Unit Life

Philosophy and Commitment:
In most cases, a commitment to MVSA is a commitment to live communally in a household with other volunteers. Living in community requires tolerance, flexibility and a willingness to work at maintaining healthy relationships. Living in community also provides opportunities for rich fellowship and fun. Unit members share in household work and activities, and meet regularly with the household for Unit meetings and prayer or study sessions.

Volunteers commit themselves to the highest standards of personal and professional conduct. As such they are accountable to God, to the church, and to fellow volunteers with whom they live and work. Volunteers are called upon to show sensitive regard for the moral, social and religious values of others. At stake is the calling and style of living volunteers represent, the church they serve, and the witness of the Christian gospel.

Responsible Behaviour: Voluntary Service participants are representatives of their unit, of their host congregation(s), of their home congregation, and of the program and its intentions in the larger community. During their term of commitment participants are expected to make a good-faith effort to conduct themselves in a manner that protects and respects the health and well-being of others, themselves and the environment. Participants are expected to be open to counsel regarding what is perceived as addictive or emotionally unhealthy behaviour.

It is expected that participants will:

  • Live in accordance with and reflect Christ-like standards in personal and professional conduct.
  • Nurture trust and maintain and restore right relationships in the communities within which they live and serve.
  • Demonstrate mutual respect and integrity in sharing and fulfilling their responsibilities.
  • Respect and celebrate diversity of backgrounds and nurture acceptance in our Christian community.
  • Live in accordance with sound ecology, good health, and wise stewardship.
  • Conduct themselves in ways and in settings which will not harm their witness, service, or personal health.
  • Reserve sexual intimacy for the marriage covenant.
  • Strive to be free from lies, manipulation and deceit, be faithful in keeping promises, and trustworthy in managing resources.
Disregard for any of the above stated expectations will result in discipline, and may result in dismissal from the program.

Relationship to Supporting Churches:
Although volunteers are not required to worship at the sponsoring congregation(s), a significant relationship should be developed and maintained. Sunday morning worship services are not the total life of the church, but they are an important part. Volunteers are encouraged to become involved in educational programs of the church, music, and worship leadership, or other areas of ministry. Volunteers should determine their priorities for service carefully in conjunction with both the Unit and local leadership. If active participation and worship with the sponsoring congregation is required in a particular location, the volunteer will be informed of this in the placement exploration process.

Acts of Conscience:
MVSA understands that in our walk with Christ there may be times that we feel moved to acts of conscience such as civil disobedience. These acts are individual decisions and thus may not be interpreted as representing the MVSA program. MVSA will support an individual through prayer, personal contact and affirmation. Persons making decisions of conscience do so at their own risk and expense since Mennonite Voluntary Service Adventure Canada will not assume any responsibility for legal or other related expenses.

Associate Members:
Occasionally, MVS units have people living in their residence who are not full-time volunteers. These may be students, short-term volunteers or people with regular earning jobs in the community. This type of arrangement must be approved by all Unit members and the local leadership. The associate member, Unit, and local leadership all sign a Covenant indicating the nature of the arrangement and their agreement to it. Associate members are expected to be fully involved in the life of the Unit, its activities and programs. They will pay a monthly living fee to the Unit for food and housing costs. At least 50% of the Unit household will be full-time volunteers. Associate members do not receive MVSA financial benefits.

At times, local congregations may choose to invite VSers from other voluntary service programs-such as MCC VS-to live in the VS house. It is the responsibility of the sponsoring congregation to invite and supervise such people in a manner that consistent with the regular operation of the MVSA house.

