Volunteering in Jewish Communities in the FSU: aims, effectiveness and impact
EAJS Policy Papers, No 9 (Jan 21, 2019)
In the late 1980s, JDC resumed its work in the Soviet Union. It continued to operate in the new countries that emerged upon its dissolution. Since then, it has focused on the fulfillment of two main goals: the renewal of Jewish life, through the establishment of community infrastructures and bringing Jews closer to their people and their culture, and support for the elderly and poor Jewish population. These goals are promoted primarily by the community organizations ‑ Hassadim and community centers (JCCs) ‑ scattered throughout FSU.
Volunteering has always been one of the cornerstones of community activity in the Hassadim and JCCs, but usually it meant elderly people volunteering for the elderly. About five years ago, it was decided to expand volunteering in two aspects – extend it to other target audiences, such as youth, young and middle-aged people, as well as develop projects to meet the wider spectrum of needs (not just the needs of the elderly population). This decision was made because we see volunteerism as an ideal tool for advancing the JDC’s goals in the area of community development and welfare, for the following reasons:
- Meeting community needs – volunteers allow us to widen our service capacity for a few reasons:
- There is a variety of needs that can be addressed only by volunteers, and not by paid employees;
- Services provided by volunteers are more relational than are services provided by paid employees, volunteers are perceived as equal, flexible and sincere and promote significant emotional trust from clients (Metz et al., 2016);
- When sources of funding for welfare activities dry up, volunteers allow the continuation and the expansion of services. However, as we shall see below, the professional operation of a volunteer system also entails significant expenses, which sometimes are comparable with the costs of employing regular workers (Handy, Mook & Quarter, 2008).
- Community solidarity and connectedness ‑ volunteering reinforces the sense of community belonging and responsibility, both among volunteers and beneficiaries. Volunteering reinforces and builds social connectedness, and sense of belonging to the community (Snyder & Omoto, 2008).
- Activism ‑ volunteering is a means of transforming community members from passive participants in its activities into active partners in the community life. A volunteer who contributes his time and energy and succeeds in bringing about a real change in the lives of other members of the community feels ownership and partnership. Volunteers also serve as a social radar. They are often the first to recognize and address social problems and needs (Širca, Dermol, Novak & Trunk, 2016).
- Empowerment and Social Inclusion ‑ volunteering enables empowering disadvantaged populations, who for the first time receive an opportunity to help others. For people dealing with social exclusion, volunteering has been found effective in creating access to social network, opportunities for self-growth and skill development, improvement in mental and physical health and more (Kearney, 2003).
- Collaborations – Volunteering is by itself an area in which it is relatively easy to reach a consensus and create cooperation between the various Jewish organizations operating in the community as well as between them and various parties outside of the community. A Community volunteering infrastructure has been found effective in creating such collaborations and volunteer mobility (Nesbit et al., 2017).
The need for professional management of volunteers:
Although most volunteers tend to fulfill their role out of caring for the beneficiaries and good will, there is great importance to the way they are operated and managed. Volunteer Management has an influence on maintaining their motivation, creating commitment and making sure, they have a meaningful volunteer experience (Alfes, Antunes & Shantz 2017). Research has shown that quality volunteer management effects volunteer satisfaction (Fallon & Rice, 2015), volunteer commitment (Newton, Becker, & Bell, 2014) and volunteer retention rates (Boezeman & Ellemers, 2008; Millette & Gagné, 2008). Research has also shown that when volunteers are not satisfied with the way they are managed, they are more likely to drop out of volunteering (Hustinx, 2010).
Similar to volunteers around the world, potential volunteers in FSU also need high-quality professional management. Thy are characterized by similar attributes as “the new volunteers” recognized by Hustinx (2001): they are busy people who are short of free time, want to feel needed and want to see the immediate impact of their activities. Usually, they find it difficult to commit for long time work and are not necessarily loyal to a particular organization.
The ‘volunteer life cycle’ as an organizing theoretical and applicable framework
Therefore, the first step in the development of large-scale volunteer programs in the Jewish communities in FSU, was to develop a volunteer management theory and to train professionals in the field, who are capable of applying it. This was done on the basis of knowledge and experience accumulated by the JDC-ASHALIM Volunteerism department in Israel, and adapted to the needs and capabilities of professionals in FSU community organizations.
