Canadian Red Cross PEI, 29 Paramont Dr., Charlottetown – June 2017
When the Canadian Red Cross asked for help for the construction of a new building that would better serve to help Islanders in crisis, the local community and government pitched in to raise $1.2 million.
The new Red Cross building, which was finished in 2014, was the result of years of planning and fund raising by Red Cross staff and volunteers who know all about helping the local, national, and international community.
“We put together an amazing team of volunteers who led the charge on the fundraising for our new building,” says Laura Johnson-Montigny, Provincial Director, Canadian Red Cross PEI.
The new building’s Emergency Operations room, which links Red Cross phones across Canada, was used for the first time as a call centre for evacuees of the Fort MacMurray fires. PEI volunteers answered the phones, and two volunteers went to Fort MacMurray to help.
Laura's employment journey
Laura has worked full-time in her position for seven years. In addition, she currently teaches part-time in the Business faculty program at UPEI.
She has a Business degree and Masters in Education from Mount St. Vincent University in Nova Scotia. Before being hired by the Red Cross, she worked as the Executive Director for Katimavik Atlantic, a youth organization.
Paid positions at Red Cross PEI
There are five year-round paid positions:
- Provincial Director
- Community Coordinator of Health Programs
- Water Safety, Injury Prevention, and Disaster Management
- Health Equipment Loan Program (HELP) Technician
- Philanthropy Coordinator
- Two people from the national Red Cross organization work from the PEI site: the Director of Facilities for Canada, and an Information Technology Specialist.
In the summertime, the team grows to about 20, with water safety instructors and leaders who operate Canadian Red Cross Water Safety camps all over the Island.
Hiring needs: Summer student positions
About 20 summer students are hired to deliver water safety programs. “A good way to become qualified for that position is to shadow an instructor for a summer, and then we may hire them the next year.”
The importance of volunteers
Over 100 people volunteer with the Red Cross on PEI. “It is really humbling to see how dedicated the volunteers are,” says Laura. “They participate in many activities, including attending monthly meetings, taking part in training and deployments, and acting out scenarios rehearsing a disaster situation that could happen on PEI. It is very much about being prepared.
“Our committed group of volunteers is our added value. That is how we are able to survive. Without our volunteers, we would not be able to accomplish everything we do.”
Volunteers and paid staff work in a variety of services.
Swimming and water safety and injury prevention
“This is the 72nd year for water safety day camps on PEI,” says Laura. “The Red Cross Water Safety program began first on PEI and then expanded across Canada. Over 700 Island children participate in the program every summer across PEI.”
A Coordinator is hired for the summer to administer the water safety program. She hires the students who deliver the program, and travels to camps across PEI and delivers week-long water safety programs.
“Chair Ladies” in communities across PEI help support the students who deliver for the Red Cross water safety program. “Some of those volunteers have been with us for 30 to 50 years, which is amazing,” says Laura.
The Coordinator also oversees the organization’s first aid and water safety instruction providers. After taking Red Cross training, people can become certified to teach Red Cross Water Safety and operate as a private business, third-party providers. About 18 third-party providers on PEI teach Water Safety, First Aid, and WHMIS.
Emergency and Disaster Services
“We have a wonderful team of volunteers on PEI and across Canada who run our disaster management program,” says Laura. The disaster team includes a team leader, three supervisors, and a team of 40 Island-wide. The volunteer team is on call 24/7.
For incidents where more than 10 people are affected, they set up a reception centre in the training area of this building. Volunteers bring the people here, set up stations, do needs assessments, and provide transportation back to their accommodations.
“The services we provide in disaster management are food, accommodations, and clothing. We also do registration and reception for larger-scale disasters. We have agreements with hotels, restaurants, pharmacists, clothing stores across PEI to provide goods and services. We provide these services within the first 72 hours of the disaster, so that people impacted can get back on their feet after they lose everything. We give out comfort kits with a blanket, and toiletries, so they can get clean and feel safe while they figure out their next move.”
First Aid and CPR
“We train the trainers, and the third party providers have their own business models to train the public. If someone wanted CPR training, they would call our 1-800 number to get a list of who our training partners are on PEI.”
Health equipment loans
“Red Cross has a partnership with the province of PEI to provide equipment to community members who can’t afford the cost of a wheelchair, a walker, palliative care bed, or other health equipment.”
The Red Cross Health Equipment Loan program Technician visits the families, sets up the equipment, and educates the family on how to use it.
The Community Coordinator of Health programs, who is in charge of this service, has a background in nursing and accreditation. Because the equipment is reused, she follows stringent standards around cleaning before it is lent to someone else.
Migrant and refugee services
The Red Cross Family Links program helps people connect with their family members after a disaster in Canada or around the world. After the Syrians refugees came to PEI, Red Cross volunteers spoke to them about fire preparedness and having an emergency plan.
Violence and abuse prevention
This service is also very much volunteer based, using the train-the-trainer model. For example, teachers are trained to use the Red Cross anti-bullying program and they train the students who administer that program.
The Philanthropy Coordinator has a team of volunteers who help with the golf tournament, the power of humanity dinner, donations, and sharing experiences of clients who benefits from Red Cross programs.
“The results we get on PEI are incredible when we make an appeal after disasters such as the Fort MacMurray fires or the earthquakes in Haiti. We get triple the number of volunteers, and there are lineups at the door to donate.
“PEI is one of the most generous provinces in Canada when it comes to donations. For the Fort MacMurray disaster, we raised over $500,000 here on PEI. It was our largest donation response ever in PEI. People from 178 families from PEI returned to the Island after the fires. Many came in to do a needs assessment for services and to talk with volunteers.
