Mention the word ‘volunteer’ to anyone involved in a non-profit society and their response will likely include the word ‘backbone.’
April 10-16 is National Volunteer Week — a time to celebrate the 12.7 million Canadians who donate time to numerous causes. The website describes volunteers as ‘the roots of strong communities.’
At Volunteer Comox Valley, the vision is to be ‘an agent of change that promotes community engagement through the power of service.’
People volunteer time for various reasons, be it helping others or doing something fun in their spare time.
There is also an economic side to volunteerism. British Columbians, for instance, contribute an estimated 114 million volunteer hours each year.
“If you look at it Canada-wide, the number of hours contributed is about five per cent of the GDP,” said Tyler Voigt, executive director at Volunteer Comox Valley (VCV). “That’s a substantial number.”
Locally, there are numerous volunteer opportunities with organizations such as the Cumberland Community Schools Society, the Therapeutic Riding Society, Relay for Life, Scouts Canada, Girl Guides and the Community Justice Centre Society. These are all listed on the VCV website.
Vancouver Island MusicFest would not happen without its estimated 1,300 volunteers who tend to the gates, stages, food and other aspects of the annual gathering.
“Our volunteers are the heart and the backbone of MusicFest,” executive producer Doug Cox said. “The festival could not happen without them, nor would we want it to!”
You Are Not Alone (YANA) — another Comox Valley entity — has a pool of 200-plus volunteers to contact when the time comes to host an event, such as the YANA Ride. It also has about 15 volunteers, including a board of directors, who assist on a regular basis. Community relations co-ordinator Ocean Varney describes them as an eclectic variety of youths, retirees, parents, empty nesters and millennials who are generous, lively, fun, and full of heart.
“That YANA is able to fulfill our mandate, of offering accommodation and direct funds to Comox Valley families that need to travel outside our community for the medical care of a child or pregnant mother, is directly linked to the time and effort generously given by our volunteers,” Varney said. “From our board of directors who not only govern but are active volunteers, to our regular office assistants, to our event co-ordinators and event volunteers, they are the backbone of our organization as well as the heart.”
A Stats Canada survey indicates 10 per cent of volunteers contribute over 50 per cent of volunteer hours. Most are 65 years or older. The survey also determined that youth are more frequently involved but on a shorter time period.
“It comes back to having time available to do it,” said Voigt, noting social isolation can be a problem for the elderly. “I think that volunteering to get out of the house is the first thing, but then they realize there’s even more benefits than that.”
A new angle of Volunteer BC is to engage the baby boomer demographic.
“We need to find ways to engage them because they’re the ones that are going to have to take up the torch essentially,” Voigt said. “With this disparity in time contribution, there could be a bit of a problem there for non-profit organizations in the future if we don’t find ways to engage the baby boomer demographic.
“Because it’s an aging demographic, we’re going to have more people that are going to need hospice support, we’re going to need more long-term care facilities. We’re going to need a lot of things that engage volunteers as well. It’s kind of a Catch-22. It’s a bit tricky to provide more service when you don’t have enough volunteers to provide it…It’s funding as well. It’s a big question right now in the health care sector.”
Voigt takes pleasure when explaining to clients that volunteers can pick and choose and dictate time commitment — unlike job seekers who take what they can get.
“Do what you’re passionate about, do what you’re empathetic about, what you care about in the community.”
Volunteer Comox Valley serves 300 to 400 clients a year. Many are newcomers to the community, or new retirees. Charities, service organizations and individuals looking for volunteers can advertise with VCV.
This year, the organization received a $1,550 grant from the Comox Valley Community Foundation. The money will be used to purchase a digital projector to help train volunteer co-ordinators.
“It’s going to be very helpful,” Voigt said.
Volunteer Comox Valley is located at Unit C1 – 450 8th St. in Courtenay. Call (250) 334-8063, or visit their website at volunteercomoxvalley.ca