Volunteering provides great opportunities to gain skills, expand one’s network and have a positive impact on the community. And in the case of Shameika Rose, it was also the gateway to employment at VHA. Shameika started volunteering with VHA’s Child and Family Support program in 2018 after learning about it at a college fair. “I wanted to give my time and see if I could help someone,” she says. “I was an early childhood teacher so I love children. When I read up on VHA, I said, ‘Ooh this is nice: child and family support. Let me go and try to give my time to a mother and child who need it.’ ”
The Child and Family Support volunteer program places volunteers with families in need of respite from child care. Families who qualify for this program are below a particular income level and have other challenges such as recent surgeries or other medical issues and limited local support systems. “We want to provide an environment where volunteers are engaged, challenged and rewarded,” says Dawn Ashford, VHA’s Volunteer Coordinator. “The opportunities are hands-on and our volunteers are usually able to see their impact immediately, which is really what drives more engagement. They want to make a positive difference in people’s lives and we help to facilitate that.”
Child and Family Support volunteers spend three hours with their client once a week for 12 weeks. Volunteers must pass an interview and screening process before being placed with a family and assignments are based on the family’s proximity to the volunteer, making it easier for volunteers to get to the client’s home each week.
Once Shameika was accepted to the program, “My role as a volunteer was to come into the home, and try to give support,” she explains. The role demands flexibility and emotional intelligence. “If the mother is not well, I can attend to the child so the mother can rest, and play with and feed the child. I also provide moral support to the mother. If she’s depressed, I will try to find ways to help her, and even pass on the info to my supervisor at VHA so they can look into other resources to take care of her.”
With her prior childcare experience and her dedication to the role, Shameika was a natural—and her exceptional skill didn’t go unnoticed by her clients. “She was amazing to be honest,” says Rubina, one of the parents Shameika supported. A mother of four young children, one of whom has complex medical needs, Rubina was referred to VHA by her social worker at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital.
“I was told ‘we have a volunteer available for you’ and I was really not sure what a volunteer could do for me. When someone isn’t paid, they’re not always dedicated to their work. [But] Shameika did a great job. The way she spent time with my child and supported me and my older daughter was amazing, to be honest.”
While Shameika played with Rubina’s two-year-old son, it gave Rubina the freedom to do other things. “When Shameika arrived, my son knew this was his time to play and sit down with her,” says Rubina. “I could do my work and do something for myself… and have peace of mind there’s someone there that my son likes and he’s comfortable with. It was a wonderful experience.”
The consistently positive feedback about her performance made its way to Shameika’s supervisor, prompting a call. “[She] asked me if I would like to work for VHA. I was surprised. I said, “They have jobs?!” and she said, ‘Yes! You’re so great and wonderful, I would like you to be part of VHA.’ I was excited and said, ‘I am ready!’ ”
Shameika made the transition from volunteer to full-time Child and Family Support Worker in the summer of 2019. She is still surprised at the speed with which she shifted to a paid role, but she loves the work. As a volunteer, she was able to care for children ages 0-4, support the mother as a listener and help her find resources in the community to support herself and the family. “As an employee I can do a lot more. I give the mom support; I bathe, feed, and play with the child; and depending on the physicalness of the mother, I can help around the home where possible.”
Shameika is grateful to VHA for recognizing her skills.
“Sometimes it’s not only about knowledge, it’s about experience,” she says. “I recommend to others that are interested…to volunteer at VHA. And if they are looking to work in that field, a job at VHA may also be possible if they are willing to continue on that path.”
For Rubina, who was once skeptical about volunteers, her VHA experience has changed her mind. “I feel that VHA is doing an amazing job with the volunteer work. They have great workers. I was really feeling low when Shameika joined us, and she really was an angel to me at that time. I feel like whenever I get a chance, when my kids grow up, I would definitely become a volunteer myself because I know the impact it has on the family.”
To learn more about Shameika’s story, please watch her video: https://bit.ly/38CSWB7.