By Annabel Cooper
The pandemic made day-to-day operations for many of the island’s non-profit organisations particularly difficult. While financial donations are always gratefully received, many charities also rely on volunteers donating their time and expertise. Now that restrictions are easing, we speak to some of the organisations reliant on people’s physical presence about the opportunities they offer for giving back to the community
BIG BROTHERS BIG SISTERS OF BERMUDA
“Everyone has something to offer a young person”, said Patrina O’Connor-Paynter, managing director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Bermuda (BBBS). “They have a skillset, a story to share, an experience, a job. People are artists, people can bake and cook, everyone has something that they can pass onto the next generation.”
BBBS provides quality mentoring relationships to young people in need, helping them to reach their full potential. It does this by matching children, Littles, over the age of 5, with an adult mentor, a Big. A little brother is matched with either a male mentor or a husband and a wife team, and little sisters are matched with female mentors.
“We’re always in need of volunteers, especially male volunteers,” continued Ms O’Connor-Paynter. “We want someone willing to listen, think outside the box, a sense of humour; someone who can communicate with children and someone with empathy. Also, be reliable. If you say you want to do something for or with them, show up. If you can’t, call them and let them know. A lot of the children experience disappointment in their lives, so having someone reliable is important.”
Initially, the time commitment is three hours a week, but after that she said the relationship tends to develop into their own schedule. “As long as you’re communicating, the relationship depends on them – the Big, the Little and the parent.”
Considerable effort is put into matching Bigs and Littles with similar interests and Ms O’Connor-Paynter knows a match has been successful when she sees a friendship has developed. “You can see the interaction. They might have a code or have a laugh. When you see a family member interacting with the Big like they’ve known them all their lives, that’s really touching,” she said.
While they ask that a Big commit for at least a year, many friendships, she said, last a lifetime. “I’ve seen Bigs be in their Littles weddings.”
If you are unable to commit to being a Big, there are other opportunities to support BBBS. “While we do focus on one-on-one matches, we also focus on experiences,” continued Ms O’Connor-Paynter. “Come in and have a conversation with me and we can figure out something you can do to give back to young people.”
People can contribute to, or participate in, one of BBBS’ group mentoring activities or join one of their committees including fund development, marketing, or fundraising and events.
“These are just children that need that extra person in their lives to help support them,” she said. “We’re helping people get closer to reaching their full potential.”
www.bbbs.bm/volunteer/, Tel: 232-2802
Hidden away on four acres in Warwick is a fully-accessible, part manicured, part wild green space which is home to a therapeutic riding centre, activity centre, petting zoo and playground. WindReach is designed for the benefit of children and adults with a variety of physical and intellectual abilities.
Like the facility, the volunteering opportunities are also varied. Some that only require an hour a week, some a full day. Some specialised, some less so, but there is something for almost everyone. “We have opportunities that are animal based, we have opportunities that are environment based, we have opportunities that are therapeutic riding based,” explained executive director, Tina Nash.
Up until March 2020, WindReach also had volunteers who helped out with their adult day programme, for those living with dementia and Alzheimer’s. While this was put on hold because of the high-risk nature of this group, at the time we speak, Ms Nash is hoping to open this opportunity up again imminently.
“We feel we can start opening up working with our seniors and that can be reading with them, gardening with them or just social interaction,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity to volunteer for seniors who have given their best years to our community and now are on the other end and needing support, encouragement, love, tenderness and care.”
WindReach is the ideal place for people who love animals and the environment, particularly for those experienced with horses. Their therapeutic riding programme needs side-walkers, leaders and people who can help take care of the horses.
“People who volunteer in the therapeutic riding programme need to be comfortable around those large animals,” said Ms Nash.
“We also have our animal therapy zone, and those animals – sheep, goats, donkey, miniature pony, rabbits – are part of the life skills and animal therapy programme. These animals require care, love and attention.” She explained that while they have specialist volunteers who tend to the health and safety of all the animals, they also rely on volunteers for the everyday care including feeding, watering and mucking out.
Basic level training is provided by WindReach.
“Our first volunteers show up at around 6.45am,” she said. “They don’t just show up to come and take care of the therapeutic animals. They bring food and they bring snacks and apples. These volunteers are really committed and they love animals.”
For those who just like working outside, WindReach also needs people who are happy to ‘get their fingers green’ helping out with the landscaping and general maintenance of the property.
In a recent quality of life survey conducted on willing volunteers, Ms Nash said that 78 per cent admitted that volunteering at WindReach improved the quality of their life by ‘very much’ or ‘an extreme amount’.
WindReach is a “magical space”, she said. “Amazing things happen here every single day.”
www.windreachbermuda.org/ volunteer, Tel: 238-2469
MEALS ON WHEELS
Established in Bermuda in 1976, Meals on Wheels prepares and delivers freshly cooked meals to people who are unable to provide a nourishing meal for themselves or have no one else to do this for them.
Currently serving 180 people, Meals on Wheels relies on volunteers to work in the kitchen, to dispatch and deliver, and to provide administrative support.
“In terms of volunteers, we need seven a day in the kitchen; three a day just pot washing and we’re always looking for those categories,” said Meals on Wheels president, Peter Smith.
The organisation has a professional chef, who runs the kitchen and is experienced in preparing the specialised food required such as diabetic, renal, vegetarian, gluten free or low salt meals, as well as regular diets. Two or three of the kitchen volunteers, however, “really need to know what they’re doing,” he continued. “They need to be trained on the equipment. There’s a learning curve. It shouldn’t take too long.”
Meals on Wheels serves people from Somerset to St George’s, which means drivers are critical. There are 17 routes, each with around 10 to 15 recipients. “We give them plenty of detailed information and once they’ve done the route once, it’s pretty straight forward.”
Prior to the pandemic, people delivering the meals were encouraged to speak to the recipients. “They went into the house, sometimes set up the lunch, had a quick chat and sometimes that was the only time they chatted to someone,” he explained. Covid has changed this and now they have to leave the meal on the doorstep. “We do, however, always endeavour to confirm that the client is safe and well, and to follow-up if there is any doubt.”
If a volunteer ever comes across a situation they are concerned about, there is always someone in the office they can speak to, who can contact the next of kin, if necessary.
Volunteers are needed for a few hours each day, and the time commitment varies depending on the job you do. A pot washer works from 10am – 1pm, for example and a deliverer from 11am until around 1 or 1.30pm.
Mr Smith asks that volunteers be “willing to learn the ropes” and be prepared to commit to one day a week or even only one day a fortnight, but be able to commit to that day for at least three months.
“It’s a worthy cause”, encourages Mr Smith. “It’s obviously helping people who clearly need help.”
www.mealsonwheels.bm/mow/index.php/volunteer/, Tel: 236-1815