Commentary – Volunteering a great way to connect with community

Pearl Lorentzen

I don’t remember the first time I volunteered. It was second nature in my family.

As a child, I helped my mom decorate the church for vacation Bible school (VBS). I helped pick up the cups after Communion. I helped at potlucks.

As a teen, I taught at VBS and worked in the kitchen at camp.

At university, I ran a Bible study.

Over the years, I have burnt out with volunteering a few times, but after a break I always come back. Eventually, I learned the very important word – No! – and how to use it, so I only took on things I was really passionate about. I was in Slave Lake for about three months, when I accepted my first volunteer board position. I had already turned down several by that time.

I have met many of my friends through volunteering.

A 2020 survey of Albertans by the Government of Alberta found that 84.9 per cent of Albertans volunteer. They volunteered an average of 19.6 hours per month. Of these, 87.2 per cent volunteered for a cause they believe in.

I’m not surprised by the reasons for volunteering, but the number of volunteers and the number of hours surprised me. I volunteer a lot, and probably average about 15 hours a month.

Also, as a volunteer, it often feels like 10 per cent of the people do 90 per cent of the work. This isn’t sustainable, so if the number is really 85 per cent of the population volunteer, it would be good to meet more of them. If not, it would be good if more people stepped up to the volunteer plate.

Like most things, volunteering is a lot of work. However, in a rural community the main way that arts, sports, and cultural events and activities exist is because someone at some time decided they wanted it enough to volunteer to make it happen. Even some non-profits, which now have full-time staff, wouldn’t exist without volunteers starting them.

April 14-20 was Volunteer Appreciation Week.

In preparing, the Volunteer Appreciation section for last week’s Slave Lake Lakeside Leader, it struck me how many groups in the area started in the mid- to late 1990s. If people 30 years ago hadn’t taken the initiative, these groups wouldn’t exist in Slave Lake.

The Slave Lake Youth Justice Committee and Lesser Slave Watershed Council are two of these. Over the years, LSWC has grown. It has one full-time, one vacant full-time, and two seasonal staff positions. It is; however, still dependent on a board, with some of the members volunteers from the community and others municipal councillors.

YJC has ebbed and flowed over the years, but is still completely dependent of volunteers for everything.

In the past, I volunteered for both groups. I met a lot of really interesting people by being on these boards and learned a lot.

It is only through the continued involvement of interested local individuals that these and other groups will continue in the Lesser Slave Lake, Smoky River and North Peace areas. Boards are not the only way that people can volunteer. People can volunteer as coaches, art teachers, mental health advocates, walking dogs at the shelter, and much more. Not every role is for everyone. I would make a terrible hockey coach, but I love running the Slave Lake Writers’ Group and as a mental health advocate with the Slave Lake and Area Mental Health Network.

If you feel disconnected, please strongly aconsider volunteering, it is a great way to meet like-minded people and to build a better community.

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