Thank community volunteers – or better yet, join them

When I was an early teen in southwest Ontario, I used to spend a couple of afternoons a week volunteering for a seniors’ care home across the road from my school.

Alongside a couple of friends, I would play cards and visit with residents before assisting the staff with dinner.

We didn’t do it for graduate requirements – there was no such program at the time. In a small town, with little interest in varsity sports, and siblings or babysitters who hogged the television, we were genuinely looking for ways to spend our precious after school hours – and get out from under the thumbs of our parents. (This was 20 years ago, before the Internet.)

For a young adult, it was a rewarding and relatively easy way to spend my after school hours, and I looked forward to my shifts. As did, I imagine, the overworked nurses who ran the program.

At Beach Metro, volunteering comes up a lot – specifically, the many organizations in need of more help and support. The sheer amount of volunteer-run events and organizations in the Beach (including our paper, which would not exist without our many volunteers: you know who you are, and we thank you) tells us that our community is a generous one. Even still, organizations struggle to fill the gaps left by volunteers who have left, with current volunteers often taking on more than they bargained for.

One woman who is synonymous with local volunteering is Malvern’s Vicky Tsorlinis. She recently received a legacy award from Volunteer Toronto – April marked volunteer appreciation month – for her selfless work as a fundraiser, coordinator and all-around force in the community. I called Vicky to congratulate her and pick her brain about the state of volunteering.

The issues are what you would expect, at this time in history: people have less work/life balance, have different priorities, grow out – or burn out – of volunteering. It is easier to get people to volunteer if there is a crisis, if an event might shut down, than on a continued, committed basis. Volunteer leadership roles are particularly difficult to fill. Organizations use volunteers to fill positions that used to be paid. Technology makes it easier to be busier – and to renege on commitments without a face-to-face interaction.

The impact of technology on volunteer culture is intriguing. On the one hand, social media allows for instant fundraising and organization, but on the other, it makes us feel pulled in a million directions, and allows us to pledge our support with a click, rather than with boots on the ground.

So what can be done? I’d like to hear your suggestions and stories. Give me a call or send a note to editor@beachmetro.com.

On a broad level, Vicky says it involves a shift in mindset to put the greater good of the community first. Right now, we “live in our own little boxes.” Consider transforming that box to a circle, and think of the ripple effect as that circle’s echo moves out, as more and more people are touched by those hours you give of your time. That ripple might even lead back to you – and the act of setting it in motion surely has benefits.

But at this point, even opening a flap of the box is good, says Vicky. “Build volunteering into your life … a difference can be made.”

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