Tuesday, November 16, 2010

“Service is the rent we pay for being. It is the very purpose of life, and not something you do in your spare time.” ~Marian Wright Edelman~

Having had the honour of working with volunteers for almost 10 years, and having been an active volunteer for more than half my life, serving community is one of my core values. Your local community benefits, and more importantly, there are infinite opportunities for personal growth that can materialize in volunteer experiences. 

The “Caring Canadians, Involved Canadians: 2004 Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating(CSGVP) (http://www.givingandvolunteering.ca/pdf/CSGVP_Highlights_2004_en.pdf) states that 12 million Canadians volunteered (45% of the population aged 15 and older) and their contributions totalled 2 billion hours or the equivalent to 1 million full time jobs.  Although these figures demonstrate the impact of volunteering in our communities, I believe the value is actually higher.  

Putting a monetary value on the work of volunteers is tricky. Linda Graff (http://www.canadawhocares.ca/index.html), one of the world’s most highly acclaimed volunteer management experts, illustrates this dilemma with the following example: 

“If I sit at the bedside of a dying child, giving comfort to the child and respite to the parents, surely attaching a fictitious wage to my hours, does not, in any meaningful way, capture the value of my work.” 
Volunteers build community. While working as a volunteer coordinator for a parent-infant support program, people would ask me if it bothered me when volunteers signed up because they wanted the experience to get a job or to gain community hours. I never cared why people showed up, as long as they did. We offered training, and had the checks and balances in place to ensure all volunteers were screened because we were working with vulnerable members of our community, but I never judged people’s motives, and firmly believed in the potential for transformation that existed for each volunteer.  The expression of sheer gratitude and relief on the face of a mother (who hasn’t slept in 2 days because her three month old is colicky) when she finally gets to take a nap because you are there to watch her little one would melt the most apathetic heart. 

A few years ago, I was going through a pretty hard chapter of my life, discovering who I was after surviving divorce and depression, and I know that volunteering played a huge role in helping me to heal. I saw that I could still make a contribution by supporting others in my community and I learned to re-connect with my own value again through volunteering, and the opportunities that subsequently came out of the ripple effect. After participating as a student in a 40 hour family to family education program with my local Schizophrenia Society, I volunteered to facilitate the same program for the next two years with the intention of offering support, facilitating the sharing of knowledge, and to learn. I was honoured to support family members as they shared their experiences with a mentally ill family member. I continue to volunteer in the mental health field today, serving on the Board of Directors for the Family Association for Mental Health Everywhere (www.fameforfamiles.com

Out of this volunteer experience was born the opportunity to teach part-time at Sheridan College, in their Community Worker-Outreach and Development Program. So I know first hand the capacity for transformation and growth that is possible when you truly give yourself to volunteering and claim a piece of community development as your own.  

According to the CSGVP, the top three reasons that Canadians volunteer are:  
  • To make a contribution to the community
  • To use one’s skills and experiences
  • Being affected by the cause supported by the organization  
Which of these is your reason for getting involved?  Where in your community can you find an opportunity to serve today? 
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
~Margaret Mead~ 

(Originally posted March 18, 2008 at 9:58 pm)

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