By Pauline Kerr
It is difficult to imagine what this community would be like without volunteers.
Without volunteer coaches and helpers, most minor sports programs would disappear. The few children whose families could afford the full cost would have to travel long hours to a larger community for games and practices. The vast majority of children would be deprived of opportunities for developing physical skills, maintaining fitness, making friends and learning valuable lessons in teamwork, while being guided and supervised by adult mentors.
There would be no parades. These events do not just happen – someone has to organize them, arrange for marching bands and floats, invite participants and make sure the insurance and permission forms are in order. There are barriers to put up, streets to close off, parade order to be determined and a thousand and one tasks to be performed – and sometimes horses to clean up after.
What about fall fairs? There are food booths, displays, entertainment and activities to be arranged. If livestock is involved, the animals have to be housed and looked after. People have to take admission, sell tickets, judge competitions, hand out prizes – and that is just for starters.
Virtually all the hospitals around here were built and furnished not with bricks, mortar and wood, but with pies, cakes and cookies, made and sold by armies of volunteers. Consider the items knitted, crafted and collected for the white elephant tables and penny sales; the efforts of the gift shop people; the doors knocked on by smiling volunteers seeking contributions. In the early years, patients were fed with produce donated by local farmers; the ladies of the community stitched pillow cases and hemmed sheets. It might surprise the community to know that local hospitals still depend on volunteers to provide items up to and including multi-million-dollar pieces of medical equipment.
There are people who are able to read because a school volunteer showed up every week to assist children who needed extra help. Class outings would not happen without parents and grandparents who pitch in to help.
There are families in this community who enjoyed a good Christmas meal, and food for several days to follow, thanks to food bank volunteers who donated, organized and distributed hampers.
Service clubs each have a cause they support, but are involved in just about every aspect of community life. Their fundraising dinners not only raise money for many worthy causes, but are delightful social events in their own right.
And what about the church volunteers? These people do everything from providing religious education for children to building wells half-way around the world, from visiting the sick to advocating with governments for social responsibility to providing a place for seniors to meet for coffee and conversation.
Bravo to the Legion members, Optimists, Lions, Kinsmen, Hospital Foundation members, and the Friends of the Hospital, Museum, Library and whatever. Bravo to the folks who look after youth groups, serve on boards of directors, do everything they can to preserve heritage buildings, educate the community about social issues, participate in awareness events and fundraisers, and who step in to provide service to their friends and neighbours whenever and however it is needed.
Without volunteers, this community might still exist, but it would be a sorry place without energy or spirit, without compassion. It would not be the kind of place where people would want to live and raise their children. It certainly would not be a place where people would choose to build businesses and invest.
Volunteers spell the difference between a town and a community, between a stranger and a neighbour.
There is so much more to volunteering than networking and collecting titles that look good on a résumé, although it certainly accomplishes both. It is a way of acquiring and sharing new skills, meeting new people and connecting with the wider community.
There are those who might wonder why anyone would choose to donate their time and talent to their community, and there are those who know. The latter are called volunteers. Let us celebrate all of them during national volunteer week, April 24-30.