Basic Needs:
Sponsoring congregations provide for the basic needs of each volunteer: housing, food, transportation, medical coverage, and a monthly cash stipend. Linens are supplied and remain the property of the household. Unit funds are used to purchase personal hygienic articles such as soap, shampoo, toothpaste, shaving materials, etc. Volunteers provide their own clothes, which should be suitable for the work they will do and the communities in which they live Volunteers are strongly encouraged to keep to a minimum the number of personal items they bring to their assignments. Appliances, furniture and large decorative items are not appropriate. Household members plan together for the wise and frugal use of money and supplies. Knowledge about conservation, ecology, health, and justice will be reflected in responsible decisions and habits. A service lifestyle is one of simplicity and freedom from the bondage-of-baggage. Local unit housing availability will determine whether a volunteer will have his/her own room or will have to share a room.

College Credit:
Most Mennonite colleges have special arrangements for MVSers wishing to earn college credit while on an MVS assignment. To receive credit, MVSers negotiate with the college for courses related to assignments. Arrangements for credit must be made before the service term begins. For more information on these arrangements, contact the Dean's office of the Mennonite college you are attending. MVSA has no formal arrangement with any Mennonite college.

Leave:
Should a volunteer be temporarily unable to perform his/her work due to illness or an emergency in the immediate family, the volunteer may request an emergency leave. Emergency leave may be granted for periods of up to one month. Volunteers on emergency leave will be paid the regular personal allowance.

In the event of a death in the immediate family of a volunteer (i.e., parents, grandparents, siblings, children, in-laws), the Unit will cover travel costs to the funeral and back to the individual's assignment. Families and home congregations are encouraged to make a contribution to cover these costs.

When a volunteer needs to be away from an assignment for personal reasons, a non-emergency leave may be granted for up to 30 days without allowance, after conversation with the agency and local leadership.

Volunteers who serve with MVSA through other organizations such as Christliche Dienste and EIRENE will adhere to the policies for leaves of that organization.

Magazines and Newspapers:
Each Unit receives the Canadian Mennonite. Each Unit may choose one faith-based magazine (e.g., The Mennonite, The Other Side, Catholic Worker), one news magazine (e.g., McLeans, Time) and a local newspaper, to be paid out of Unit funds. Units who wish to receive additional periodicals should negotiate with their local leadership.

Meetings:
Each Unit should have weekly meetings that all Volunteers attend. The quality and vitality of Unit life depends upon these meetings. Agenda may include group and individual concerns, Bible study, opportunities to deal with faith issues, housekeeping matters, and administrative problems.

There will be monthly meetings of the local leadership and Units members. These meetings will contain How's-it-going? sessions, discussion of Unit house issues, prospective volunteers, new service opportunities, and unit relationships with community organizations and congregations should be reviewed. Minutes will be kept for future reference. Occasionally, local leadership will meet without the volunteers

Pets:
Because of varying personal preferences, prejudices, allergies, etc., pets will not be kept in Unit households. Any exceptions to this policy must be approved by the local leadership. Units will not pay any pet-related expenses.

Visitors:
Family and friends are encouraged to visit volunteers to learn about their involvements. All visits must be approved by the Unit household and are limited to a maximum of three days. Lodging and meal arrangements should be worked out according to available space in the household, with care taken to avoid having too many visitors at one time. Visitors who stay in the household are invited to take an active part in household life. No fee is charged, but visitors are encouraged to make a contribution towards the household costs incurred by their visit. Because of special circumstances, certain households may have more detailed visitor policies.

Romantic Relationships:
Establishing a romantic relationship during Voluntary Service, either within or outside of the household, has been shown to significantly distract participants from the objectives of the program. Such relationships are strongly discouraged. Should such a relationship develop, it is expected that:

  • Participants will continue to conduct themselves in line with the Responsible Behaviours guidelines, put forth above.
  • Participants will continue to maintain a commitment to Unit Life expectations stated above.
  • Participants will be open to and available for honest discussion with their unit regarding the implications of said relationship on unit life.

Disregard for any of the above stated expectations will result in discipline, and may result in dismissal from the program.

Reporting:
Volunteers will provide verbal reports at the monthly meetings which tell about their employment and Unit activities, and include reflections on personal growth and development. Volunteers are also encouraged to write quarterly reports at the end of each quarter of the volunteer's term. Quarterly reports are given to the local leadership. Occasionally they may be used in further reporting or in newsletters. No item will be published without the VSer's consent. Quarterly reports will be considered confidential upon request.

