The Ottawa Mission, a not-for-profit, faith-based organization in Canada’s capital city, plainly states on its web site “the problems that people who are homeless face aren’t simple and neither are the solutions.” Yet it’s clear that caring volunteers, willing to give their time and attention, are a vital part of the answer to help those in need.
For Delaney Turner, a social media enablement lead for IBM Canada, his call to action came years ago in Montreal when he was unable to return home and attended a church dinner for Christmas. “I was thankful that such a service existed and was amazed at the diversity of people attending,” says Delaney. “When I settled in Ottawa I looked for something similar and volunteered to work in the Mission’s kitchen—it gave me a way to give back.”
A bit of normalcy and dignity
For the past seven years. Delaney has volunteered at the Mission, working in the kitchen every Saturday morning. In 2012, the Ottawa Mission served an average of 1270 meals a day to their clients—as users of the facility are called. Delaney says, “I'm not so naive as to think I can solve all the clients' problems. But in serving them breakfast I am able to provide them with a small bit of normalcy and dignity.”
While the Mission is able to provide food, shelter and clothing to help clients meet everyday practical needs, an important aspect of its goal is to help people regain their dignity, hope and purpose in life. The Mission’s programs include addiction services, housing assistance and general healthcare. However, a fourth program area at the Mission, for education and job training, is where Delaney thought IBM volunteers and colleagues could make an additional impact.
“When IBM’s Celebration of Service opportunity came up in 2011, I presented a variety of options to the Mission’s client services team,” says Delaney who was drawing on IBM’s On Demand Community for ideas. On Demand Community, which is IBM’s global community and resource for volunteers, includes a library of off-the-shelf Activity Kits which can be used to accelerate delivery of support to organizations and increase volunteer efficiency.
The Ottawa Mission picked three IBM Activity Kits—resume building, interview skills and workplace culture—and worked closely with IBM to modify the kits to create the best fit for the Mission’s clients and programs.
Delaney then went to work to recruit other volunteers to help, reaching out to others through his personal network and also enlisting his wife’s help. Together they put together a volunteer team of 20 people from IBM and about 10 friends. “I spread the word by presenting on my manager’s all-hands call, posting the opportunity on ODC, and organizing a volunteer expo at an IBM location,” says Delaney. “I figured that between my wife and myself, we would know a lot of people who would be supportive, interested and available.”
Forty clients participated in the successful day-long workforce skills seminar—three times the normal audience size for similar activities—and were motivated to join by the subject matter and promotion efforts by the Mission and Delaney. Several volunteers helped clients with job interview techniques—a completely new activity for some—and tips for their resumes, while other volunteers helped in the kitchen and some sorted piles of donated clothing.
IBM grant speeds up adult education - volunteers help turn lives around
With Delaney’s support and the hours of volunteer work by IBM employees and friends, the Ottawa Mission received a grant from IBM that allowed them to upgrade the aging equipment in its computer lab. “The Mission’s computers were nearly ten years old and unsuitable for the education programs they were offering, preventing them from being current with online adult education trends,” says Delaney.
The Mission’s manager of client services at the time agreed the grant was enormously helpful. “The machines are so fast, clients can finish their courses in half the time,” she said. “Volunteers can lead job and resume skills sessions once a week instead of once a month; instead of waiting for pages to load, clients can use their time to send emails or look for jobs.”
Delaney observes that some clients at the Mission have not been as fortunate in life as he has. Yet he says that “many at the Mission can become productive, independent citizens again and live with dignity thanks to what the organization provides.” Delaney also attributes the action of volunteers and his IBM peers as giving “Mission clients the opportunity to turn their lives around because of what we were able to accomplish through IBM.”