Volunteer Charter

1. Introduction
2. Distress Centres’ Mission & Vision Statements
3. Distress Centres’ Statement of Values
4. Anti-Discrimination / Multicultural / Anti-Racism Policy Statement
5. Becoming a Volunteer
6. Volunteer Bill of Rights
     a. Every volunteer has the right
     b. Every volunteer has the responsibility
     c. Distress Centres will
7. Volunteer Placement and Supervision
8. Grievance Process
1 - Introduction
Volunteers at Distress Centres are valued for their commitment, dedication, and integrity, and are entitled to standards of treatment and respect equalling those granted to staff and board members at Distress Centres.  Likewise, volunteers are responsible for maintaining the same standards of behaviour and accountability that are expected of all.
The rights and associated responsibilities granted to volunteers within Distress Centres are outlined in this document.
2 – Distress Centres Mission Statement
Mission – We foster hope and resilience one connection at a time.
Vision – To ensure that every individual in need receives life sustaining emotional support.
We will:
  • Provide crisis response and intervention to the emotionally vulnerable and at risk in our community.
  • Serve as a point of access for suicide prevention, intervention and postvention.
  • Provide volunteer delivered services, wherever possible, in recognition of the added value they contribute.
  • Collaborate and network with other agencies to create a continuum of care and support.
  • Provide links to emergency services when necessary.
  • Mitigate the impact of a mental health crisis by helping those with a history of vulnerability and risk make life-affirming choices.
  • Increase service access by operating within a framework of cultural competency, including the promotion of diversity in all areas of service.
  • Enhance emotional self-management and reduce risk by strengthening the coping skills of survivors.
  • Advocate on behalf of service users by reporting on current needs, gaps in service and emerging trends.
  • Build community capacity in emotional health response.
3 – Distress Centres Statement of Values
1. Be User Driven
We believe in the value of our service users’ lives.
We believe self determination is possible and that it:
  • Is supported through user initiative and user direction
  • Builds on the strengths and capabilities of individuals and their communities
  • Can be supported through informed choice, wherever appropriate
We believe in being responsive by:
  • Facilitating access to help for all people in need
  • Providing referrals which offer options for higher levels of care
  • Creating and responding to indicators that measure the communities needs
  • Soliciting and responding to community input and feedback
2. Make A Difference
We believe in:
  • Ensuring that our programming stems from our mission to create an emotional safety net for the vulnerable and at risk
  • Evaluating the impact of our programs
  • Ensuring our services bring added value to service users, volunteers, staff and community
  • Advocating on behalf of our service users to enhance the quality of their lives
3. Engage Community
We believe in:
  • Informing the community of the emotional health of the vulnerable and at risk in our community
  • Creating a 360 degree feedback loop to ensure our programming is relevant to our communities and services user needs
  • Monitoring community trends in order to identify gaps in service and emerging needs
  • Developing community awareness about suicide, mental illness, marginalization and crisis
  • Increasing the understanding of Distress Centres and all of its programs
  • Building on community strengths and assets
  • Developing collaborative partnerships for seamless program delivery and new initiatives
4. Embrace Diversity
We are committed to a policy of non-discrimination.  Decisions are based on merit and business needs and not on the basis of race, creed, colour, national origin, political or religious affiliation, gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status, family relationship or disability.
We recognize that cultural competency involves the complex interaction of biological, psychological, social and spiritual factors that can be influenced by societal attitudes and conditions.
We believe in:
  • Ensuring that our services are accessible and available to all members of our community when needed
  • Respecting our multicultural and diverse society
  • Accepting responsibility to support the dignity of all human life
  • Respecting community and culture-based knowledge
  • Promoting diversity in all areas of the organization to reflect the diversity of the community we serve
  • Adopting a variety of teaching learning and communication programming styles to support diverse needs
5. Work with Integrity
We value the support entrusted to us by the community.
We believe in:
  • Defining clearly our roles and objectives in all programs and partnerships
  • Being accountable to all our stakeholders
  • Building an environment of transparency and mutual accountability in all partnerships
  • Being fiscally responsible
  • Constantly monitoring our services to ensure their value to the community
6. Promote Excellence and Leadership
We believe in:
  • Working within a “best practices” framework
  • Promoting social entrepreneurship and innovation
  • Investing in the personal and professional development of our staff and volunteers
  • Contributing to and benefiting from current learning and teachings with respect to mental health and suicide
  • Being at the forefront of initiatives related to prevention, intervention and postvention
7. Value Our Volunteers
We value the unique contribution of our volunteers and believe the community benefits from volunteer delivered programs.
We believe in: 
  • Selecting and training volunteers who will provide a unique dimension to the delivery of services
  • Enriching the lives of our volunteers and their communities by their experience at Distress Centres.
