Neighbours Helping Neighbours – The Summerland NeighbourLink story

A guest blog by Betty-Ann Xenis

And Jesus asks: “Who is my neighbour?”

(From Ken) Walking along Victoria Street in our little town during the annual Light-Up evening I noticed the NeighbourLink booth. I remember the earliest days of this marvellous community service immediately prior to our departure for the Island in late 2004. Eighteen years later the work continues through the dedicated and resilient work of many volunteers including Betty-Ann who tells the NL story below. Thanks Betty Ann to you and all the SNL team.

NeighbourLink Summerland is an organization that tries to bring to life the idea of “love thy neighbour as thyself” in a very practical sense. We try to help those who need it at no cost and with very few questions asked. For eighteen years, we have had a bank of volunteers, a telephone and a mission to make Summerland a better place.

But first, some history. In 2003, the Summerland Ministerial (Christian churches) in heard of a program of World Vision called NeighbourLink. Then pastor Craig Tufts (St. John’s Lutheran Church) was a key initiator. The aim was to mobilize volunteers in a community to help those in need on an individual basis. The idea was brought to the churches and a group formed to create a branch of NeighbourLink in Summerland. World Vision provided intensive and valuable training and we began our work.

Volunteers are found through our member churches. They fill out an application form, go through a Criminal Record Check and an interview. We have a Board of Directors that manages the direction and mission of the society. We are funded through grants from The United Way (in the past), the Community Foundation of the South Okanagan-Similkameen, and other smaller funding bodies. We receive donations from community groups, private donors and clients (although we never ask for payment for our services). We hold fundraisers such as silent auctions and raffles.

World Vision withdrew from sponsorship throughout Canada of NeighbourLink after the first few years as they decided to concentrate on other mission areas. Our Summerland group decided to continue on our own, forming our own charitable society, writing our own bylaws and policies. We followed the framework of the United Way model but we have adapted over the years. Unfortunately many communities did not end up sustaining the NeighbourLink program but thanks to some very hard work and inspired individuals, we continue to this day.

So how does it work? If someone needs help, they call the NeighbourLink office (250) 404-4673).. Office volunteers take the call and send out word to church coordinators, who find a volunteer from their lists of volunteers. The required service is set up and carried out. We always check back to see how it went by talking to the client and the volunteer. Most of our work is transportation for our older population. Unfortunately, there are times when we can’t help because we can’t find an appropriate volunteer. The need for volunteers is on-going and probably our biggest limitation to expanding our services.

In 2021, we had 203 requests, provided 167 services and served 68 adults, with a total of 911 volunteer hours.

We are presently looking into expanding our volunteer base beyond our member churches. This would take some adjustment to our screening and oversight processes but we think it would benefit both our clients and potential volunteers. The benefit to our clients is probably obvious but we have learned over the years that the act of volunteering benefits the volunteer as well. Giving of one’s time and talents improves mental health and happiness and creates a better community.

We run a couple of group programs as well. We have just started our monthly Soup Social program again (after being shut down by COVID) where we supply a soup lunch for anybody who comes. Soups are provided by churches, businesses and community organizations. We love the happy community feel of these sessions!

We are also in the midst of our Christmas Gift Bag program. This started last year and we loved it so much we’re doing it again. We’re collecting donations and running a raffle to raise funds to create small gift bags for our clients and anybody else who needs some cheering up at Christmas. Last year we stuffed them with chocolates, cookies, tea, coffee, socks, mitts, puzzle books and more. We’re close to starting to create the bags and looking forward to delivering them in mid-December.

In closing, a story from a client:

“NL gave me my life back. Volunteers drove me to my recovery programs. I couldn’t have gone without them. I believe that NL is important to our community. I met many wonderful people. They gave their time unconditionally. I could always trust that they would be there. I made many good friendships.”

And a story from a volunteer:

“I have continued driving clients throughout the pandemic using NL protocol. As I interact with our clients in person and by phone calls, the frequent comment is ‘I don’t know what I would do without NeighbourLink.”

To contact NeighbourLink Summerland:

Call (250) 404-4673; or visit

https://www.facebook.com/nlinksummerland

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