Alberta Lawyers' Assistance Society

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The Value of One, The Power of Many

The Value of One, The Power of Many
 

Do you remember your volunteer experience? And why you did it? And how it made you feel?

My first experience volunteering came about when I was in grade 8. I missed school one day when there had been a presentation about volunteering at a local hospital. A couple of my friends wanted to sign up. The volunteer role was technically called “Volunteen” but was colloquially known as Candy Striper due to the red striped uniforms. I had read books where teen characters were Candy Stripers, and without having heard the presentation about this commitment actually was, I  wanted that title and uniform. The joys of being thirteen….

The uniform didn’t line up with my idealized vision—I thought it would have been more of a flattering pinafore or shirtwaist—but there were male and female Volunteens, so the uniform was a simple unstructured jacket, worn over your street clothes. My mom was a nurse, back in the days when nurses wore starched caps signifying the nursing school they had attended, as well as crisp white dresses. The shoes were pretty ugly, but the rest of the outfit was pretty cool. I have to admit that the idea of wearing a smart-looking uniform carried a lot of weight with me.

My sister and I had been raised that we could be anything we wanted, except nurses, so I wasn’t interested in learning more about hospitals and nursing. I wasn’t especially interested in sitting and chatting with lonely patients, so it is hard to say why I signed up apart from a cool name and the potential for a pretty outfit. And once I started, I learned that what I liked doing was running errands for the unit—going to the lab and mysterious places with names like Nuclear Medicine.

I served as a Volunteen every Saturday morning until I started high school, and it was a good experience. I liked being a helper.

As adults, sometimes we volunteer in less structured roles, arising out of our kids’ activities or communities we are part of, but sometimes we volunteer in highly structured roles. In Calgary, if you ask people about their volunteer experience, you may hear about the 1988 Olympics (and many people still have their uniforms), and I remember the volunteer efforts behind the Commonwealth Games and the World University Games growing up in Edmonton.

If you ask people why they volunteer, you will likely hear a variation on liking to help or a commitment to supporting a particular project. Why do we volunteer? Because it makes us feel good and it connects us to community.

This week is National Volunteer Week, and I can’t let this week pass without acknowledging our volunteers and supporters.

Assist could not function without its volunteers and supporters. Full stop. There would be no peer support program, no lawyers leading education and awareness activities, no weekly mindfulness and yoga, no Assist board to provide strategy and oversight, no Walks for Wellness. We would exist solely to manage the professional services contract (and I doubt anyone would have been interested in the job).

The theme of National Volunteer Week this year is The Value of One, The Power of Many. This fits well with Assist’s COVID slogan “We are stronger together,” and we are a “no one gets left behind” organization. Every lawyer, articling student and law student is important to us, has value and worth, and deserves respect and kindness.

During the pandemic, we have been “going it alone” a lot more than usual. This has taken its toll on many of us. We miss being part of a larger organization or community. We worry that we, as individuals, are powerless in the wake of a pandemic and life-altering lockdowns. But when we join together, we provide and receive support, and we discover that we have more power than we realized. This is the Power of Many.

I would like to thank all of our volunteers and supporters.

I can’t name everyone, and not all volunteers choose to be in the public eye, but I would like to tell you how volunteers enable Assist to support lawyers across the province.

First, the group that most lawyers know about: our peer support volunteers. Some of our peer support volunteers have been involved with Assist since its inception. Two of these volunteers attended our little online 25th birthday party on Monday. Thank you to the brave 12 step lawyers who took initiative to ensure that every lawyer and student in Alberta had access to professional counselling at no cost.

It is amazing that we have volunteers who have stayed with us for many years. Their dedication to the cause of lawyer well-being has not wavered. And our new volunteers are energetic, engaged and enthusiastic.

We currently have more than 130 peer support volunteers with experience in a wide range of issues they have personally encountered and can provide support on. However, we always need more. Some issues are very specific, and we are disappointed when someone seeking peer support cannot be matched. In these cases, we look to someone who has been through a similar issue, or perhaps supported a family through, to provide peer support so we don’t have to turn anyone away. Peer support volunteers either have experience in an issue, or an insight into it. Talking to someone with insight is very helpful.

If you are interested in becoming a peer support volunteer, please email Eileen and get your name on our list for upcoming training. We would like to do our Level 1 Introduction to Peer Support training before summer. This training is via Zoom, which we hope to supplement it with an in-person workshop once we are able to gather again, as some skills are better learned via role-playing and interaction. Email Eileen at program-manager@lawyersassist.ca!

