by Lori Sortino, Consultant and Trainer, DEAF Project
Parents who volunteer to be connected with another family for parent-to-parent support attend our Parent Volunteer Orientation. When they attend the four-hour orientation, they learn about our organization, its mission, and the specific focus in the type of support we provide to parents. This helps clarify their role as a volunteer, and exactly how we hope they participate. We also inform them that they can organize Family Fun Days or other gatherings to encourage more parents to meet, in addition to providing direct parent-to-parent support, if that's something they want to do.
We emphasize that they are volunteers and that we expect them to put their own needs first, supporting other families only when they have the time. We talk about the importance of taking care of ourselves and when to ask for support as well as give support. As we cover the basic structure of Parent Links and explain how families are referred to the program through the Newborn Hearing Screening Program, we find that our volunteers all have their own story to share about how they learned of their child's hearing status. From this beginning the parents bond with one another through sharing their story. This experience is utilized to point out that this what our program is all about. As they talk about how they felt, processing the news of their child's hearing status, and what they did, we model for them listening while they share. Then we check in with how it felt for them to share, and we have paved the way to helping them see that this is what we're asking them to do for another parent.
Just listen to their story and allow them the opportunity to feel listened to by another parent who understands what they are going through.
The faces of the volunteers, as they listen to one another's stories, are full of empathy and compassion, as they relive the experience with their peer. In addition to making sure they understand the program, we cover listening skills, empathy, and we role play. The role play allows each volunteer to practice their listening skills as they would in a real conversation, which provides the opportunity for the facilitator to give feedback tailored to each individual. Some individuals will have a tendency, just in a habit of speaking, to offer suggestions out of a desire to help. We target this very common behavior in orientation and instruct our volunteers that there is nothing to "fix" in our role of parent-to-parent support; we are only here to listen and reflect their journey - to be a witness to their process.
By the time we complete orientation, the parents who have attended together have exchanged information and have begun discussing getting together, based on what they have shared about their children and their current challenges. What happens next is that other parents will be referred to these volunteers and we expect a very similar natural chain of events will occur. Nothing is forced. There is no agenda. We simply come together to better understand our role as parents of deaf and hard of hearing children. How does this unique experience affect us and how does coming together with others who are experiencing this journey make us stronger? To date, 19 volunteers have been trained in Southern California.
Contact us if you are interested in being a Parent Links Volunteer. firstname.lastname@example.org