The purpose of this assessment is for students to reflect upon their community engagement placement and present their learnings in a Learning in the Community Report on placement. Students will reflect on the following topics:
• The audience: the community of people that they helped to serve during the placement
• The purpose :the kinds of disadvantage observed, and/or the client needs addressed during the placement
• The alignment of practice with theory- consider the community engagement theory, is this what you saw in practice?
• Recommendations for improving community engagement in the Placement Organization
• Reflection on your own values, assumptions and attitudes and the skills developed through the placement
Overview of Your Side Australia
As part of our community engagement placement program, we were each expected to partake in volunteering activities at various wellness and community service organizations in and around Sydney, which provides specialized services to surrounding communities. One such organization is Your Side Australia, which is located in Sydney. I was assigned as a volunteer at this organization. The organization, which is also known as Your Northside is one of the most well known community engagement organizations which mainly deals with elderly people. The organization provides support and required services to the elderly people or people who live with disabilities or suffer from mental illness (Your Side Australia 2018). The following report analyzes my experience during placement and my own personal observations of the same.
Your Side Australia is one of the most significant and leading service providers when it comes to people with special needs. For the past thirty years, the organization has been working in close association with elderly people, people living with disabilities or mental ailments. The organization is led by a vision which claims that every individual has the innate right to lead a decent life and the fact that they may not be able to care for themselves should not get in the way. The organization mainly works with people who require special care and support and helps them lead an independent life. The organization also provides the clients with care solutions which would benefit them (Your Side Australia 2018).
As part of my placement, I had to complete 40 hours of social work with the organization. The organization works in this manner – activities are planned for the clients on different days of the week, where they would be picked up from their homes and taken to the location of the activities. The organization heavily relies on the volunteers enlisted under them for seamless operations. The volunteers are expected to assist the clients and help them with whatever they require. During my association with the organization, I noticed that there were mainly three categories of audience or customer that Your Side Australia catered to. They included people on wheelchairs, elderly people who could walk but required assistance while walking and old people who suffered from mental troubles, were ill or faced speech troubles. In Sydney, there are countless elderly people who face these issues. For instance, they might face difficulties while walking or communicating. This is the main target audience for the company.
The main purpose of the organization is to help individuals who require special assistance lead standard lives. In other words, the organization strives to improve the quality of life for the aforementioned categories of people in Sydney. The organization recognizes that certain categories of people might not be able to communicate or travel on their own. This could be due to physical or mental ailments, speech problems or other challenges. As such, the organization attempts to provide such people with care solutions which would improve their quality of life and also enable them to live life without having to depend on others. As part of its activities, the organization conducts a number of entertainment and recreation activities for the target audience. The services include assisted visits to the following:
- Yoga classes
- Upcoming festivals and tourist spots for entertainment
- Parks and other refreshing places
- Malls and shopping centers
- Lunch activities
- Art galleries
The organization has its own buses which provide transportation facilities as well. For instance, if on a day, 15 clients have been booked along with one volunteer, the bus would pick up all 15 clients and the volunteer before heading to the location of the activity. During my placement, I accompanied the clients on a number of such visits, so that they could take a seat back from the hustle and bustle of daily life and just enjoy for the day. I volunteered on three such occasions where I attended the karaoke at Chatswood RSL, the Palm Beach and the Wollongong Diggers Club. I also assisted the company executives in their mailing activities. I would help the elderly people walk during these activities, by pushing their wheelchairs, helping them get to the toilet, helping them with their food and so on. During my experience there, these are the disadvantages and the basic requirements of the people that I noticed there:
- Most of the people found it difficult to communicate effectively and faced speech problems.
- Most people required assistance while going to the washroom.
- Some clients required assistance while walking
- These clients also needed help during eating and drinking
- Most of the clients were on wheelchairs and thus needed someone to pull or navigate the wheelchairs.
