International Volunteer Managers Day is being celebrated in a few days on Friday November 5. This is a great opportunity to acknowledge the work of of the managers of volunteers within your organisation, your business and in
the wider community. Here is a story about one of the ‘champions’ in the field of management of volunteer programmes, Louise Foote.
Louise Foote, co-ordinator of the volunteer programme at Keneperu Hospital in Porirua, didn’t deliberately set out on a career path to meet an end. However, now in her early 60s, she sees ‘everything I ever did’ as leading to what she describes today as a ‘privileged position’.
She talks exuberantly about the role she has been in for two years. Employed part-time under the Wellington Hospitals & Health Foundation she ensures her focus on her team of more than volunteers, is organised, inclusive and warmly welcoming.
Louise leads a varied life so has worked under some efficient structures which enable her to maintain this co-ordination/leadership role while also having time for volunteering.
In order to touch base with every member of her team regularly – one of the most important aspects of the role, she says – she is always in on Mondays. For the rest of the month, day two will cover consecutive days of the week. ‘I therefore am able to meet up and talk with every volunteer at least once a month.’
She has a strong ‘buddy’ system in place which enables new volunteers to continue training until they feel confident enough to work alone. Or to reach further afield than their original brief.
The mission of the volunteer programme is to meet, greet and guide visitors to the hospital. There are always two to three smiling faces near the entrance. Walking through the doors of such a vast institution can be overwhelming. As I sat in the cafe near the reception foyer talking to Louise, people approaching the labyrinth of directions, relaxed visibly when contact was made with the friendly ‘guides’.
Others from the team will visit patients in the wards who may be lonely, feeling isolated and anxious and therefore in need of the sort of friendship which happens when a visitor is sensitive, a good listener – and has the luxury of being able to spend time with someone. ‘Such encounters definitely lead to a happier outlook that day – all part of the healing process.’
Louise Foote’s career began with work as a doctor’s receptionist. ‘I’m familiar with the health sector – and I love it.’ Other co-ordination positions followed and always volunteering has been threaded through her life. ‘I know how it enriches people. That’s probably why I now love working in this organising and training capacity.’
Proud of her multi-cultural team, Louise talks at length about their diversity of ages and backgrounds; she has many stories to tell. For example when a woman from Romania came forward to join the team, shy about her lack of English, Louise felt she had the qualities she always looks for – compassion, sensitivity, a bright smile, the ability to listen. ‘I emphasised that she could stay with her buddy for as long as it took for her to be confident. Then, one day when visiting a ward with her buddy, the patient in particularly need of companionship at the time, happened to be Romanian. Everyone was happy!’
Another plus was that this volunteer quickly made great strides with her English and was able to move on to full time employment.
Always aware of people’s motives, and always finding ways to build new communication pathways which acknowledge both the work of her team and make sure they are a force with which to be reckoned in the hospital, Louise Foote’s programme is dynamic and growing. It is adding memorable moments of value to the lives of thousands of people who pass through the hospital….and who cover all shades of health, wealth, anxiety and hope.