Volunteers: everyone wins!

Pre-CANference 2, in preperation for Ellen's and my break-out session on using volunteers in your CA clinic, I surveyed the volunteers at PCA.  Here are excerpts from their responses:

How has volunteering (at PCA) made a difference in your life?

  • I knew I wanted to volunteer somewhere in Philly, and preferably in the community health sector, but hadn't come across anywhere that felt like a good fit other than the work-exchange program at Studio 34 yoga. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January 2009 I was meant to volunteer with a local group distributing food as part of the National Day of Service initiative. I realized only that day that the group was actually a religious organization and I felt uncomfortable knowing a faith message would be coming along with the free food. Dismayed, I backed out and lamented that I hadn't found a better match for my values or interests. Then I thought of PCA. I thought of how inclusive it is, how supportive it felt just to be in that physical space, how sympathetic I was to their goal of making health care affordable and accessible. I thought of Ellen and Korben: of their dedication, compassion, humility, and vision. I thought of acupuncture and the holistic philosophy behind it and the gentleness of its practice. Why couldn't I find a place like *there* to volunteer? Here was an organization really doing something for its community, and for me. I wanted to be part of that positive force for community and individual transformation and healing. I sent Korben a bashful email. I had no idea that the individuals behind the front desk were volunteers; their courteous professionalism led me astray. I told Korben how I felt about the clinic and that I wished to give back somehow, in whatever small way would be useful. Did he need help cleaning, maybe? I was sure I could scrub floors and toilets.. I really didn't know what to suggest, feared I was imposing enthusiasm where no outlet for it existed. I felt silly and delighted when he asked me if the work-exchange program interested me. I still feel a little like a thief to receive treatments in exchange for my time, but I appreciate them immensely. Mostly, I still feel honored to be a small part of such a valuable, committed organization. I work full-time and started going back to school recently, a new time commitment that's required me to cut back on a lot of other activities. But not coming here! Being a volunteer feels as soothing, nourishing, and restorative to me as most of my treatments.

  • I was diagnosed with a chronic condition this summer while I was in Asheville and told I needed acupuncture to treat it. Luckily, they have community clinics there but they don't have a volunteer opportunities. Even though each session was fairly cheap, keeping up with my treatment meant hundreds of dollars each month and my vacation quickly became a monastic adventure in eating cheaply and not going anywhere that cost money. Being able to volunteer at the clinic in Philly means I can afford to get treatment as long as I need it. Also since I've been staffing I've come to appreciate the environment and the sense of peace and healing in the space. It feels good to be part of that, especially in a city where the pace is so hectic.

  • It makes me feel good to be even a teeny part of this truly extraordinary community.  I love PCA both as a space and as a concept, and have so much respect for everyone who created it and keeps it running. I like meeting and interacting with the acupuncturists, the patients, and the other volunteers, and learning more about West Philly.  For me PCA is a truly healing place, not just because of the needles, but because of the warmth and acceptance that I think are its special hallmarks.   Even when I'm feeling particularly anxious, I start to calm down almost as soon as I walk in the door--I know some people are doubt the effects of collective healing energy, but it seems to work for me.

  • Initially, I was simply thankful for being able to take care of myself regardless of how poor I am.  Then it extended to feeling a part of something beyond just myself.

  • Acupuncture definitely changed my life. And volunteering made acupuncture more accessible as well as plugging me into community wellness space, which was very rewarding.

  • volunteering here gave me some purpose when I first moved to a new city, plugged me in to a wonderful and caring community, has provided me a number of great friends, and (what I first noticed) helped my healing process deeply. it is something I preach to my frinds like gospel, and have had a few conversions thus far smile

  • I LOVE PCA because it is a peaceful place to be. The staff is very knowledgeable and helpful with healthcare questions. PCA is one of the safest places in my life and I have appreciated being part of the community here. I recommend many people to the PCA and encourage them to volunteer and get in here regularly!!

  • volunteering has added another layer of happiness to my life.  i love connecting with the community in this atmosphere, it's many of the same regulars from the cafe, but also a large contingent of people with whom paths i might not otherwise cross.  i also enjoy the obvious satisfaction and joy the clients experience after their treatments.



What are your thoughts on having volunteers staff a community acupuncture clinic?

  • It's awesome.  Sometimes there are minor headaches (which I'm sure you deal with more than anyone) because not everyone does everything the same way, but on the whole it seems to work very smoothly. I think the minor glitches are worth it--having the place staffed by volunteers who are also being treated is also part of what "community" means.

  • Having volunteers is [a] great way to build community. It also allows community acupuncture to operate at a lower cost than employing a staff. I benefit from volunteering because I get treated for free and can come more often.

  • I think that having volunteers staff the clinic enhances the spirit of community--we have the opportunity to feel like we're part of something dynamic and that the work we do has a tangible effect on the clinic.