End of Term Evaluation/Report:
Near the end of a volunteer's term of service, the local leadership will initiate an evaluation process/exit interview based on the end-of-term/final quarterly report form.

Re-entry After Service:
The local leadership and Unit members are encouraged to help each volunteer prepare for the transition from volunteer service to other involvements. The volunteer is encouraged to contact the home congregation, pastor, family members and friends for additional support and encouragement during this time of change.

MVSA Retreats:
An all-units retreat is held in the winter/spring of each year. All volunteers are expected to attend this retreat and all local leadership are invited to attend. Transportation costs for volunteers will be borne by the Unit. Location, dates and other details are determined by the Management Board.

In addition, Units may arrange for local weekend retreats and, with the approval of local leadership, Unit funds may be used for this purpose.

Style of Living:
Members of MVSA are expected to practice a style of living that is in keeping with principles of sound ecology, good health, and wise stewardship of resources. Sensitivity to the goals of the Unit, the local supporting congregation and the broader MVSA programs should be exercised. Consumption of food, alcohol, tobacco and drugs in a manner harmful to personal growth and group living, or which jeopardize the effectiveness of the service program and witness in the community, are unacceptable.

All relationships should reflect the style of life and work of Christian living. Volunteers are expected to give priority to their service assignments and Unit life above other relationships. Because an individual's behaviour and relationships so directly affect others in the household, volunteers should be willing to discuss those subjects openly with the local leadership and Unit members.

Time and energy given to establishing a serious dating relationship may detract from a volunteer's service assignment or unit life. Volunteers involved in a dating relationship must be committed first to the Unit, the local community, and then to each other. MVSA does not permit dating couples to live in the same unit house. Volunteers are expected to pursue a style of living that is ethical, chaste and caring.

Vehicles in Service:
MVSA views transportation as a justice issue. In wanting to identify with the poor it is essential that we face the discrepancy of access to transportation and the larger impact that operating a personal vehicle has on our world. With this in mind, MVSA has a general bias against vehicles in Units. MVSA recognizes the need for vehicles in some locations, especially in light of certain workplace partnerships.

Unit Vehicles:
Some MVSA Units have vehicles. Unit vehicles are available for travel to and from work, unit activities, local MVSA involvements, and limited personal use by volunteers. Volunteers are responsible to ensure good maintenance, cleaning, and repair work in consultation with the local leadership. Local sites establish guidelines for personal use of the vehicle that reflect MVSA philosophy towards vehicles noted above.

Personal Vehicles in Service:
Personal vehicles may be brought into MVSA only with the permission of, or upon the request of the local leadership. The Unit may cover operating costs (insurance, routine repairs, maintenance, gas and oil) if the vehicle is available for use by all members, subject to reasonable local guidelines. The person bringing the vehicle retains ownership of it and should oversee its use. No Unit is likely to need more than one vehicle under this category. This kind of arrangement requires the approval of the Unit and local leadership. A written memo should establish guidelines as to responsibility for costs, insurance and the disposal of vehicle. A copy should be given to the Management Board.

Personal vehicles will be reimbursed, based on the standard mileage rate set by Tax Canada for business use of an automobile for work-related or Unit-related travel. (Please note that the mileage rate paid may fluctuate.)

Volunteers are personally responsible for the cost of any traffic violations or accidents.

Personal Problems/Counseling:
It is natural that volunteers will at times have concerns and feelings they need to discuss confidentially. The place to secure this help may be within the unit, from local leadership, or from a trusted person within the sponsoring congregation or the community. It is important that volunteers find meaningful ways to express concerns and feelings. A special reference group for an individual volunteer may be established by the Unit and local leadership to work with a personal problem.

