Peer Volunteering

As a volunteer with lived experience, I was asked to attend this year's SCATEH Spring Forum to speak about what it's like to become, and be, a Peer Volunteer; and to share how it has impacted my life, and that of others in our community.

SCATEH Spring Forum 2016
Peer Volunteering

My name is Nick Robinson; I am a Barrie resident, and a community volunteer with lived experience.

I was asked by Sara Peddle, Executive Director of the David Busby Centre, if I would attend this year’s Simcoe County Alliance to End Homelessness (SCATEH) Spring Forum to speak to you about what it's like to become, and be, a Peer Volunteer; and to share with you how it has impacted my life, and that of others in our community.

Admittedly, I had not heard the term 'Peer' Volunteer used until lately when Sara first used it with me regarding my own personal progress, and my close interaction within the Barrie downtown community.

But, as Sara plainly put it; the same guests that I took shelter with 2 winters ago in the Barrie Out Of The Cold (BOOTC) program see that now I'm housed, volunteering at the Busby Centre and on the outreach van, advocating on their behalf within the community, studying in the library, pursuing my interests, and otherwise doing better for myself- and that’s where the Peer Value comes from.

I hadn't really thought into it quite that much. For the most part, and certainly in the earlier days, I was just plugging away at my own revival and helping out where I could along the way. But, when put into that context, I can see how my own progression can have a positive impact on others. Whether intentional, or not, my actions, associations, and involvement in the community does put me in a peer role position.

Interestingly enough, and to Sara’s point; two days prior to being invited here I was on the Busby Outreach van, and there were a few stops that night where several people were curiously surprised to see me hop out of the van with the binder and phone in arm. I was met with smiles on familiar faces, a high-five, a fist-pump, some intrigue, and even curious inquiries of "Hey!? What are you doing on the van?", and, “Are you working on the van now?”

This wasn't the only time or place that this has happened either; it actually happens quite often, and only varies depending on how active I am within the community. Although I'm not very vocal about the extent of my volunteering, most of the people that I see while doing so know me from within our own circles, and that typically speaks for me; so, essentially, I’m just leading by example.

That said, I do know that the peer element of my volunteerism could very well raise hope in others that there is an ‘out’ of the system- or at least from the monotonous drudgery of it. But hope is just a four letter word for so many people stuck in the system, and it's practically nonexistent in the downtown core. And without hope, in the very least, people won’t become empowered to move beyond their current situation. 

So, if what I'm doing personally does encourage or inspire anyone in any way to feel some hope for themselves, then an opportunity has been created to help another take ownership over their own life- and I’m sure most here will agree, that's a good place to start.

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