This is a story about how I went from not wanting to volunteer to becoming a Cat Care Volunteer with VOKRA.
VOKRA stands for the Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association. It is a non-profit organisation established in 2000. It is 100% volunteer-driven and has no paid staff. It is open seven days a week and primarily operates in Vancouver and Burnaby.
1. The first thing I‘d like to share with you is about the Canadian Mental Health Association Ready, Set, and Go Volunteer preparation course
How is this course relevant to my volunteering? To be honest, I wouldn’t have become a volunteer if I had not taken this course. To say the very least,
- There are great resources to learn and share, such as Go Volunteer, Career Cruising, resume writing techniques, and interviewing skills.
- What’s more, there is constant and willing guidance and support from our facilitators and personal coaches.
- And for me, I heard about VOKRA during a brainstorming session.
But then again to be honest, about mid-term and towards the end of my course, I started to have cold feet about volunteering. I felt that the facilitators were pressuring me too hard to go forward and get results. The more the pressure exerted, the more I was overwhelmed, and the more I felt discouraged. I told the facilitators how I felt, and I promised that I would at least try my best to complete the course. During the following session, the facilitators had changed their approach because of my feedback. I was proud to complete the course eventually.
2. What then got me to volunteer with VOKRA
After completing the course, I was struck by a severe episode of agoraphobia. I didn’t want to see or talk to anyone; didn’t want to go out of my suite; didn’t even want to answer the telephone. What then jump-started me to apply for a volunteer job? There was a sequence of related events.
- First, it just so happened that on the last day of my course, I exchanged contact information with someone who had had experience dealing with VOKRA, and she helped me greatly by sending me all the relevant information about VOKRA.
- Next, I uploaded my Certificate of Recognition on Facebook and WordPress, and friends congratulated me on my success.
- As well, I uploaded images I created about the positive effects of volunteering on mental health, and friends as far as England, congratulated me, but I felt like a hypocrite for not following through with what I had promoted.
- Also, I had been lying to my friends and neighbours that I was already volunteering with VOKRA in order to conceal my agoraphobic condition.
- I even lied to my mental health nurse too, but she asked me to take pictures of the kittens to share with her next time we met. “We all love kittens!” she said. And I was like, “What…?”
3. Next, I’d like to talk about taking my first step forward
It was not until mid December before I finally picked up enough energy to check on VOKRA’s website. If I hadn’t done that, everything would have stayed just the way it was. But as soon as I had seen their website, I knew I had gone past the point of no return.
- There was something magical about VOKRA’s attractive website, and their make-you-fall-in-love-with-the-kittens gallery. Slowly, I started looking more closely at the volunteer job categories. Then finally, my attention was drawn to their online application.
- The application was the most user-friendly and simple.
- There’s no need to give references
- No need for criminal check
- I just need to answer a few easy questions
- One of which was to agree to a waiver of indemnity and release – About this legal document, when I was doing my course, one of the participants was very concerned about whether he would be indemnified if he suffered any damage to properties, injury, or even death from volunteering. This waiver clearly releases VOKRA from any such liabilities. It also suggests that it would be wise for all applicants to talk to their doctors about getting their tetanus shots up-to-date for self protection because cats do scratch. I talked to my doctor and he told me my tetanus shot was current. He asked me why I wanted a booster. I told him about the waiver, and we both laughed. My doctor is a lawyer too.
- The next thing about the application was to choose my preferred job type to suit my skill levels, from categories such as drivers, medical, adoption, graphic design, photographers, trapping, administration, special events, and cat care. I selected Cat Care.
- And finally I need to commit to volunteer for at least six months.
- During the application, I had some misconceptions about gender equality relating to the duties of Cat Care Volunteers, because they include many menial chores. I thought to myself, if I found out later that only men volunteers were cleaning the kennels and emptying the garbage, and the women were petting and playing with the cats and kittens, then I would be really mad.
4. Next thing I’d like to share is the telephone interview and how it was related to our course materials
As I had specified on my application that I didn’t want any phone calls or voice mails because of my condition at the time, the recruiting coordinator from VOKRA emailed me, and said that we needed to conduct a telephone interview in order to complete the application process. So I agreed. Remember? I’ve gone past the point of no return.
- First question they asked was why I wanted to volunteer with VOKRA – the night before the scheduled interview, I reviewed our course materials on interviewing skills and techniques, and the mission statement of VOKRA. I answered the hardest question easily by listing three reasons. All I said was: Oh, because VOKRA is 100% volunteer-driven and it has no paid staff! (I cheated, right? I mean, how would I ever know?) And also I strongly agreed 100% with their mission statement! (See, I did it again! I haven’t even started working with them.) Plus of course, I love cats. After that, the phone interview turned into some sort of friendly chat. The questions got easier and easier as we proceeded.
