The Elizabeth Fry Society – also known as E-Fry for short – was first founded in 1939. Its name is based on an English woman back in the 1800s, who not only visited women in prison but also played a crucial role in starting prison reform programs. Elizabeth Fry worked closely with both the criminal justice system and social services, and her work is continued by the organization today.
Yet without volunteers, the Elizabeth Fry Society of Greater Vancouver cannot exist nor continue to develop their mission. Ever since the society was founded, it was run by volunteers. In fact, the current Board of Directors are all volunteers. “E-Fry definitely values its volunteers. Many of our programs depend on the dedication of volunteers coming in and giving their time,” said Odessa Tapia, one of the Volunteer Coordinators of E-Fry. “If volunteer didn’t come in to run some of our programs (especially in jails), our program simply don’t run.”
E-Fry provides diverse programs for counselling, women at risk, children/youth at risk, drop-in centers, community and prisons. With their involvement, volunteers can expect to experience working and building relationships with range of people, from anyone who is low-income, marginalized, and homeless, to those who have been recently released from prison or currently in prison. Volunteers will work closely with E-Fry’s clients, and may even find themselves doing the direct line work that paid staff may do for other organizations.
Third year SFU Criminology student Melissa Mitchell has been involved with E-Fry’s Surrey Pre-Trial Visitor Program since earlier this year. Rather than hearing about E-Fry through volunteer fairs or websites, Melissa first heard about it when it was briefly mentioned in the Corrections section of her criminology textbook. She looked up the information and was soon involved. “It’s really rare to find a volunteer position where you are permitted access to a prison and to incarcerated offenders,” said Melissa. “E-Fry gives me an opportunity to complement my Criminology studies with practical experience.” When asked about her most interesting experience while volunteering, Melissa stated that it was difficult to pinpoint one specific event. “I am constantly learning new things about crime, the experience of imprisonment, and how women relate to each other in an institutionalized setting,” she explained. “Some crazy things, like fights, occasionally occur, but I think what’s most remarkable is how similar women are to anyone n the outside.”
With its wide range of opportunities that are highly dependent on volunteers, E-Fry seeks commitment as one of its top qualities in potential volunteers, as well as those who are also fit for their programs, “who matches E-Fry’s philosophies and wants to be there for the clients,” explained Tapia. Other requirements include three references, criminal record check and a time commitment of 2 hours a week for 4-6 months.
“Volunteers I think, get an experience that is more fulfilling,” added Tapia.
The Elizabeth Fry Society of Greater Vancouver was present at the Burnaby and Surrey campuses during SFU’s Volunteer and Civic Engagement Week which took place from September 21-25th. If you missed out on the event, don’t worry because they are always seeking for more volunteers!
For more information, visit their website or contact one of its volunteer coordinators:
By Hannah Choo