Volunteering in the Call Center: Summer Meals
By Board Member Molly Firth, with Michael Firth
On a recent sunny weekend, I convinced my husband Mike, to join me for a couple hours of volunteering in the WithinReach Family Health Hotline Call Center. He usually doesn’t have weekends off, so it was asking a lot, and I was glad he was interested. I was eager to spend some time helping WithinReach connect families with the resources they need to be healthy – in this case, the Summer Meals program.
First, let me share that neither of us have any experience in a call center. I work in public policy and Mike flies planes – so, this was pretty far outside of our comfort zones. Glory, a WithinReach AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, prepared us with a script; along with information about WithinReach and the Summer Meals program. She then showed us how to use the Resource Finder on Parenthelp123.org to access local information for families. We were also handed a form to log the results of our contacts. Once our training was complete we put our headsets on and started dialing. What could go wrong?! Fortunately, nothing!
Between the two of us, we called over 80 households to inform and assist them in finding a Summer Meals site in their neighborhood. Nobody hung up on me (which I was grateful for) and most people were happy to hear more about a program providing free meals to their children during the summer. One woman I spoke with already knew about the Summer Meals program and did not need any additional information, but was very appreciative about the offer for assistance. She almost seemed surprised that WithinReach’s Family Health Hotline would call her to tell her about a resource in her community!
A majority of my calls went to voice-mail which made me a bit jealous of the volunteers sitting near me, including Mike, who seemed to be helping more families. Overhearing their sides of the conversations was distracting at times – and I thought, how does the call center staff remain focused with all the noise surrounding them.
Mike’s observations: 50% of my calls resulted in connecting with people enjoying a sunny weekend—some were out with their kids at a park or running errands, and one lady was even at a wedding! Most people were grateful for the call but did not need Summer Meals, but a handful wanted more information and I helped them find a place in their neighborhood where they could take their kids for lunch, a snack, or breakfast. Every one of those individuals said thank you in a really heartfelt way that many of us probably don’t hear often.
Despite serving on the Board for the past three years, I have not had the time to directly interface with the families we support. It was a good way to share in the experience of the call center staff and provide direct assistance to families in need. We walked out the door feeling good about the two hours we spent connecting families with great resources and look forward to more opportunities to do so!
Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’
Martin Luther King Jr.
This has been an important quote to me. As you may know I spent over a decade working to build opportunities for community members to better engage in solving our most pressing societal issues. A few years ago, I had the privilege of working on a United Way of King County task force that ultimately spawned the creation of the Volunteer Impact Program, a program that helps nonprofits use volunteers more effectively. I’m delighted that WithinReach is participating in this important program so we can more effectively engage the community in our work.
When I think about how we are going to make a true and lasting impact on our community, I know it’s going to require all of us working in different ways. No longer is it enough for government to provide the safety net, it’s now going to take all of us to create that safety net for our neighbors. There is no single approach to solve our most pressing issues, but I am confident that volunteers are a key part of the solution.
I know from years of working with volunteers, that great volunteer experiences don’t just happen. The requirement to find meaningful work for the volunteer and insure it aligns with actual organizational needs is critical. We need to recruit and train our volunteers on why the work is important and educate them on the need. We need to say thank you and we need to expect them to follow through on their commitments.
If we build this capacity, I am convinced that not only will we make progress in serving our clients better, we will create a corps of people that understand the complexity of poverty and social injustice. This will result in healthier families and healthier communities.