Embrace diversity: Rochester nonprofit launches Allies & Advocates program
In response to heightened tension and increased episodes of hate and fear, the Diversity Council has launched the Allies & Advocates initiative. The program aims to connect individuals experiencing adversity with a community volunteer, who in turn will provide an open mind, compassion and guidance.
To learn more about the initiative, we talked with Dee Sabol, executive director for the Diversity Council. The nonprofit, which has been serving Rochester since 1989, provides programming and support to create an inclusive and welcoming community in which every individual is respected.
Tell us a little background about the initiative and why it was formed.
This initiative really developed along two fronts, the first a desire to bridge the gap between people and community resources and the second to provide real “first step” opportunities for individual investment in communal life.
These two goals developed over the course of the past year as we listened to hundreds of people talk about their hopes sand frustrations related to life in this region. We heard an overwhelming desire to be more connected. We heard about isolation, confusion. Over the past few months, the volume and frequency of this message increased. And we know that personal interaction is the most effective way to create change.
We have been receiving communications regularly and increasingly from individuals deeply affected by what is transpiring here, in our state, nationally, even globally. We wanted to be able to field these calls with empathy and wisdom. We decided to tap our greatest resource – compassionate people.
How will the initiative work? And what do you hope to accomplish?
This is a simple initiative with the potential for profound results. The main objective for an individual who steps up to volunteer is to create an interpersonal relationship with a requestor, to listen empathetically and without judgement, and, as the situation requires, to make thoughtful referrals to information, services, resources, and activities that address the requestor’s needs.
Allies & Advocates volunteers receive personal training and ongoing coaching, access to a comprehensive resource list comprised of local, state, and national resources compiled collaboratively and vetted by librarians from Rochester Public Library. The profound results come out of the relationships and the connections: people across cultures connect and find their common humanity, and crucial needs intersect with trusted resources.
What are the requirements for someone who chooses to volunteer
Volunteers really need to have only a few critical skills: the ability to be present and listen with compassion, and the willingness to be part of the requestor’s journey. The rest is learned and supported. We use kind of an in-take mind map with key words that help direct the referral process. We have a second tier of volunteers adept at managing crisis referrals and individuals in more acute distress. We do not ask that volunteers be experts in anything, just desirous of helping another human being through a time of difficulty. The commitment of time – when, where, how much – is at the discretion of the volunteer. And we have staff available at all points along the path.
Since launching the program, what kind of response have you received from the community?
In the week since our launch we have registered 53 volunteers and connected with dozens of local resource provides and activities. Rochester Public Library has provided us with supports in expanding and checking the validity of our sources, which continue to grow daily. Response has been impressive. We’ve found support and gratitude at every turn.
How does someone go about connecting with the program?
Those individuals experiencing heightened anxiety, uncertainty, and incidents of bias/hate request the assistance of an Allies & Advocates volunteer by phone at 507-282-9964, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through social media private messaging. Diversity Council Staff and our volunteer coordinators are committed to generating an initial response to these requests, identifying and assigning a volunteer, and establishing a connection within hours.
People interested in volunteering as a responder or as a coordinator are asked to complete our brief online form.