Volunteering To Help Volunteers: Creating the Rebuilding Together Online Toolkit
By Ashley Opp Hofmann
Very early in her occupational career, Doris Macy has recognized what special skills occupational therapy practitioners can contribute to the community when they volunteer. A recent graduate from Shenandoah University, Macy is creating an online toolkit for occupational therapy practitioners who volunteer for Rebuilding Together, an organization that provides home modifications and repairs for low-income homeowners.
Macy got involved with Rebuilding Together through her Level II Fieldwork assignment. Although most of her peers pursued fieldwork assignments in school or hospital settings, Macy knew she wanted to do something different. “I wanted to do something in the community setting, in people’s homes,” Macy says.
Her fieldwork supervisor had a contract with Rebuilding Together’s Northern Virginia affiliate, so Macy worked with the organization once per week. “I got to do home visits and make recommendations, and it was really eye-opening to see how minor changes, such as removing a throw rug, could provide a safer home,” she says. “I also got to join students from Howard University [located in Washington, DC] and do visits for the DC affiliate as well. I thought it was cool to work with other students.”
Rebuilding Together depends on volunteers to do the repairs. When it comes to making home modifications, occupational therapy practitioners are ideally skilled to make appropriate recommendations. AOTA staff knew there was a student working with Rebuilding Together and invited her to compile a Rebuilding Together online toolkit with information and resources that encourage occupational therapy practitioners to get involved with their local affiliates to share their expertise in home modifications. .“I was interested because I really felt the need to encourage people in the occupational therapy community to volunteer for Rebuilding Together,” Macy says. She volunteered to create the toolkit.
Creating the Toolkit
Macy is currently compiling the toolkit, which will be available to everyone on AOTA’s Web site. Her first step? Gather as much information as possible. Macy started by creating a carefully constructed online survey and posted it on AOTA’s Home Modifications listserv, promoting it through AOTA’s 1-Minute Update.
“The survey was aimed towards anyone in the occupational therapy field who had volunteered with Rebuilding Together,” explained Macy. More than 65 people responded—a strong number, considering that only about 50 of Rebuilding Together’s 225 affiliates have occupational therapy volunteers.
The survey was used to collect data on how volunteers initially got involved and their experiences with the organization, zeroing in on the collaboration process between occupational therapy and Rebuilding Together. For example, some volunteers go into the home and do an evaluation, and some practitioners both recommend and actually implement the home modifications.
Based on what volunteers reported, “I’m finding out the strengths and weaknesses of their processes so I can make suggestions,” Macy says. Volunteers are freely giving Macy information on what has and has not worked for them, in addition to suggestions for materials and assessments. “The idea is that someone who has never worked with Rebuilding Together can look at this toolkit and know where to go from there, without having to start from scratch,” says Macy. “A lot of occupational therapy practitioners have worked with Rebuilding Together for years and they’re giving me a lot of suggestions. Everyone has been very helpful.”
Although the toolkit is still in development, it has a clear direction as Macy compiles and synthesizes the survey’s data. Among other topics, the toolkit will explain the relationship between Rebuilding Together and AOTA; pinpoint how different types of occupational therapy volunteers can best use their respective roles; provide tips, resources; and show examples of how occupational therapy volunteers are making an impact in their local Rebuilding Together affiliates.
Volunteering To Educate
The feedback Macy has received has shown her how volunteering in such programs as Rebuilding Together benefits both the community and the practitioners themselves. “A lot of people who have taken the survey have said that working with Rebuilding Together has allowed them to improve their knowledge and skill level in home modifications and has allowed them to educate others about occupational therapy,” says Macy. “Occupational therapy practitioners aren’t just educating homeowners; they’re educating the Rebuilding Together teams.”
Macy’s favorite part of her volunteer experience has been hearing from occupational therapy practitioners throughout the country. “As a student, you kind of get sucked into the occupational therapy within your school community, and it was really an experience to find out about all these other practitioners and what they’re doing,” she says. “It was so encouraging to see how close the occupational therapy community can be. ”Macy graduated in December 2007 and will take her Board exams in February 2008. Since graduating she has moved to Kodiak, Alaska, and has secured one part-time position in the city’s school system and a second part-time position at a private outpatient clinic. Her fieldwork and volunteer experiences will remain relevant: “I want to make sure that any client I work with has an accessible and safe home, and I want to address the needs of the aging-in-place population here in Kodiak,” Macy says, noting that Kodiak is an island with small population. “It would be awesome if I could start a Rebuilding Together affiliate here.”
If you are an occupational therapy volunteer for Rebuilding Together, it’s not too late to share your experiences. You can fill out the survey at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=HplcIVdTFoSZ8MKNTjVjww_3d_3d
Ashley Opp Hofmann is AOTA’s senior staff writer.