- With questions such as, have you any volunteering experience? “Yes. Blah, blah, blah… It’s also a non-profit organisation, and that’s also one of the reasons why I’ve chosen VOKRA.” Now, I could tell that the interviewer was quite pleased.
- Have you any experience working with cats? “Yes, I used to take care of three cats for an old lady and I used to have two cats that came to me through my open windows.” Really?
- Do you own any cats? “No, my residential policy does not allow pets.”
- Next thing was to confirm that I have chosen Cat Care,
- Picked and confirmed my shift, and finally
- Agreed to come for orientation training at a future time and date.
The telephone interview lasted about 20 minutes.
5. Next topic is about my orientation training with VOKRA
- The one-and-one-half hours orientation training at their operations centre included a grand tour of the place and demonstrations of the various duties of a Cat Care Volunteer. There were three other trainees besides me.
- The centre operates three shifts, each consists of any two hours within a four-hour window. Morning and evening shifts cat care duties include feeding, cleaning and refilling litter boxes, and replacing soiled bedding.
- Cat care in the afternoon is called operations support and maintenance, and my duties are mainly to give support to the other two shifts.
6. Next about the paperwork that signed, sealed, and delivered the deal
- Even after training, I have the option to decide when to start my first shift by sending a confirmation email.
- What if I can’t make a shift – there are strict cancellation protocols to follow because the livelihood of the cats and kittens depends on us. They include:
- Emailing the schedule manager so she can change the schedule, and
- Emailing the on call group of volunteers and finding a replacement.
- The paperwork also includes signing and returning the waiver of indemnity and release.
7. And now I’ll say something about my first shift
It was an absolutely wonderful experience.
- Volunteers at the centre were exceptionally friendly, patient, helpful, and supportive. They were ever ready to praise me on a job well done with their spirit-lifting smiles.
- Kittens were playful and adorable, and the cats handsome looking – though feral ones can be also unpredictable.
- My duties during the operations support shift will include:
- Cleaning and disinfecting kennels, litter boxes, carriers, and scratching posts;
- Stocking shelves with towels, fleeces, sheets, beds, litter boxes and scoops, feeding bowls, carriers, and toys;
- Filling feeding buses and litter bins;
- Washing dishes, laundry, and floors; and time permitting,
- Petting and playing with cats and kittens.
8. Finally I’ll touch on fostering and adoption
- Little Addy has one of his hind quarters amputated, and urgently needs a loving parent to foster or adopt him.
- Greta is a tiny affectionate kitten, very sweet and adorable. She blinked slowly at me three times. She can do that on demand too. For a moment, I was like, “ Boy! Am I looking at a woman or what?” Greta had just stolen my heart. At only four-months old, she‘d already had a litter. How disheartening! Can you imagine a kitten having a litter at four-months old? Now she’s waiting to be spayed and examined by the vet. After that she’s ready to be fostered or adopted.
- As much as I would like to, I am not allowed to foster any cats or kittens because of my residential policy, but any one of you may apply online to foster or adopt a cat or kitten if you’re interested, even if you’re not ready to volunteer yet.
In conclusion, I’d like to end this talk by listing five positive psychological effects of volunteering on restoring mental health:
- Firstly, volunteering restores our sense of self-worth, self-respect, and confidence, that is, it squashes self-doubt, self-loathing, and self-pity;
- Secondly, the joy in helping others is empowering – even if we are to do menial chores while volunteering, there is added value that is quite different from doing the same things for ourselves;
- Thirdly, positive reinforcement from volunteering helps reduce mental illness self stigma – I was able to overcome my agoraphobia;
- Fourthly, volunteering lets us interact with other people and helps reduce social awkwardness; and finally,
- Having a fixed schedule gives us something to look forward to, plus it has a stabilising effect on our mental state.
In hindsight, taking the first step was the hardest, but I cannot stress enough that it is the one sure way to clear up the dark clouds that have been hanging over my head for the past few months, and get me the volunteer job with VOKRA successfully. But the main thing to remember is, if you ever run into any difficulties, always talk to your coaches, for they are always there to help.
I have VOKRA’s contact information here in case anyone is interested in volunteering, fostering, or adoption.
Thank you all very much for listening!
10. Contact VOKRA
Website: orphankittenrescue.com Phone: 604-731-2913