  • Valuing and honouring the contributions of our volunteers
  • Building human capacity and community resiliency through volunteer training
  • Engaging volunteers at all levels of the organization and valuing their input
8. Respect Individual Worth
We believe in:
  • Being empathetic, respectful and non-judgemental
  • Promoting self-awareness and encouraging an atmosphere of personal growth
  • Nurturing a knowledge-based culture
  • Empowering individuals to make life-affirming choices
4 – Distress Centres Anti-Discrimination / Multicultural / Anti-Racism Policy Statement
This policy is designed to maintain accessibility of service and to address issues of racism.
Distress Centres recognizes that there is an increasing ethnic and racial diversity among residents of Metro Toronto and throughout our telephone calling area.  We also recognize the cultural, social and economic enrichment of this changing population.
Distress Centres is committed to ensuring that its mission and operations embrace the entire community.  Distress Centres encourages the community to participate fully and to have complete access to its services, employment, Board and general memberships, and volunteer opportunities.  It will make every effort to see that its structures, policies and systems reflect all aspects of the total community and to promote equal access to all.  To this end, Distress Centres is committed to ensuring that:
  • Volunteers, Staff members and Board members are reflective of the community they serve.
  • Services are sensitive to the needs of culturally and racially diverse groups.
  • Programs seek to eliminate systemic barriers to full participation and promote positive race relations and attitudinal changes.
  • Discriminatory or racist incidents and/or behaviour are not tolerated.
  • Communications present a positive and balanced portrayal of racial and cultural minorities.
This policy is intended to act as positive force for social and racial equality and elimination of discrimination.
5 – Becoming a Volunteer
There are many reasons to become a volunteer and specifically to give your time and energy to Distress Centres.  Positive reasons people volunteer include to live a more balanced life; to help out those in your community; to learn new skills or use existing skills; to explore an area of personal or professional interest; to gain a greater sense of self-esteem; to do your civic duty and give back to your community; to be part of a team; to contribute to a cause that has affected you personally; to feel needed; to keep busy.
6 – Volunteer Bill of Rights
Every volunteer has the right:
  • To training for the job; thoughtfully planned and effectively presented so volunteers feel confident and prepared when communicating with clients.
  • To formal and informal expressions of recognition for attitude and performance through regular expressions of appreciation and by being treated as a valued co-worker and equal partner within the organization.
  • To work in a climate that values volunteerism and volunteer service.
  • To sound guidance and direction by someone who is experienced, patient, well-informed and thoughtful, and has the time to invest in giving guidance.
  • Certificate of completion after one year of volunteer service.
  • To letters of reference if requested upon fulfilling requirements.
  • To honest and open lines of communication between staff and volunteers.
  • To information about themselves handled and stored appropriately and treated as strictly confidential.
  • To be treated with fairness, respect and equality and to not be excluded on the grounds of age, disability, race, religion or sexual orientation.
  • To access Distress Centres grievance process (see section 8) should you ever be unhappy with a situation emanating from your work as a volunteer.
  • To make a complaint to the volunteer coordinator, centre manager, program coordinator or executive director if a volunteer feels that any of the above rights have been or are being violated.
Every volunteer has the responsibility:
  • To honour time commitments, and be considerate in giving adequate notice if you will be unable to fulfill your responsibilities.
  • To respect others and the diversity of opinion.
  • To treat service users in a courteous, respectful and dignified manner and to work with compassion, caring, and commitment.
  • To safeguard confidential information and protect privacy.
  • To treat service users in a manner that is sensitive, respectful and responsive to individual needs and preferences in the spirit of tolerance towards race, ethnicity, religion, sexual preferences, physical disabilities and by excluding any kind of discrimination.
  • To sign any paperwork necessary before volunteer work begins (Code of Ethics, Confidentiality agreement, release forms, etc.).
  • To honour Distress Centres investment in you including training, tools and other resources.  Should you feel you no longer want to volunteer there, be sure to keep this commitment in mind before deciding to leave.
  • To welcome supervision to ensure you are doing the best for our service users.
  • To not give out unauthorized personal contact details and to not arrange to communicate with service users outside of Distress Centres regulations or form any personal relationships with service users.
  • To communicate openly and honestly.
  • To speak up if you feel your rights are not being respected.
  • To inform supervisors of any serious incidents or potential dangers.
  • To embrace the values of Distress Centres and to behave accordingly.
  • To represent Distress Centres only as a volunteer not as a spokesperson for Distress Centres.
  • To participate in conflict resolution and grievance processes when called upon to do so by Distress Centres’ management.  Should a volunteer think that an outcome is inappropriate or unfair, he or she can appeal the outcome to the Chair of the Human Resources Committee.
Distress Centres will:
  • Monitor and enforce this charter.
  • Communicate openly and honestly with staff and volunteers.
  • Value and recognise volunteer contributions.
  • Encourage a fair, respectful, diverse and inclusive volunteer culture.
