Pamela Chan, BCFamily.ca/Editorial
Lean 30 : 30 days of keeping it lean and old school online. More
This BC Family Day weekend my family members and I surprised ourselves. We decided to go somewhere, grabbed our stuff, got in the car and got there in under 30 minutes. It was only a ten minute drive but, still, this was a record for us. Part of the motivation was because we hadn’t been feeling the love in the place we’d been going to previously for over a year. We wanted to try something new and didn’t want to wait. As it turns out, our efforts were rewarded. A bonus for us was that we had a chance to hear someone speak about volunteering. I’m being a bit vague here because the place we were in was church and I know that not everyone reading this will be a church goer. Hang in there because, even from a secular perspective, what we heard made sense.
When I first moved to Vancouver I was in my early 20s and lived on a tight budget. My wages were modest and even in those days the cost of living was high. I remember visiting Ottawa and seeing a showhome for a three bedroom, three floor townhouse. What was the cost? It was under $100,000. In those days that wouldn’t have bought a bachelor apartment where I was living on the North Shore. I was single and, even though I lived with my brother, I had to be frugal about how I spent my money on non-essential activities. My solution to having fun and meeting people was to volunteer. I volunteered at the Vancouver Art Gallery (in Art Rental and Sales); Greenpeace; a local little theatre; the Vancouver Zoological Society (taking petting zoo pets to hospitals); and, was a girl guide leader for three years. I also did shorter stints such as volunteering for the Dragon Boat Festival. A number of years later when I returned to Vancouver after living overseas for a number of years, I volunteered with Early Music Vancouver and became a keen supporter of my local federal political party riding association.
Considering my personal experience with volunteering, I was interested to hear a talk about the three stages of volunteering.
The Fun Stage
This stage begins when you join. You’re pumped about your new undertaking and excited to be learning new information, supporting events and meeting people. My idea has always been that I volunteer with groups or for events where there will be some measure of fun. Perhaps the people will be fun or the setting will be nice. What I’m set to be doing might not be grand. Perhaps I’ll be sitting behind a table handing out pamphlets or I’ll be selling cookies, but there will be other perks. Most organizations that rely on volunteers will find a way to make the volunteering experience appealing.
If you’re having a hard time meeting people in your community, volunteering should be the first activity that comes to mind. If you want to meet people of the opposite sex, however, choose your activities wisely. Look at the list that I shared above and I will tell you that except for the political volunteer opportunities, I mostly met women when I volunteered in Vancouver.
The Intolerant Stage
I was interested to hear about this stage because it’s not one that I experienced but I have encountered this attitude. If you think about political organizations or tasks that fall on members of churches, for example, this is where this stage can crop up. The standard saying in churches is that 20% of the congregation does 80% of the work. As time goes by it’s easy to start mumbling about the able bodied people who don’t pitch in or the families that would rather go to a sports practice than show up. When you get into this head space it’s so easy to start being judgmental and believe that you understand other people’s situations.
You must have heard the analysis, ad nauseam, about why certain sectors of the population don’t vote and take part in political activities. On the other hand, when is the last time someone from a political party visited your home – in between elections in particular? Is there a person in your group or organization whose job it is to recruit volunteers and make sure they are well matched to jobs that are interesting to them. Do the tasks use their talents sufficiently? Are they being introduced to other members and continually supported and welcomed into the fold? Are the tasks learning opportunities that will, perhaps, give them skills that can help them in other parts of their lives? When the situation looks grim, it’s important to look inward to see how we can do better to support volunteers that are helping out.
Realism Sets In
It’s interesting to think that this stage is when you really see the reality of your volunteer efforts clearly. You accept that you can’t change the world but you can see that your modest individual contributions do make a difference. Sometimes you might not see this until you have moved on from volunteering for that group or organization. Hopefully you’ll pass through the intolerance stage and will start to enjoy the smaller achievements and pleasures. You might even receive feedback from other volunteers or participants. I was once introduced by one senior party riding association member to another. He introduced me as someone who has strong policy analysis skills. This simple statement reassured me that my efforts did matter.
“Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.” (Author Unknown)
Some Additional Thoughts
The hot term these days is “stewardship”. You can find information about stewardship groups listed on your city’s website. For example, there will be stewardship groups that are focussed on protecting the environment. In these groups you will find citizens who have deep experience in that discipline or topic of interest. Sometimes they can be quite elderly. This is when you have the double pleasure of being part of a group and encountering people who have significant life experiences to share.
Here in BC we’re spending much more on our housing expenses than we should. Household budgets for single people, couples and families are tight. At the same time non-profit organizations greatly need help to continue their work. If you don’t have the ability to support organizations financially, you can still offer your time and talents in other ways. I promise you – you will have fun and meet people in the process. Maybe you’ll even make a few lifelong friends.
What are your favourite ways to volunteer in your community?
GoVancouver.ca is a website that provides information about volunteer opportunities.
The volunteer opportunities listed on CraigsList are broad in scope.
Here’s an example of volunteer opportunities listed on a city website. (Vancouver) City websites will also list information about opportunities to apply to be on a board.
The Volunteer Canada website will point you in the direction of your community volunteer centre.
You can also put the name of an organization you’d like to support and “volunteer” into a search engine and find out how you can help out. Or go to their website and look for a link about volunteering opportunities.