We recruited and placed volunteer coordinators in all communities who joined our program and among other things, we trained these coordinators in volunteer management based on the ‘volunteer life cycle’ (McCurley, Lynch & Jackson, 2012).
The analysis of volunteer management based on the life cycle makes it possible to develop high quality volunteer programs that meet community needs while addressing the organizational, professional and personal challenges involved (Hager & Brudney 2004; Hustinx, 2010).
The development of ‘Volunteer Community’ FSU
Once the theory was developed, coordinators from fourteen cities were trained as a first step. They identified needs, recruited volunteers and developed projects in their communities, receiving professional and financial support from JDC. These programs were based in Hassadim or JCCs, while volunteers and beneficiaries belonged to many different frameworks within the Jewish community and outside of it. During the time, the coordinators initiated the creation of a network of volunteer centers called ‘Volunteer Community’, which were designed to advance the work at the regional level. The existence of the network facilitates the exchange of knowledge among communities, the implementation of broad models based on shared learning as well as training of coordinators and volunteers from many countries. The ongoing connection between the communities also strengthens the motivation of coordinators and volunteers, who feel that they are part of a broad movement that promotes social change and turns volunteering into an integral part of the community life. In addition, the network enables the various communities to pool together resources and energies in order to promote cooperation with international projects. The knowledge accumulated during the network’s operation is posted on the http://vcfsu.org website and social media, where coordinators and volunteers can find professional materials and share their experiences with colleagues. The website and social media also serve as a platform for recruiting new volunteers on a regular and ongoing basis.
Our main achievements
In 2018, the Volunteer community network operated in forty-four cities in six FSU countries, engaging more than 5,000 regular volunteers and providing service to approximately 41,000 beneficiaries. The volunteers belong to a variety of age groups, and deal with many diverse needs in the Jewish community and beyond. The main areas of the network’s activity are as follows:
- Assistance to the elderly – regular home visits and alleviation of loneliness, renovations, assistance in shopping, accompanying to doctor’s appointments, teaching computer skills and more;
- Assistance to children with special needs – mentoring and assistance in studies, visits to orphanages, leisure activities in pediatric wards in hospitals, walls painting in children’s hospitals;
- Assistance to the disabled ‑ integration programs, ensuring accessibility, individual assistance;
- Jewish culture ‑ Witness Theater, preservation and renovation of cemeteries and synagogues, cultural activities on holidays and Shabbats;
- Nonsectarian Humanitarian assistance ‑ collecting and distributing food and clothing to the needy, setting up second-hand shops;
- Health and environment ‑ promoting a healthy lifestyle and sport activities, planting trees, recycling, and urban cleaning campaigns.
Evaluating our progress
In May 2018 we conducted an initial evaluation of the project in three cities ‑ Moscow, Chisinau and Zaporozhe. As part of the evaluation, we sought to examine the volunteers’ feelings and attitudes about various issues related to volunteerism and its impact, see whether there is a difference between the cities and analyze the correlation between the different variables. The questionnaire was answered by 180 volunteers (n=180). Below are the survey findings:
Motivation and attitudes towards volunteering
A comparison of the data obtained from the three cities showed that despite the many differences between the three communities, there is no great difference between the attitudes displayed by the volunteers.
In conclusion, the research clearly shows the importance of volunteering as a tool to strengthen the connection to the community and the significance of professional management as a factor that ensures the quality and dedication among the volunteers.
These encouraging results from our initial evaluation, and the positive feedbacks from other FSU communities, strengthen our motivation to widen and deepen the scope of Volunteer Community FSU, to reach more Jewish communities, to recruit more volunteers and to widen the diversity of services provided by volunteers.
Dr. Asaf (Asi) Kaniel- JDC FSU
Liora Arnon- ASHALIM- JDC ISRAEL
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Širca, N. T., Dermol, V., Novak, A. & Trunk, A. (2016). Volunteering as a vehicle for solidarity, social inclusion and active EU citizenship of youth. Managing Innovation and Diversity in Knowledge Society Through Turbulent Time, 1239-1244.
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