has referral counsellors who can help you find the opportunity that works for you, helping you to keep that New Year’s Resolution! 

 

 

 

Samantha Glave is a writer and editor whose work is regularly published on the Ontario Public Service’s intranet.
When she’s not writing, you can find her watching science-fiction, doing kettle bell workouts or reading the
latest research on raising the ‘strong-willed’ child. She lives in Toronto with her husband and their six-year old son. 
You can find her on LinkedIn

 

Tags:  Give Back  How to volunteer in Toronto  Keeping Your New Years Resolution  Make a Difference  New Years 2016  New Years Resolutions  Volunteer in Toronto  Volunteering in the New Year  Volunteerism 

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