“Donations helped fund transportation, living accommodations, food, and clothing. Everyone impacted who registered with the Red Cross received $600 in the first few days, and then $900 later on. Our volunteers were very busy during that time.
“An evacuee called from Alberta during the worst of the fire, and said he was pulled over on the side of the road and didn’t know where to go. One of our volunteers talked him through it. Two weeks later, that evacuee visited the PEI office and said that volunteer had made him feel so much better. It was so rewarding for the volunteer to hear that. That story made quite an impact, and encouraged more people to volunteer with us.”
How difficult is it to find enough volunteers?
“We are always recruiting, and always looking to grow our team. It can be difficult to recruit, because many organizations are competing for volunteers. It is most difficult to recruit in some of the smaller communities, and to find volunteers who are bilingual, because you need to speak both official languages in order to function in a disaster such as the New Brunswick ice storms and the Montreal floods.
“We are always looking for people with expertise in different cultures, to make sure that we are offering the right assistance in a culturally safe environment.”
How do you recruit?
“We make presentations to organizations and businesses, but mostly it’s by word of mouth. When our volunteers share their stories and the impact they make with their friends or the media, it brings new people to our door.
“We partnered with ham (amateur) radio operators to do an Atlantic-wide emergency scenario. That event provided insight on the services we provide during disasters. Those involved with ham radio and communications are a really good fit for our team, because those skills are part of our training.
“The volunteer emergency management team lead is a professor at UPEI who is very much involved with ham radio. Those skills are very much sought after. We are very fortunate to have him.
“We look to recruit from all across the Island. Our hope is to have one or two volunteers from every community. If there is a fire in O’Leary, we don’t want to send volunteers from Charlottetown. We want volunteers from O’Leary who can represent the Red Cross as a Personal Disaster Associate in their community.”
“All volunteers do three days of online training on the services provided, what disaster management is, and on self-care. They also receive training to be first aid certified,” says Laura.
The disaster management team has four levels of training. They look to recruit people for this team who have specific skill areas such as HR, logistics, emergency management, and people services.
“We also send our volunteers and staff on deployments. For example, I spent a week in Montreal supporting the flood relief response.”
Employers support staff who volunteer
“Many employers see the time that their employees spend volunteering as a way for them to build their skills. For example, Chris Vessey, our team leader, was given time off by his employer, UPEI, so that he could manage the call centre during the Fort MacMurray fires.
“If we send a letter detailing the work they will do and the skills they will develop, many organizations will give their staff time off to gain the opportunity for professional development.”
What makes an ideal volunteer?
“Our volunteers come from diverse backgrounds. We have people from the non-profit sector, professors, teachers, retirees, and even those who work for the Red Cross in the US and then on PEI during their vacations. What they have in common is a commitment to their community and to seeing the impact their work can bring.”
Encouraging young volunteers
“It is a diverse group in terms of age. Many of our volunteers are in the retirement or pre-retirement phase of their lives.
“We are always looking to recruit the younger generation. Our long-term volunteers’ wants are very different from our younger volunteers. The younger generation want shorter projects, more feedback and opportunities. We have developed shadow positions for those who have not achieved all their training yet, so they can still be engaged.”
When are the services of the Red Cross most in demand?
More people are deployed to disaster areas in the summer. More fires emergencies occur around Christmas than at any other time.”
Learning transferable skills valuable in the workforce
“Some people volunteer as a way to develop their skills, such as newcomers to PEI who need to improve their English skills or who are looking for work. Red Cross training in first aid, CPR, and self care helps volunteers develop the expertise required to work in other jobs.
“Many of the skills volunteers learn could be applied to a paid job. Our volunteers interview other people who want to be volunteers. They organize logistics, manage our fleet, develop disaster management plans, and facilitate the training for volunteers. They are deployed to Montreal or Ontario to become certified in disaster management training, and then come back and teach other volunteers. All these skills build their resumè.
“People who want to work on their English skills can work in a service centre on the phone, and be supported by a staff member close by. If you want to learn how to use a computer for the first time, we can work that goal into training. If you want to be a facilitator, we have training for that too. If you want to help with water safety, we have a shadow program for that.”
Ted Redsky, Health Equipment Loan program Technician, delivers beds and other medical devices from Tignish to Souris to people who need them.
He joined the Red Cross after he retired from his job as a customs inspector in Calgary, and moved to PEI. “In 2014, I visited the Red Cross and saw they were doing winter activities with youth.
“I decided to volunteer. It took a while to get through the required online courses. I volunteered with the disaster management team, and I did other duties such as vehicle maintenance. Then I began helping the person who was administering the Health Equipment Loan Program (HELP). I began to work in the position part-time, and then it became full-time in January.
“I like working with the Red Cross and doing the things that need to be done to prepare for emergencies and to help other people. I like what the organization stands for and what it does for the community. I get a lot of personal satisfaction from helping others.
“I have received a few letters thanking me for the good service. When I find out I have helped someone, it’s really rewarding.
“I encourage other people to volunteer. If you have some spare time, there is always something that needs to be done here. Volunteering gives you great personal rewards as you help your community.
“The staff is really great to work with, and they appreciate me. We all get along and we all do what has to be done. During a crisis, it is rewarding to work with the volunteers and staff. You can help locally, nationally, and internationally.”
For more about the Canadian Red Cross-PEI, visit www.redcross.ca/in-your-community/prince-edward-island.