At times, a local person outside the MVSA circle may assist in this process. Individuals are encouraged to seek counseling when needed. In certain situations professional counseling may be arranged Prior approval must be obtained from the local leadership when costs to the Unit or MVSA program are incurred. The volunteer is not expected to share the cost of counseling for a diagnosed clinical mental illness, unless there is a pre-existing condition, in which case costs incurred are the responsibility of the volunteer.

Settling Disputes:
Matthew 18:15-17 (CEV) states: "If one of my followers sins against you, go and point out what was wrong. But do it in private, just between the two of you. If that person listens, you have won back a follower. But if that one refuses to listen, take along one or two others. The Scriptures teach that every complaint must be proven true by two or more witnesses. If the follower refuses to listen to them, report the matter to the church . . ."

Conflict Resolution
In line with the instructions of God's word, efforts to resolve conflict should take the following form:

  • If it is safe to do so, approach the individual privately and directly.
  • If not resolved, involve one or two other witnesses.
  • If not resolved, take the matter to local leadership.
  • If not resolved, contact the home congregation and request their intervention.

Grievance Process
Once it has been decided that the grievance process shall be implemented, all parties are encouraged to maintain carefully documented records.

Step 1: If two or more parties are unable to achieve a mutually satisfactory solution through discussion, involved parties shall appoint a mutually agreed-upon mediator. MVSA encourages the use of local mediators. If no such person can be found or agreed upon, another person shall be selected with the input of the Management Board. The role of the mediator is to gather information and to make recommendations for resolution of the issue.

Step 2: If mediation is not successful, an ad hoc problem solving committee shall be formed. Each involved party shall select one representative. An additional, mutually agreed-upon committee person shall be appointed, who shall serve as mediator on the committee and will facilitate the problem solving process. The objective of this committee is to agree upon solution(s) to the issue at hand. This step is considered successful if all parties involved are reasonably satisfied with its outcome.

Step 3: If step two is unsuccessful, any involved party may appeal to the Management Board who will investigate the issue. Any decision made by the Management Board will be final.

Substance Use:
Use of alcohol, tobacco or illegal drugs in a Voluntary Service household, or during one's Voluntary Service term of commitment is strictly prohibited. Violation of this policy will result in discipline, and may result in dismissal from the program.

Sexual Harassment:
Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, or verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. If allegations of sexually harassing or abusive behaviour are made against a VSer local leadership will:

  • Work to maintain the safety and confidentiality of the all parties involved.
  • Ensure that contact between alleged perpetrator and accuser is minimized or completely terminated while a thorough investigation is implemented.
  • Work with all parties, toward appropriate and reasonable closure and discipline based on results of the investigation.

If a VSer makes allegations of sexually harassing or abusive behaviour against an individual in his/her service assignment or other context, the program will provide advocacy for the participant in following established protocol within the respective context.

Guidelines for dealing with offences: MVSA is committed to maintaining and restoring right relationships within the Unit and with others outside of the Unit. Substantiated disclosures of serious ethical offences, including acts of violence or possession of illegal drugs, will result in immediate suspension of the offending volunteer. The local leadership will be involved throughout the process. We believe God's Spirit will at times call people to acts of conscience considered illegal by the state. Such actions are in no way the focus of this policy. Experience has indicated that when violations occur, they are most likely to occur in the ethical areas listed below.

Violations that require address include, but are not limited to:

  • deception and dishonesty
  • acts of physical, emotional and sexual abuse
  • inappropriate sexual behaviour
  • gross neglect of personal and professional responsibilities
  • any persistent behaviour that is hurtful to one's self or others

Guidelines for dealing with ethical offences in MVSA have been established. The document entitled Guidelines for Dealing with Offences in Mennonite Voluntary Service is available from the local leadership and should be carefully reviewed by every volunteer. In all matters related to ways of living and behaving, MVSA is committed to following Christ's example. Jesus is our model, not only in how we respond to the world's needs, but also in our personal behaviour.

 

"For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ." 1 Cor. 3:11
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