Around Town: Volunteers a mainstay of the community

Volunteering opportunities pitched at the University of Victoria this past Thursday were as diverse and plentiful as the 59 organizations that participated in a Volunteer Victoria fair there.

Driving seniors to appointments, setting the stage for cultural events, restoring classic sailboats, helping homeless persons and protecting our ecosystem were among potential experiences. Participating organizations included The Mustard Seed, Langham Court Theatre, Lifetime Networks, Scouts Canada, Royal B.C. Museum and Habitat For Humanity.

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The prevailing sentiment shared by recruiters, volunteers and recipients was that volunteering can be life-changing.

“There is no bad reason to volunteer,” said Arianne Klus, Volunteer Victoria’s youth program co-ordinator.

“A lot of youths I interact with are just coming out of high school and require 30 hours of volunteering or work experience to graduate.”

UVic and Camosun students might also volunteer to fulfil program requirements, supplement academic achievements or to do something that will look good on their resumé, she added.

Aside from such “strategic volunteering,” many are also motivated by networking opportunities, or doing it for altruistic reasons.

There was no shortage of swag, from candy to condoms (courtesy the Island Sexual Health Society), water bottles, pens, notepads and flashlights, to attract prospective volunteers.

“I’m an invasive species,” joked Susan Shortill, Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary’s Senior Nature Ambassador Program co-ordinator.

Shortill and volunteer co-ordinator Betty Leitch handed out bags of duck food while recruiting SNAP volunteers to supplement the work of the sanctuary’s nine-person staff.

Kevin Mack, volunteer co-ordinator for The Mustard Seed, said with Thanksgiving and Christmas coming, “a whole army” of volunteers is needed.

“Volunteers literally keep our doors open,” said Mack, adding 300 individuals volunteered last year.

Even Ballet Victoria couldn’t survive without volunteers for front-of-house, promotion and outreach events such as Tea for Tutu, explained Johan Destrooper.

“We keep a group of 100 volunteers with skills in things like photography, design, literature and music going, and we need to renew it every year.”

Highlights included Volunteer Access, an Island Health-funded Volunteer Victoria program that provides therapeutic volunteer opportunities for people with mental health and/or substance abuse challenges.

“It’s so rewarding being able to help people who may have been marginalized or stigmatized to provide extra support on their journey to wellness and community integration,” said Corinne Mah, who co-ordinates the program with Lornna Olson.

“Students studying psychology are good candidates to volunteer to work with that population,” added Olson, whose success stories were referred by case managers, psychiatrists and others.

Sonya Stadus-Soo, 24, said participating as a volunteer in outings, exercises, choirs and multi-generation programs at Mount St. Mary Hospital “has changed my life.”

“I’m bilingual and a lot of them are,” said the volunteer who began by doing one-on-ones, “just listening and talking to” residents.

“With dementia, they regress back to their first language and it makes them feel like someone’s listening.”

Anne McCaffrey, pastoral care and volunteer services co-ordinator, said it’s gratifying to see the impact volunteers have.

“Volunteers like Sonya make a difference in everybody’s life,” she said. “The staff really appreciate people coming and connecting. It’s whole-person care.”

Chris Judge, community relations manager for SALTS, the Sail and Life Training Society, explained volunteer opportunities, including a Volunteer Ambassador Program.

What attracted Judge to the sail and life training initiative was how it created so much personal growth so quickly for young people ages 13 to 25 enrolled in the experiental learning experience aboard two tall ships.

“You’re thrust into an opportunity where there’s a necessity to figure out who you are, how you work with other people and how you make something of whatever it is you’re doing,” he said.

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