As I prepare to leave the Surge Unit, I am thinking about how much I will miss the people who are working there. I will miss them individually and as groups – the large group who work days, the smaller evening staff group, and the overnight stalwarts. I am so glad the Child and Youth Counsellors and one of the nurses and the Recreation Therapist will be coming back to the Youth Program eventually. Having one or two people with me who have shared this experience means that my memories of that time will be safe.

In the past three months, I have had a unique opportunity to observe those qualities a person must have to be a great volunteer, for everyone who works in this program is a volunteer. They all agreed to take on a task that was filled with risk – risks related to different work, different working conditions and the ultimate risk of their or a family member’s life had any of them contracted COVID-19.

The qualities personified by each of these people can be found in any list of the qualities of the best volunteers. Some of the qualities are personal traits, but sometimes the qualities reflect what a person will do for a cause that is important to them. To show what I mean, let me review the three qualities that all great volunteers have and you will realize as I did that the qualities reflect personality traits that emerge with passion.

The most important quality for any volunteer is passion. Passion for the work you are doing is inspiring to others and gives you energy and enthusiasm for your work when you’re having a bad day. Each member of this team has been inspiring to me at one point or another over the last two months. I was passionate about assisting in the pandemic, to be able to know I was contributing meaningfully to the effort to provide care in a difficult time. I have not been passionate about every situation where there was great need but helping patients with mental health problems in COVID-19 was important to me and I was passionate about it. So was everyone I worked with.

For any volunteer doing a new task, such as creating a new health care team, a commitment to innovation, flexibility and an open mind are critical. As a group, we had to solve problems no one had ever faced. It meant each of us had to be able to listen to everyone else’s view. It meant we were all willing to adapt to new and changing circumstances quickly, sometimes with no notice at all and definitely when we least expected it. This level of flexibility means that all of us had to swallow our pride at some point and accept when we were wrong.

Finally, we were reliable: available and committed to our roles. As a team, we were reliable and as individuals, we were reliable. This can be developed in a person, but it is difficult to sustain.

When I think about this Surge Team, I think about these words from the poem The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, a Canadian writer:

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have.

I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair,

Weary and bruised to the bone,

And do what needs to be done for the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you are, how you came to be here.

I want to know if you will stand

In the center of the fire with me

And not shrink back.”

I have stood in the center of the fire with the people I have worked with for the past three months. I have faced one of the greatest challenges of my professional life. I could not have managed this without them.

(photo credit)

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