There are many things we love in life. Personally, I love chocolate, but I opt for quality over quantity, at my age. And I love my children—but I didn’t ever want more than three (except for my daughters-in-law joining the family officially this summer and perhaps another in the future.) I love my dog, Tessa, but we have a one-to-one relationship and I have never wanted a little friend for her. I am her little (or not so little friend.)
But at Assist, we love our volunteers. But we love them so much that we want more. We have the capacity to absorb them into our organization, we have room in our collective heart to appreciate them, and we know that we are all stronger together.
This week (April 24th to April 30th) is Volunteer Appreciation Week. Assist is very grateful for the work our volunteers do and the gifts they bring. I wrote a report to the Assist board this week stating that Assist is a tiny organization with a staff complement of 2.6 FTE, but we punch above our weight through the work of our incredible volunteers.
So how do we love our volunteers? Let me count the ways.
First, we love our peer support volunteers. We have 130 fully trained volunteers plus 32 who have received what we call our Level 1 training, the best we could do during the pandemic when we couldn’t gather for in-person training that has to be interactive to be fully effective.
Thank you, peer support volunteers! We wish that you could engage with a lawyer needing assistance at least once per year, but we make around 50 matches, and we look for a volunteer with relevant life experience for the issue the lawyer or student is facing and other points of commonality. The more that we know about you, your life, and your practice, the easier it is for us to match you.
Eileen and I will be setting up virtual coffee meetings to get to know all our peer support volunteers. Or call us if you just want to chat or provide an update!
This year, a team of 85 volunteers called 540 articling students as part of our Articling Student Initiative to ensure that articling students know that there is a community of lawyers who care about them to and that they know how to contact Assist for help if they need it (or to join our proactive programing.)
Thank you, team—you did and do great work!
This year, we communicated to students through a holiday card and had a much better rate of understanding about Assist and our initiative among the student community. We had a partner who is sort of a volunteer who helped make this happen: ToppanMerrill which printed our holiday cards and message for free! Thank you, Warren, and your staff.
Our peer support volunteers, with all levels of training, also assist with our Assist Community programs. Our Red Mug Coffee Circle team of senior lawyer peer support volunteers staff our discussion and support group each Monday at noon. We reached our three-year anniversary of the online RMCC program this month, and we have assisted more than 80 lawyers and students at differing points of their career journeys.
We love working with our new to Canada lawyers—we learn from them as they learn from us, and many of our “graduates” have now been called to the bar here and are training to be peer support volunteers.
Thank you to everyone involved with Red Mug Coffee Circles! You have helped create one of most welcoming communities within our profession, truly living Assist’s vision and mission.
Yoga and Mindfulness are also part of our Assist Community program, led by a team of seven incredible lawyer-yogis (and one judge-yogi). Assist’s yoga program predates Assist Community, which was launched in 2018. Yoga was rebranded and became a signature event in Calgary, and we had just started our Edmonton program when the pandemic hit. Yoga moved online, and our Edmonton instructor pioneered our fifteen-minute mindfulness program.
Communities built themselves around these activities, even during the darkest days of the pandemic as we logged in online. We have been able to relaunch in-person yoga in Calgary and are currently recruiting for an Edmonton lawyer-yogi—please let us know if you know someone….
Thank you to our lawyer-yogis!
Our Parents Practicing Law team is led by volunteers and is supported by lawyers across the province who share their experience and strategies in a group setting. Thank you to our PPL committee members and to our panelists!
We launched an Elder Care webinar program in 2023 as we heard from many lawyers trying to balance their careers with caring for elderly or disabled family members. We will be continuing this program this spring and fall. Thanks to everyone who helped make our initial webinar a success!
Assist is a registered charity, which means that we can issue tax receipts if Canadians donate to us. Many lawyers set up monthly donations using online platform Canada Helps, but many others respond to our fundraising campaigns as well. We appreciate all of you, too.
But we couldn’t fundraise without the incredible and creative work of our Funding Committee which takes our fundraising budget and fleshes it out with engaging activities, like our Silent Auctions over the last two years. We hope to return to hosting Hand to Hand events (perhaps with a live auction component in 2024) but will focus on a Tell Two Friends campaign for 2023—watch for more details. Thank you, Funding Committee and Silent Auction Committee members!
Local volunteer committees plan Walks for Wellness in their communities. Before the pandemic (BP, if that is a thing?), we had seven cities holding Walks for Wellness. We struggled to find ways of walking safely together in 2020 and 2021, and in 2022, we had four cities signing up to hold Walks for Wellness. Thank you to all the volunteers who made this happen!
Other volunteers help us deliver educational programs to firms and legal organizations. They bring their perspectives and experiences. We hear how much lawyers appreciate hearing from lawyers who have walked difficult paths and found their ways back. In 2022, Assist volunteers served as panelists at the Well-Being Summit, jointly delivered by the Law Society of Alberta, CBA-Alberta, ALIA and Assist. They did an excellent job, and we are very grateful for their openness and bravery.
In 2021-22, a team of EDI-sensitive lawyers gathered together as our EDI Pre-Committee, helping to scope out a workplan for a new EDI Committee. They brought incredible sensitivity and knowledge, and we look forward to working with them more. Thank you, EDI Pre-Committee Members!
Assist is overseen by a group of wonderful volunteers, many of whom have been committed Assist supporters for years. One of our directors has served on our board since 1996, when Assist was incorporated, and we value the experience and service of all of our long-tenure board members. Thank you, Board!
Did you know that you can learn more about Assist’s Board on our website? Visit https://lawyersassist.ca/about/our-board/ to learn more about our directors.
This blog has the subtitle “we want more!” This is because we are almost always recruiting volunteers so that we can continue to respond to needs in the Alberta legal community.
Here are some upcoming opportunities:
- Funding Committee: we are seeking dynamic committee members to help us plan and implement fundraising events as well as committee members for Hand-to-Hand committees in both Edmonton and Calgary for 2024. Our need is greatest for the Funding Committee itself, but if event planning is more your jam, we can put you to work. We will be circulating job descriptions in our newsletter soon.
- Walks for Wellness Committees: we have small committees in each community where Walks for Wellness are held. We had seven cities hosting Walks before the pandemic and, in 2022, we were back up to four: Edmonton, Calgary, Grande Prairie and Medicine Hat. If you are a lawyer in those communities—or in any other community—and you want to help spread news about lawyer well-being, please contact us.
Assist’s Board will be implementing an EDI strategy once our EDI Committee is up and running, so we did not canvass for new directors this year. However, we have the ability to add up to three new directors over the course of the year. If you are interested in learning more about Assist’s board, please call me.
We value our volunteers and want to ensure that all volunteers have engaging and rewarding experiences. The more volunteers we have, the more we can ensure that volunteers can balance their commitments with us with those to their workplaces, families, and communities—we do not want to burnout our volunteers. This is why we say that we love our volunteers but want more: we want the best volunteer experience for these wonderful lawyers and students.
And if you have ideas about new programs or ways of supporting Alberta lawyers, please chat with us. We will see if we can find a way to put your ideas into action.
Together, we are stronger. It was true during the pandemic and continues to be true. Thank you, volunteers!