According to the community engagement theory, an organization is expected to work in accordance with the members of the surrounding communities in order to collaboratively make decisions which concern them (McCloskey, McDonald and Cook 2013). In other words, the community engagement theory encourages the working together of various community groups in order to collectively address the various issues that threaten to slow down the progress of the community (Seymour et al. 2013). If the community engagement theory is to be implemented to the volunteering experience that I had at Your Side Australia, I can say that certain aspects of the theory were certainly followed. For instance, the organization is extremely caring and inclusive towards its clients. The clientele at the organization is diverse, and includes individuals from different sections of the society. Most importantly, the organization is directed at a specific section of the community – the elderly people. It is important to note that the organization has provisions and provides support to different categories and also takes into account the unique needs and requirements of such individuals. For example, there are adequate provisions for individuals who are incapable of walking without support. Similarly, the organization recognizes the fact that elderly people often find it difficult to communicate their needs to others. As such, the volunteers are trained to handle such complicated situations. Moreover, the organization also caters to people with disabilities and helps them improve their quality of life. In accordance with the community engagement theory, the organization include the members of the community in the decision making process and as part of its organizations. For example, the carers form an integral part of the operations of Your Side Australia. The organization also has provisions for young carers and volunteers like us. By including volunteers of different age groups, the organization creates an engaging and inclusive environment which supports the involvement of the community (Burns and Mahoney 2013).
Despite the fact that the organization’s chief motto and vision is aligned with the community engagement theory, there is always room for improvement. The following recommendations can thus be made:
- The members of the community should be provided adequate information as to what the organization exactly does and how it operates. The techniques of information dissemination may be used for this purpose. This would facilitate better lines of communication between the organization and the general public. It is important for the company to start a dialogue in order to spread awareness. For instance, the organization could use social media to spread awareness about the troubles faced by these people and what the community could do to ease their pain. This is one integral way of engaging the community (Habibi, Laroche and Richard 2014).
- Feedback of the public must be taken into account. Acquiring the feedback and subsequent analysis of the feedback is absolutely essential. Consultation would help the organization improve and enhance its current operations. The organization must continue to find ways to amend its services, improve and expand them, find alternatives and take important decisions.
- The organization must work directly with the general public to ensure that the common public concerns are taken into account. Before any major decision is taken, the public responses and reactions must be accounted for. Their aspirations and needs must be carefully understood before decisions are taken (Curtis et al. 2014).
The volunteering experience was quite an enriching experience for me. This was my first time working at such an organization and I found it quite challenging in the beginning. I was expected to accompany elderly people to different places and help them with basic activities like walking, eating or even going to the washroom. I also found it difficult to communicate with them for they showed speech troubles. However, by the end of the volunteering program, I had acquired a number of skills which I believe will help me in the long run. For instance, I have learned how to patiently and calmly deal with conflicts and challenging situations. I have also had the opportunity to work on my communication skills which would prepare me for future roles.
To conclude, the volunteering experience at Your Side Australia was a welcome experience which helped me gain a lot in terms of both personal and professional needs. I was exposed to the various disadvantages that certain communities face and their unique needs and requirements. I also understood the concepts pertaining to community engagement and how theory may be converted into practice, as in the case of Your Side Australia.
Burns, L. and Mahoney, C., 2013. Student engagement: Identity, motivation and community.
Curtis, A., Ross, H., Marshall, G.R., Baldwin, C., Cavaye, J., Freeman, C., Carr, A. and Syme, G.J., 2014. The great experiment with devolved NRM governance: lessons from community engagement in Australia and New Zealand since the 1980s. Australasian Journal of Environmental Management, 21(2), pp.175-199.
Habibi, M.R., Laroche, M. and Richard, M.O., 2014. The roles of brand community and community engagement in building brand trust on social media. Computers in Human Behavior, 37, pp.152-161.
McCloskey, D.J., McDonald, M.A. and Cook, J., 2013. Community engagement: definitions and organizing concepts from the literature.
Seymour, J.E., Almack, K., Kennedy, S. and Froggatt, K., 2013. Peer education for advance care planning: volunteers’ perspectives on training and community engagement activities. Health Expectations, 16(1), pp.43-55.
Your Side Australia. 2018. Disability Services & Disability Organisation in Sydney - Your Side Australia. [online] Your Side Australia. Available at: https://yourside.org.au/ [Accessed 24 Oct. 2018].
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