What happens when an experienced volunteer engagement pro combines her commitment to her organization with creative problem solving?  She builds an innovative program that benefits her clients and the larger community.

Lynne A PostLynne Allebach, CVA is the Volunteer Coordinator for Living Branches, a retirement living community in Southeastern Pennsylvania.  She is celebrating her 15th year with the organization, which she found after looking for a place to volunteer with her daughter.  Volunteering led to a staff positon, which eventually led to heading up the volunteer program. “I fell in love with the people and the facilities. It was too hard to leave.”

The Idea

In 2014, Lynne was contacted by the coordinator of a vocational training program for special needs students at the local high school. The vocational coordinator wanted to start a job training program for her students and was looking for a nearby location ─ Living Branches is located just five minutes away. The students would volunteer their time throughout the community in exchange for job training.

The timing of the proposal couldn’t have been better. Lynne had been looking for a way to tap into a volunteer pool that was nearby and accessible.  She got excited by the possibilities of the venture and presented the idea to the leadership.

The Buy-in Piece

But as any experienced volunteer manager knows, getting a new project off the ground is not always a smooth process.  The leadership, staff – and even the residents – voiced concerns around bringing in special need students.  A person with less commitment and vision may have thrown in the towel.

Lynne Allebach

Living Branches Volunteer Coordinator Lynne Allebach anticipated and overcame every objection to her innovative volunteer program.

Lynne achieved the buy-in of her leadership by being prepared.  She anticipated every objection and had thought through solutions.  The process took time – it required multiple face to face meetings and countless email exchanges, but the project was ultimately approved on a one year trial basis.

Lynne also wanted to make the program “as painless as possible for the staff” and integrated their needs into the project design.  While the teams of student volunteers rotate through multiple areas of the community, the students’ job coaches remain within their designated units.  This approach allows the staff to continue their own work without the disruption of re-training new students.

The Result? 

The student teams have become so well integrated that the program is now in its second year – and the staff have requested the addition of a summer session for the students. “They wanted them back,” says Lynne.

The Benefits

The staff are not the only ones to benefit.  Lynne has witnessed tremendous growth in the students.  A non-verbal student went from avoiding all eye contact to greeting Lynne with a hug. Some students have remained as volunteers even after they have transitioned out of high school – and some have applied to work at Living Branches.

The residents benefit from the interaction with the kids, too. One former student has added on friendly visits with a resident he came to know. It’s the kind of intergenerational activity that Living Branches encourages.

This kind of project shows our profession at its best, when the volunteer program serves everyone:  the clients, the staff – and the volunteers. Lynne Allebach made this kind of success possible at Living Branches by standing by her vision of a new way to serve her community.

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What if you launched an innovative new volunteer program and EVERYONE benefitted.  Lynne Allebach did! http://goo.gl/fuxQUS