Gary Gumley, co-organizer of the White Rock Festival of Lights, is founding a volunteer brigade to ‘bridge the gap’ between students and seniors during the pandemic. (Contributed photo).

‘Volunteer brigade’ to help seniors during pandemic

Initiative seeks to recruit federal grant-eligible students

Gary Gumley, co-organizer of the White Rock Festival of Lights, is calling for between 50 and 100 youth volunteers for a new Semiahmoo Peninsula initiative – a phone and online service to assist older people in connecting with pandemic-related information and resources.

Gumley said the work-from-home initiative – called the Volunteer Brigade – will launch this week, and is intended to provide an local opportunity for youth, through a Canada Student Service Grant announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in April.

Under the grant program, students who do volunteer work this summer in the continuing fight against COVID-19 would be able to apply for between $1,000 and $5,000, replacing tuition and living funds they might otherwise have earned at summer jobs.

Gumley said the work of the brigade will be to reach out to a segment of the public – primarily vulnerable seniors – who are not online, or have trouble navigating the web, and who receive their principal information from television or radio and only access resources by telephone.

“We did a test with some volunteers last week, making 50 cold calls to people in this area, to see whether they’re connected to the internet,” Gumley said. “Of these, at least five people said no, they’re not online, and are not intending to be. They don’t have the technology and they’re not interested in it.

“The intention with this is to bridge the gap between the younger generations and the older generations.”

Gumley said recruiting for the brigade is aimed at students just graduating high school and going on to college or university, or those already enrolled in post-secondary education.

And while details of the Canada Student Service Grant have yet to be provided, he’d like the volunteer force to be in place when they’re announced.

For convenience sake, it has been established initially as a subsidiary of his Community Clicks Media enterprise, Gumley said, but the goal is for it to be an autonomous not-for-profit society.

“One way or another it will be a non-profit society – we’re just looking for the right fit (in the community),” he said.

The Volunteer Brigade website says volunteers will assist by reaching out to the community, introducing resources, offering reliable information, and simply listening, while providing call centre service and using TELUS Business Connect (voice mail service is being donated to the project by Telus, Gumley said).

For the volunteers, it will provide experience of making connections, offering leadership and providing pro-active communication, while calling on aptitude for customer service, communication, problem-solving, social awareness and empathy, positive attitude and rapid learning.

Gumley said the brigade will be asking for a minimum commitment of two hours per week, a criminal record check and for applicants to have a computer with stable internet connection.

For more information, or to apply, visit volunteerbrigade.ca, call 604-238-0900 or email admin@volunteerbrigade.ca

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