  • Provide effective induction and ongoing training for staff and volunteers.
  • Support clear channels of communication and listen to and act on feedback provided by volunteers.
  • Respect all confidential information about service users and volunteers.
  • Ask for volunteer permission before any job-related reference, police or other check is conducted.
  • Select appropriate volunteers for the job by interviewing and screening all applicants, including reference and police checks, and where appropriate, a prohibited employment declaration for roles that involve working directly with at risk individuals.
7 - Volunteer Placement and Supervision
Volunteer suitability is determined by the Centre Manager, Volunteer Coordinator and / or Program Coordinator at each centre – this includes decisions regarding whether volunteers will be admitted to training, graduate from the training program, etc.
Each centre’s volunteer day to day activities is the responsibility of the centre’s Volunteer Coordinator, Program Coordinator and Centre Manager.
Distress Centres practises a progressive disciplinary process with volunteers if any of the above volunteer responsibilities are breached or if there are performance issues and concerns.  The discipline process includes a verbal notification, written notification, retraining opportunities, suspension or probation, and termination of volunteer placement.  These steps may be accelerated or by-passed if the physical or emotional well-being of service users, volunteers or staff is in question.
If a recommendation of volunteer placement termination is decided upon by the centre’s Program Coordinator or Centre Manager they will advise the Executive Director, and in consultation with the Executive Director a final decision to terminate will be made and communicated by the program coordinator in written notification.  Individuals can contact the Executive Director in writing to discuss their termination further if desired or to begin a grievance process if needed.
8 - Grievance Process
Distress Centres recognizes that from time to time a volunteer may wish to seek redress for a grievance related to their volunteer placement or dismissal.  These grievances are to be dealt with fairly and promptly, with a view to avoiding escalating problems.
The grievance procedure is as follows:
  1. An attempt should always be made to resolve the grievance informally by in person communication.
  2. Should the grievance fail to be addressed by informal means, the grievor will address the matter in person with the Executive Director (if the Executive Director is involved in the grievance, then the matter should be addressed in writing to the Chair of the Human Resources Committee).
  3. Should the grievance fail to be addressed by the in person meeting with the Executive Director, the grievor will address the matter in writing to the Executive Director.
  4. The Executive Director (or the Chair of the Human Resources Committee, as the case may be) will meet with the grievor within 7 business days of receipt of the written matter.
  5. After due consideration, the Executive Director (or the Chair of the Human Resources Committee, as the case may be) will give a response to the grievor within a further 7 business days.
  6. If the grievor is not satisfied with the response of the Executive Director, the grievor may address the matter in writing to the Chair of the Human Resources Committee, who will proceed with the matter as set out in 4 and 5 above.
  7. The response of the Chair of the Human Resources Committee is final.
9 – Volunteer Vacation and Leave of Absence
  1. Vacation: Distress Centres understands that occasionally volunteers will need to take time off for personal reasons throughout the year. Time off must be communicated with the centre staff prior to the start of the vacation. It is expected that make-up shifts will be booked to compensate for the missed time. This time can be made up either before or after the time away. 
  2. Leave of Absence: 
          a. Within a one year period of any given year, there can only be one formal leave of absence (LOA).
          b. The period of the LOA should be communicated and agreed upon with the program staff at the specific centre, and should not extend longer than a period of three months’ time. 
          c. Any time within the LOA period will not count as part of the volunteer’s one year commitment.
          d. Upon the volunteer’s return, a refresher session or retraining may be required and subsequently booked with the staff.
  1. Failure to fulfill commitment: If a volunteer fails to fulfill the agreed commitment, and does not sign up for shifts, the staff will follow up with a letter/email. The volunteer must respond within the period of time outlined in the letter. If the volunteer fails to respond, s/he will receive a notice that they will be removed from the active list of DC volunteers.
In the event that the volunteer expresses a desire to stay with DC, the staff will book a meeting for refresher or retraining, according to the following guidelines:
  • If a volunteer is absent for a period of three to 12 months: return is conditional on the volunteer completing at least one refresher session. 
  • If a volunteer misses 12 months or longer: return is conditional on the volunteer completing either a modified or complete retraining. The determination of retraining requirements is at the discretion of the staff. 


10 – Reference and Confirmation Letters
1. Reference letters will only be provided for volunteers who have met the following requirements:
     a. 1 full year of service and,
     b. 52 shifts, 12 of which are overnights or,
     c. Have fulfilled an alternate commitment that was previously agreed upon between the volunteer and their respective centre staff.
2. Volunteers will be provided with a maximum of 4 separate reference letters for university applications.
3. Confirmation of volunteerism will not be given until a volunteer has completed at least 3 months of service.  This letter will outline that the volunteer is in the process of completing the agreed upon commitment.  It will only serve as a confirmation of volunteerism and will not attest to the volunteer’s skills or experience.