By Kate Jackman-Atkinson, Neepawa Banner & Press
NEEPAWA, Man. — What would our communities be like without volunteers? It’s a timely question to ask, especially since last week was National Volunteer Week. How would our lives be worse off without the 12.7 million Canadians who give their time?
Working for a newspaper, I feel like I have a front row seat to just how much work volunteers are doing in our communities. On almost every page of the paper, there’s evidence of those giving their time. Many of the stories we cover are about vital work being undertaken by individual volunteers and volunteer-run boards. Many of our ads are for events and initiatives put on by volunteers. We print thank you messages from those whose family members were helped and those whose lives were made a little more comfortable because of people who went out of their way to give their time. I’m always happy when we can share these stories.
We all have unique skills and volunteering is special because anyone can participate; there are as many different volunteer opportunities as there are individuals. Volunteering takes on many different forms and across our communities, there are young people helping seniors, the healthy helping the sick and retirees helping those just getting started. Youth are volunteering as a way to build their skills and those further in their careers are volunteering as a way to share what they have spent a lifetime acquiring.
There is also no one reason why people volunteer. Some do it because they want to see something exist, be it a new facility, a sports team or a fun event. People also volunteer because they believe in a cause, be it town beautification, advancing education or helping those less fortunate. For some, they give their time because they have been positively impacted by volunteers or an organization in the past and some people volunteer because it’s fun. There’s no right or wrong reason to give your time.
Statistics Canada figures from 2010, the most recent available, show just how many Canadians do give their time. In 2010, volunteers put in hours equivalent to 1.1 million full-time jobs, not only that, but the number of volunteers were growing compared to previous years. Despite the fact that about half of all Canadians volunteer, communities do face challenges when it comes to recruitment and retention. Every year, people stop volunteering because of changing priorities, health or because they move, which means that organizations must ensure they are recruiting new volunteers each year. This is where many of the challenges lie, most people want to volunteer, but they need to be matched with the right opportunity. For some, it’s just a case of never having been asked.
Based on 2010 research, Volunteer Canada published a report called Bridging the Gap. The report looked at the growing gap between what volunteers look for and the opportunities organizations offer. While volunteers may face different challenges depending on where they are in their lifecycle, the study found a few gaps that were consistent among youth, families, baby boomers and workplace volunteers. These included the fact that many people are looking for group activities, but few organizations can offer them; many people come with professional skills, but many professionals look for volunteer tasks that differ from their work; and many organizations want long-term commitment, but many more volunteers are looking for short-term opportunities.
Knowing what the challenges are can help organizations overcome them.
Our communities’ dedicated volunteers make our towns and villages, communities– without them, we would have few of the amenities that make rural living rich in opportunity. Thanks to all those who give their time and for those who would like to, all you have to do is ask!