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Volunteers give back at the Burnaby Centre

The Volunteer Program at the Burnaby Centre for Mental Health & Addiction (BCMHA) was launched in March 2011.
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The program volunteers support in a variety of non-clinical areas at the centre, such as recreation therapy, art therapy, special events and the employability program (supporting clients who volunteer at the centre). There are currently 30 active volunteers, and in 2016 alone, volunteers completed over 800 hours of service at BCMHA. 

The volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds - many are students looking for experience in mental health or filling pre-requisites for post-secondary education. However, many are also volunteering simply to give back to the community in a meaningful way. One of the greatest benefits of having volunteers (other than the direct benefits to our clients) is that it also helps to break down the stigma associated with mental health and addiction. 

One popular program area for BCMHA volunteers is ‘Leisure Buddy,’ which is a general companionship placement. Leisure Buddy was created with the goal of providing additional support to clients who may be at risk of relapse through isolation. Leisure Buddy was implemented based on client feedback – they simply wanted someone to hang out with.

Leisure Buddy involves socializing with clients, visiting, playing games, walking around the centre and anything that would offer our clients additional companionship and socialization. BCMHA also works with volunteers in the Leisure Buddy program to identify clients who may benefits from a volunteer’s specific skillset or experience.  Two common examples are clients who are interested in working on managing social anxiety, or clients whose first language is not English, and are looking to improve and practice language skills. Leisure Buddy enables clients to practice these skills and more in a safe and supportive environment.  

The Leisure Buddy program benefits clients in many ways: 

  • Decreases social isolation
  • Increases healthy social interaction skills
  • Assists with learning to manage social anxiety
  • Assists with learning healthy boundaries
  • Increases engagement in activities
  • Learning new games/activities that they enjoy doing

Over the last two years, BCMHA has begun to receive referrals from the care teams on secure units as clients on these units do not have the same freedom of movement throughout the centre as clients on treatment units. Engaging these clients with volunteers in the Leisure Buddy program allows them additional time off the unit in a fun and supervised environment in our recreation space. 

Without the support of passionate and dedicated volunteers, there are many events and activities at BCMHA that could not be offered to clients. We are thankful for their compassion, energy and knowledge they bring to our program areas, and the impact they have on clients’ recovery journeys. 

Quotes/Testimonials by clients:

“If you’re stuck then they’re there to help you. And it can help you overcome trust issues.” 
“It’s like having a friend from outside come in to spend time with you.” 
“I enjoy playing games – it’s fun having the volunteers around. I would come back for a volunteer position.” 

Quotes/Testimonials by volunteers:

“I approached the BCMHA because I was looking for a volunteer opportunity where I could interact with individuals on a 1:1 basis. The Leisure Buddy program that is offered at BCMHA is unlike any other volunteer opportunity that I had experienced. Interacting with individuals though board games, sports and walks around the facility really allowed me to build a special bond with the clients. Being able to share stories and life experiences has been a positive eye-opening experience for me that I feel is very unique. Overall, I found my experience at BCMHA to be very fulfilling; participating in the programs and interacting with both the awesome staff and the clients allowed me to build special relationships that make me look forward to come and spend time at the facility.” – Kashev Chadha, volunteer since April 2016 
“I have been volunteering at the Burnaby Center for Mental Health and Addiction for approximately 10 months now and without it, I wouldn't be where I am now. When starting at the center, I knew I was interested in working with their client population but I had yet to discover how fulfilling it would be. Because of the time spent at the center, I have found my passion and have recently been accepted into the Masters of Social Work Program at UBC which am thrilled to contribute to the staff and clients at the Burnaby Center. The available programs give volunteers the opportunity to work directly with clients in a fun, safe, and welcoming environment. Thank you, Burnaby Center!” Leigh Nicholls, volunteer since August 2016
“I have been graced to be part (a small part) of truly transcendent recoveries here. To have people open up, to start (and continue) to learn their own worth, to blossom. To watch this blossoming from week to week has been holy ground. The best thing I’ve received from BCMHA is an enhanced sense of my own self-worth. I’ve come to believe in the unique set of gifts which I bring to the table, and I am now much better able to see the unique gifts that everyone – clients, staff, volunteers – bring to the table. The clients and staff are very supportive and appreciative of volunteers. BCMHA is a wonderful community to volunteer in.” – Allan MacLean, volunteer since January 2015
BC Mental Health & Substance Use Services; mental health; Substance use; Volunteers
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