We will welcome all volunteers, but we have one experience category where we have come up empty on two occasions: female sole practitioners who have taken maternity leaves recently. And it makes sense. If you are a female sole practitioner with a young family, you already have two full-time commitments, and you may not feel that you can take on a volunteer commitment as well. We have been able to work our networks to find someone to fill this role, but it is definitely an experience category where we want to increase our bench-strength!

This year, more than 80 of our peer support volunteers participated in our telephone outreach to articling students. While we had planned this initiative before the pandemic hit, this callout was even more important since many articling students were isolated. We are wrapping up the follow-up calls to all students (over 550 of them!) Volunteers chose how many students to take on, so it was anywhere from one to twenty, and all they had to do is place a personal phone call to an articling student to ask how they were doing and ensure that the student is aware of the support we can provide. Think about how an isolated and stressed articling student might feel when they receive a call from a friendly lawyer who says they are here to help!

Thank you, peer support volunteers. You make a difference in the life of a lawyer or student just by being there, being yourself, and applying your peer support training. You are our lifeblood, and we value you (even if you aren’t getting calls at any given time—your day will come.)

We also have volunteers on our fundraising committee, and they are doing amazing things. We are seeing the results of our Administrative Professionals Day giftbox initiative, and Assist will receive more than $3500 in donations. If you missed out this year, watch for our promotion next year starting in January. And if you are interested in learning more about BoxSMITH, the purveyor who is donating a portion of all purchase prices to us, visit https://boxsmith.ca/.

This year, we also holding an amazing silent auction! We have a core team of volunteers who are coordinating everything from finding donations and sponsorships to designing our platform. But we can always use more help, and if this appeals to you, please let us know. One easy, no-commitment way of volunteering is by finding silent auction items. Not everyone is comfortable cold-calling businesses—we get that. But if you know someone who has a business and would like the Alberta legal community to see an example of their product, it is a win-win proposition.

And our final fundraising event of the year will unfold in August or September, ideally once restrictions are lifted and we are able to have in-person events. This event will feature a week of activities which individuals can participate in online, like mindfulness, yoga and a cycling event, followed by a weekend tournament—perhaps cricket, which would be new for many of us! We will need more volunteers (and, yes, we have a backup plan in case the in-person portion cannot proceed) so if being part of an event that focuses on healthy living and collaboration appeals to you, please call us! If you have experience organizing tournaments, let us know.

I want to thank our fundraising team—great people doing great things for a great cause!

We also have a team of volunteer yoga instructors who teach our yoga classes and mindfulness breaks. They are all lawyers whose love for yoga has inspired them to invest themselves in a gruelling certification program. Danica, Diana, Deni and Amanda—big thanks to you! You are showing that lawyers (and judges) can manage their professional careers while pursuing healthy and inspirational pastimes.

Finally, we have our board members, 12 individuals who provide oversight and develop strategic direction for Assist. While our board only meets three times per year, board members serve as my sounding board and I couldn’t manage without them. So, thank you, Assist board members. You provide wonderful support and guidance.

Fun fact: we have four volunteers who are peer supporters, fundraising committee members and directors, so here is a special shout out to Karmen Masson, Jenny McMordie, Glen Hickerson and Loretta Bouwmeester!

One great thing about volunteer initiatives is that we can always find room for a few more volunteers. If you want to be part of a group of lawyers (and students) who care, join us. You will be part of a movement to humanize the practice of law. As individuals, just one person, we can make a difference. But when we unite together as a group of volunteers, we have the power to effect change.

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Next week, you are invited to Assist’s Annual General Meeting . We will conduct our annual business (accepting our financial statements reviewed pro bono by MNP LLP, appointing our auditor and electing our directors) and we will present Assist’s Annual Report visually. Details for RSVPing are at the top of this newsletter.

Normally, we serve snacks, but we are unable to do so, and being a not-for-profit that operates on a tight budget, we do not have the funds to deliver snack and beverage packages to you. Next year, we hope to have a more hospitable AGM, with the opportunity to attend in-person in both Edmonton and Calgary, and online from wherever you are.

And the following week (May 3 to 7th) is Lawyer Well-Being Week. We will host an activity each day to reflect well-being principles.

You can volunteer (on an unstructured, one-time basis) by bringing simple well-being activities into your workplace during Lawyer Well-Being Week. And while it is called Lawyer Well-Being Week, it is important for everyone in legal workplaces to be well since stress is inherent in legal work, regardless of the position you play. Please invite everyone to mindfulness and yoga—every week!
 
Watch our social media for updates about our activities -- some will be at noon and others can happen whenever you have time.

Thank you to all of you who take the time to read our newsletter and blog each week. We couldn’t do what we do without your quiet support and presence.

Have a wonderful end to National Volunteer Work. Together we are all stronger.
 
Loraine