The most innovative volunteer programmes, projects and partnerships were recently recognised at our inaugural Volunteer Wellington Employee Volunteering Awards.

We established the Employee Volunteering Awards to recognise and promote excellence, and we hope to encourage even deeper collaboration between businesses and the community by spreading the word about the many inspirational stories, experiences and approaches we encountered.

The category winners were honoured at a special event, held during National Volunteer Week (15-24 June 2014) at KPMG. We now want to share their stories here.

Congratulations to MCLaSS: Multicultural Learning and Support Services and iSentia – winners of the Business and Community Partnership.

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Thinking caps on: a mix of iSentia volunteers and MCLaSS students

This award celebrates how business and community groups can come together in a spirit of partnership, and our judges agreed that the ongoing and mutually beneficial relationship between media intelligence company iSentia and not-for-profit MCLaSS really fits the bill.

MCLaSS provides free English classes and job-search support to migrants and refugees across the Wellington region, and for the last two years, employee volunteers from iSentia have been visiting beginner level classes on a weekly basis to provide conversation practice for students.

Socially-conscious firm iSentia was keen to find an opportunity where staff could make a direct difference to people’s lives – and given the writing and language focus of its work, assisting with the teaching of English was a perfect fit.

For MCLaSS, volunteer involvement greatly enhances the effectiveness of its programme delivery, and iSentia’s interest came at the right time – just as a similar longstanding arrangement with IBM was winding down.

For eight or nine weeks each term (32 – 36 weeks per year), between four and eight iSentia staff visit MCLaSS lessons for a thirty minute session. During these lessons, each volunteer works with a small group of two or three students, enabling them to intensively practice the language they have just covered.

Providing regular opportunities for learners to speak in English with a variety of people has a significant impact on building their confidence and increasing their fluency, even at this very low, beginner level. The friendly iSentia presence generates enthusiasm in the learners, and also exposes them to a range of accents.

Of course, the benefits are not one-sided. iSentia’s partnership coordinator Lizzie Hendy explained that there are many plusses for both the company and for individual staff: “It’s a great opportunity for the firm to give back to the community, and it gives staff the chance to bond outside of the workplace.

“Even though there is a cost, in terms of a few staff hours out of work each week, it has paid itself back in the enjoyment that everyone gets out of it, and it spreads our name and brand which is good too.”

The staff member who initiated the partnership has now moved on from iSentia, but the enthusiasm among staff has not diminished. In fact, the association between the two organisations has grown and deepened over time, as volunteers, students and teachers have built relationships with one another.

MCLaSS teachers report that students both enjoy and benefit from these small group interactions with native speakers. As one explained: “Students’ eyes would light up as they found that they could communicate with these volunteers, who always responded warmly.”

And the iSentia volunteers describe similarly positive experiences. One participant, Venessa Russell-Steele, commented: “I love the “light bulb” moments and share a real pride in the students’ successes. Their enthusiasm is contagious and I always leave feeling uplifted. The time is always up too quickly.”

With positive outcomes and enthusiasm on both sides, this is clearly a strong corporate-community partnership worth celebrating, and one set to endure for years to come.

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