Making volunteering a positive experience
22 November 2012
Francine Benefield wants to attract new volunteers to Spring Hill Corrections Facility and is calling on the local community for support, particularly anyone with an arts background willing to develop and lead an arts-focused programme or workshop.
“For offenders, community participation will enhance their rehabilitation and reintegration experience,” says Francine, Volunteer Co-ordinator at Spring Hill Corrections Facility. “And for volunteers, the satisfaction they get from positive engagement with an offender can be very powerful. It drives them to continue with their work.”
Francine, who joined the Department of Corrections more than two years ago as a Volunteer Co-ordinator, also knows what it’s like to be a volunteer. As a university student, she began volunteering as an Assistant Chaplain with the Prison Chaplaincy Service of Aotearoa New Zealand – an experience that gave her the skills and understanding to carry out her role at Corrections and to mentor new volunteers adapting to the prison environment.
Francine’s role is to ensure that the experience for volunteers is a positive one. Supporting and motivating volunteers comes with its challenges, including the location, working with male offenders and volunteer availability, she says. But it’s also very rewarding.
Wanting to influence change
“In a world that can promote self, volunteers put others first. They are people who step up when needed, who go the extra mile and are good role models. They understand the need for support and the importance of community, and they want to influence change.”
Francine recently witnessed for herself how the arts can be a powerful tool in changing offender behaviour. Pacific Dance New Zealand ran an eight-week programme at Auckland Region Women’s Corrections Facility, overseen by Francine and another manager. The programme was directed by choreographer Iosefa Enari and included drumming, along with Samoan and Tahitian dance.
“Sefa and the team from Pacific Dance New Zealand were amazing. Their classes helped connect many of the women to their heritage and educated them in this form of dance. Dance requires discipline and hard work, and our women achieved both.
‘What’s more, the women understood the sacrifice the tutors had made to be there, and their gratitude and behaviour reflected that.”
Francine believes that the arts not only cultivate creativity but they also have the potential to assist with healing in ways that other methods may not. They can also teach the offenders skills, improve literacy and numeracy, promote teamwork and improve their communication.
“The arts are a medium for people to engage with the offender, and to role model and influence change in their lives,” she says.
Francine wants to explore various artforms that could be developed and workshopped in short block courses. These would offer realistic, short-term goals to provide satisfaction and build confidence for volunteers and prisoners, as well as fitting in with a volunteer’s commitment and family life.
“I am very aware of not overcommitting volunteers because in the end, it doesn’t work. To reap the rewards, it needs to be a good experience for all concerned.”
Corrections has nearly 2500 authorised volunteers actively assisting with offenders on a regular basis. For more information about volunteering please visit the Corrections website.
If you are interested in volunteering at Spring Hill Corrections Facility, please contact Francine Benefield (T: 07 826 0325 E: firstname.lastname@example.org).