As her retirement approached in 2013, Daphne Pittman of Goulds, Newfoundland decided it was time to give back to the community. With her two children grown and no more work commitments, she felt she was finally free to take on a new challenge and so, for the first time, she decided to become a volunteer.
“I applied to volunteer for the Association for New Canadians (ANC) after a seminar they hosted challenging people to become involved,” says Daphne. “My children are 20 and 21, we adopted them from Peru. And that’s kind of what got me interested in volunteering with international people.”
The ANC matched Daphne with Fatuma Hassan, a 23-year-old single mother of two sons who had just moved to St. John’s from an African refugee camp. In the beginning, Daphne says, “I think Fatuma was overwhelmed. She didn’t know anyone and was lonely and isolated in her apartment.” During that initial adjustment period, Daphne took Fatuma grocery shopping and taught her the basics of Canadian cooking (baking a cake, roasting a chicken, preparing gravy). Since then she’s assisted with everything from finding day care for her two boys, arranging birthday parties and helping the children learn English. She regularly invites the boys for sleepovers and even hosted the family on Christmas Day.
Now, two years later, Daphne says Fatuma calls her her “second mom.”
“I thought that I was going to see someone once or twice a week for an hour or two and it morphed into kind of a family thing,” says Daphne. “They’re almost part of the family.”
Of course, not all volunteers invest so much time and energy into their non-profit pursuits - while others are quite content to invest all of their time and all of their energy. Determining how much time an individual is willing and able to commit is an important first step in selecting a volunteer position, says Penelope Rowe, chief executive officer of the Community Sector Council of Newfoundland and Labrador (CSC). Penelope emphasizes that volunteers of all stripes are “extraordinarily essential” to society - running everything from sporting events to recreation centres, hospital gift shops, children’s programs etc. “If all of those organizations, all the people who volunteer with them and the people who work for them went on strike, what would be left? There would be virtually nothing left in most communities,” she says. “A lot of people don’t really have a good picture of all the work that is done by these non-profit organizations.”
While volunteering is traditionally about giving back to the community in some way, it can also enrich the life of the volunteer, says Penelope. Many individuals, particularly young people, use volunteer opportunities to gain valuable work experience and foster connections in their field of interest, she says, adding that larger organizations sometimes offer training programs to their new recruits. And, as Daphne’s learned, volunteering can be extremely fulfilling on a personal level as well.
“Someone that I respect and is an amazing volunteer once said to me that what I have done for Fatuma Hassan is really wonderful and she is very lucky,” says Daphne. “In reality, what Fatuma Hassan has done for me is wonderful, and I am the lucky one. I get to go for walks in the woods with an eight-year-old boy who finds it exciting to pick blueberries and play hide and seek with my dog Maggie. His two-year-old brother crawls up in my arms and wants me to look at pictures in his book…how lucky is that?”
According to Penelope, Newfoundland and Labrador is home to approximately 5,000 non-profit organizations, including registered charities and informal groups. “Every single one of those organizations has a need for volunteer involvement,” she says. With so many opportunities, what’s the best way to find the position that best suits your interests and lifestyle? Penelope offers some advice on finding and choosing a fulfilling way to give back:
What Do You Like?
Before researching organizations or searching for volunteer opportunities, a little self-exploration is in order. Do you enjoy writing? Working with children? Caring for animals? “It’s good for you to have some sense of what you’re interested in,” says Penelope. “If you’re a person who wants to work by yourself, you’re not going to want necessarily to go and get a volunteer job where you’re going to be with a crowd of 10,000 people.”
Where to Start Looking
The CSC has compiled a database of more than 3,100 community organizations from across the province, which is available at communitysector.nl.ca/directories. Search by organization name, by community or by keyword.
If looking online isn’t appealing, let it be known in your community that you’re looking for a volunteer opportunity. “If you have children in school, maybe ask at school - does the school need help?” suggests Penelope, adding that a call to the community centre or nearby Lion’s Club will likely turn up valuable connections. Especially in small communities, Penelope says the municipality itself is often the best starting point. “A lot of the town councils run the recreation programs; most of the town councils have a really good grip on what’s going on in the community,” she says.
Are you a parent of four with a full-time job? Do you enjoy extended trips down south? Consider your lifestyle before committing to duties and responsibilities. If you are only able to offer your time sporadically, find opportunities that will let you do just that. Major events, such as concerts and festivals, often require a huge number of volunteers for a short period of time, advises Penelope. For instance, East Coast Music Week has put out the call for 500 volunteers to fill various roles in finance, merchandise sales, social media, radio, stage management etc. when the event comes to St. John’s next month.
“Many people don’t want to do as a volunteer what they did in their work lives. If you were an accountant, that might be the very last thing in the world you want - yet everybody who looks at you says, ‘Oh, we must get Mary to come be our bookkeeper,’” cautions Penelope. “You have to be very clear about what you’re not interested in doing.”
Prepare to Commit
While nobody is obligated to volunteer their time, it’s important to understand that the organization, its clients and other volunteers are counting on you to make good on your commitments. “Because you’re not being paid doesn’t mean that you can be less diligent. Because there is no financial transaction you shouldn’t expect necessarily to be treated differently,” says Penelope.
On a related note, some organizations may require an interview, references and criminal record checks - particularly those that work with vulnerable individuals (children, seniors etc.). “It is exactly like applying for a job because that’s in fact what you’re doing,” says Penelope. -By Ashley Colombe
Do you know a volunteer who deserves to be recognized for their work? Nominate an outstanding volunteer for the 2015 Newfoundland & Labrador Volunteer Hall of Fame by visiting www.volunteerhalloffame.ca before March 22, 2015.