Rumour has it that groups of young people have been seen roving city streets in search of blood. The fact is that since 2004, dedicated youth volunteers in Alberta have been working hard to spread the word about the need for blood donation. The program began in Edmonton and expanded to Calgary in 2009.

It’s called “Roving” and the goal is to raise awareness of the need for blood and recruit as many new donors as possible. This is how it works: teams of two or three volunteers go to busy public places armed with information about donating blood as well as appointment templates to book appointments on the spot. They are also armed with sign-up sheets for those prospects who prefer to be contacted at a later date or who may have health-related questions they need clarified prior to booking an appointment.

Anyone is a roving target – volunteers are advised to ask everyone. “You never know what a blood donor may look like …we ask everyone regardless of age, ethnicity or gender, if they have ever considered donating blood,” shares Cerynn Desjarlais, Canadian Blood Services Summer Youth Program Coordinator. “If the person is over or under our age restrictions, they can still help spread the word to family or friends.”

Recent experience shows that about 20 per cent of people approached during a roving event already donate. New donors are often recruited in couples – one person’s interest coaxes the other and they view blood donation as a social experience.

Volunteers report that the best experiences are interacting with the community, especially when people come up and insist on shaking their hands, thanking them for the valuable work they are doing. People will often share stories of how they or a loved one have needed blood or blood products.

How successful is this program?

Some of Alberta’s findings from 2011 paint a clear picture of what youth roving volunteers achieved:

• 2650 sign ups,
• 2046 appointments booked on the spot,
• 1501 successful donations form signups and appointments booked,
• 1029 new donors,
• 361 reinstated donors.

“Ultimate” roving takes the activity to the next level. Volunteers add twists to roving to make the experience of meeting new people even more enjoyable. Fun is top of the agenda with challenges like looking for a prospect wearing a red shirt, someone walking a dog, or taking a picture with a policeman.

Volunteers are the backbone of Canadian Blood Services. Its youth volunteers are giving and growing, not just professionally, but as citizens of our community. Any way you slice it, these youth volunteers are performing valuable work on the front lines, helping to increase Canadian Blood Services’ number of donors and its ability to collect valuable units for those in need. Hats off to them and keep up the good work!