Monday, August 14, 2017

Badges

For the last six years, I've delivered meals for Meals on Wheels.

It's a good thing to do, and something that I value.  Nationally, though, Meals on Wheels programs have increasingly struggled to fill volunteer roles.

So in Fairfax County, the County has decided to institute new requirements for volunteers.  An array of forms, all of which must be filled out online.

Releases and contracts governing everything from media use to protocols for client engagement.

References, which are not required, but may be required, depending on what you're volunteering to do.  They don't tell you which.

Then a mandatory one hour training and orientation program, which must be registered for online.

After which, one is given a form that must be taken to the county courthouse, where one must be fingerprinted by police, and after which a criminal background check will be run on all volunteers.

All so volunteers can get their official volunteer badges, and be permitted to continue doing the thing they've been doing without official volunteer badges for decades.

Which is delivering food to the homebound, and talking with them if they feel like talking.  This, let me tell you, is noncomplex.  

Why do we need volunteer badges?  So that the clients can check our badges to be sure we are who we say we are when we deliver meals.  So that the County can have our fingerprints in a database.

This is to prevent elder abuse, and protect a vulnerable population, or so the County tells us.

All of which sounds well and good, only, really?  It isn't.

Are there instances of documented abuse?  No, well, actually, there aren't.  But it might happen.

What is documented is a decrease in the volunteer pool for the program locally, as the dual incomes required to live in the DC area and the bustling schedule of Washingtonians crowd out voluntarism.   Those who do volunteer are mostly older and retirees themselves.

For that population, a complex process involving online registration and multiple trips to orientations will be onerous and confusing.

What the County is doing is making it harder to volunteer, putting structural inhibitors in place to make the act of doing something more challenging.  They are also approaching volunteering as if it required the same oversight as a paid position.

But wait.  What about the badges?  Won't those help?

Not if you've ever actually driven for Meals on Wheels.  If you've ever actually done deliveries, you'd know that a significant percentage of the client population have limited mobility.  Many leave their doors open for volunteers to enter.  Further, many have visual impairments, meaning their capacity to closely inspect an "official badge" is marginal.

I'll complete the requirements.  I will also, once I am done, offer to help any new volunteers negotiate the new thicket of requirements.

Yet I am stuck wondering as to the "why" of them.

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