  • I think it makes a lot of sense, and it seems PCA has a great system to make it work beautifully.... perhaps confidentiality could be an issue?  and I'm sure it’s not always a dream for the coordinators but.......I love it.   A lot.  :)

  • I think the volunteers create a very sustainable system for PCA. Bartering also seems to be a West Philly tradition...having volunteers keeps the business more casual and comfortable for its acupuncturists and patients. People come to work [volunteer] here only a few hours a week, which makes the experience fun and social. It's also very good (and free) PR for a business. All of the volunteers talk about their time and experience here to friends in the community who may or may not know about the place.

  • I think it is difficult to express what a vital asset the volunteer model is to the community sense of the clinic.  This feeling of community is expressed not only in the wonderful, peaceful space, kind, caring acupuncturists and community setting, but also in the care and visible commitment that the volunteer model adds.  Whether a patient, volunteer or employee, the system truly highlights the reliance that we all share with one another.  I think it may also be a source of comfort for new patients, who can come with a lot of reservations about such a counter-inuitive system (yer gonna stick what, where!?) of medicine (based on their understanding of our current western system).  Knowing that the volunteers are, well, volunteers, may lessen the general sense of anxiety that a number of new patients have about the process.  Needless to say, one of the great things about volunteering is that we get to watch people come in, worked up from the world and wobble out all blissed out and happy.  This is clearly because of the kindness and skill of Ellen, Sarah and Billy, but at least we think we can help as a first encounter for the patients.

The volunteer system also seems to be part of the basis that the clinic is run on, the philosophy of affordable, progressive treatment for all.  I have been very happy to give my time to the cause.

In addition, as a business owner (and former employee of many businesses), I have great respect for the model that PCA has set up to assist the volunteer staff.  PCA has created a VERY intuitive, streamlined set of processes that really makes the volunteer experience easy to approach and use successfully.  It is tough to overstate the value of the simplicity of the systems that are in place, from the online reservations, to the ease of use of all patient records, financial recording, etc.  PCA has done a great job in making it extremely easy to find instructions (if needed) to execute pretty much any task that is expected of the volunteer (nice work, Zem).  The schedule for volunteers allows them to donate their time without feeling overwhelmed by the commitment, the setup for communication between volunteers and staff is, again, very intuitive and efficient.

Overall, I have been very impressed with the people, the system and the general feeling of the clinic that I have had the opportunity share and to help in some way.

This story was posted on December 11 2011 by Zem.

Comments

  • December 11 2011 at 12:22 PM
    Jessica Feltz writes:

    My volunteer recruiting spiel *before* reading the above comments: “I need a front desker…Really?  You *want* to do it?...You know, I can’t pay you…You still want to?  You have to come in *every week* for at least 3 months for this to work…Really?  You’re willing to make that committment?  Wow.  (moment of shocked awe)  Thanks.”

    My volunteer recruiting spiel *after* reading them: “I need a front desker!  Yes, this is an amazing opportunity to connect with the community, help spread the community acupuncture revolution, and get lots of free treatments for yourself!!  This is a highly-sought-after position, so sell yourself to me!  Your heart will break open, tears will spill, and you will fall in love with lots of new friends!!  If you do well, I might even *let you* stay at the desk for more than your three month probationary period…”

    ZEM TOUR!  THE CANFERENCE THAT COMES TO YOU!!  Get your city on the tour now…

      0 likes
  • December 19 2011 at 5:25 PM
    Darlene writes:

    I have been using paid receptionists to stay in compliance with the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and minimum wage laws. Do you have any suggestions for transitioning to a mostly volunteer staff for POCA member clinics? How do you handle cutting people’s hours or letting them go who have come to depend on you for regular income? Plus, in my experience, volunteers tend to think it’s okay to call in sick at the last minute. What then? Still very skeptical about this as a long term solution to staffing.

      0 likes
  • December 21 2011 at 3:25 PM
    Spartacus writes:

    Darlene I’ve been wondering about this in a similar fasion.  http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs71.htm This is the link to the FLSA info on interns/volunteers.  I definitely feel like I want any volunteers at my clinic (working on getting that going now) to have a meaningful skill-building experience in volunteering.  Especially because there is such high unemployment right now I feel like every little bit of skill or work experience unemployed folks can get helps.  It sounds like volunteers cannot displace regular employees from what I’ve read.

      0 likes
  • January 4 2012 at 12:45 PM
    Zem writes:

    Darlene and Kim,
    I’m sorry—for some reason I’m only just now seeing your comments.  I’m planning to write another blog in the near future about volunteers.  Hopefully I can address some of your questions and concerns.

    Zem

      0 likes
  • January 4 2012 at 9:28 PM
    Demetra writes:

    With regards to the above comments, volunteers in POCA clinics are members of POCA’s multi-stakeholder co-operative. The beauty of the co-op structure is that it allows the contributions of patients and community members to be accounted for; to count as investments in the clinics and the community acupuncture movement. For much more detail, check out Lisa’s article on Patient Investing in the Little Red Book, No. 3!

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