Abstract: Personal Transformation and Policy Knowledge in Volunteer and Paid Human Service Experience (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

214P Personal Transformation and Policy Knowledge in Volunteer and Paid Human Service Experience

Friday, January 18, 2019
Continental Parlors 1-3, Ballroom Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Sarah Spruill, Student Research Assistant, The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL
Brenda Smith, Associate Professor, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL
Background and Purpose: Human service positions provide opportunities to learn about policy and to interact with a wide range of people. Studies show that volunteering in human service positions can be educational and transformative (Kim & Morgul, 2017), but questions remain about how the experiences of volunteers compare and contrast with the experiences of paid professionals in similar positions. The contrasting motivations, rewards, and perceptions among the two groups  may have significance for the organization of human services work. Our study aims to compare perceptions of personal transformation and policy knowledge among volunteers and professionals who helped people sign up for health care coverage. The study addresses the following questions: Among those who worked as paid or volunteer health care “navigators”: (a) What were the primary motivations? (b) What were the primary rewards? (c) In what ways was the experience transformative? (d) How did the experience affect policy knowledge?  We expected to find more predominant themes of personal transformation among volunteers, and more predominant themes of increased policy knowledge among professionals.

Methods: The study involved qualitative analysis of interviews conducted with volunteer and paid health care navigators from a southern state.  Six volunteers and six professionals were identified via purposive and snowball sampling. Open-ended questions focused on experiences and perceptions of the work and the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  Using NVivo, transcripts were coded to create “in vivo” and “axial” codes following a simultaneous coding method (Saldana, 2015). Codes were classified to identify themes and address the study questions. Themes among volunteer and professional participants were compared and contrasted using queries based on content and prevalence.

Results:  As expected, themes of personal transformation were more prevalent in volunteers, and themes of increased policy knowledge were more prevalent among professionals. Although both groups discussed common elements of the experience, such as training or the website, the two groups differed in tone. The volunteers used more emotional language, with words like “feel,” “want,” and “help” being common, in addition to compelling words like, “heartbreaking,” “helpless,” and “caring.” They shared specific stories of experiences that affected them emotionally.  In addition, volunteers specifically discussed how their personal opinions changed, using phrases like, “life changing,” “changed my perspective.” In contrast, the professionals used more cerebral language, with words like “think,” “enroll,” and “navigate” being common. They focused more on the training and enrollment process, rather than the clients. Although they spoke passionately about helping people and the importance of healthcare, their stories were less personal, and more technical. These results affirmed our expectations.

Conclusions and Implications: This study helps uncover underlying motivations and experiences of volunteers and paid professionals engaged in human services work. Enhanced understanding about the concerns and priorities of volunteers and employees can inform supervisors and human service administrators.  The results help to fill gaps in the literature regarding the commonalities of volunteer and professional experiences, and the ways in which they differ. In addition, the results provide valuable insights into perceptions about the ACA among those who helped people enroll.