Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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A Good Time to Celebrate our Real Champions

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, April 15 / 19

Zack Gross

April marks Volunteer Month, Week or Day, depending on your affiliation with various local and global organizations.  Around the province, groups – from service clubs to food banks to museums – are putting together events to thank their volunteers and showcase the work that they do.

A few years ago, a volunteerism promotion initiative asked the question:  What would the world look like without volunteers?  When you think of all the tasks these unpaid citizens take on, you realize that the question is more than valid.  People volunteer to sit on Boards and Committees, to serve up meals in food banks and soup kitchens, to mentor and train our future business and social service workers, and more.

Volunteers come from all age groups and walks of life.  One might be a young sports coach, putting in long hours with youth to help them perform on the ice in curling or hockey.  Another might be a retired business person, able to mentor someone with entrepreneurial ambitions.  A third might be a medical professional, taking time to train citizens in first aid or first response.

Some volunteers don’t actually realize that they are volunteering!  They just assume that they are “helping out” - shoveling a neighbouring senior’s sidewalk, picking up groceries for someone in ill health, or taking a friend to a medical appointment.

As our society changes, so does volunteerism.  In recent years, challenges have arisen that the voluntary sector is trying to deal with.  For instance, shift work and longer hours in the retail business have made it more difficult for some people to make themselves available.  The technological revolution has made it tougher for seniors to volunteer, as they may not have the computer skills some organizations are looking for.

Demographic changes have affected the face of voluntarism.  Efforts are underway to connect voluntary programs and services with new Canadian communities, to make sure that everyone is treated with respect and welcomed into the fold.  The urbanization of our society – an overwhelming global trend – has also meant that volunteer responsibilities are falling on fewer shoulders with less financial support in rural and remote areas.

Creating a sense of community where people will want to contribute free time and effort is also a challenge.  A world driven by technology, money and tight schedules is not always conducive to warm, human relationships.  And our seemingly angry world with many polarized points of view may make people too cynical and too willing to give up on making the world a better place.

Cutbacks in funding to community organizations may mean that there is no venue for people to get involved in their community.  Loss of programs and services may mean that needs are unmet in a city or town, as people have no place to volunteer their efforts and expertise.

To this background, in step our heroes, our champions.  You can likely think of someone you know who fits this description.   I can speak for one organization locally,
The Marquis Project, which is celebrating its 40th Anniversary this year, and has always had a strong volunteer component.  Numerous individuals comes to mind through Marquis who have volunteered their time to deliver assistance programs overseas, particularly in Africa, who have championed Brandon becoming a Fair Trade Town, and who have spent countless hours in Brandon-Westman schools helping students learn about global issues.

Voluntarism awards are bestowed on worthy Manitobans through the Premier’s Office and through various mayors and businesses, through the media and through individual organizations.  Marquis offers a “Global Citizenship Award” to its most impactful volunteers and has done so for decades – and will do so again at a Fair Trade Feast at the Dock restaurant on Sunday, April 28th.

A much smaller town in Manitoba, Gimli, on the shores of Lake Winnipeg, has a food bank, thrift shop and cafe all under one roof, called
Evergreen Basic Needs.  It serves individuals and families in need around the Interlake Region, with staff, a community Board and a team of volunteers who take in donations of clothing and household items, shelf and display them, do sales, clean-up and more, and provide families with food, clothing, toys and other goods as needed.  The need is there, and growing.

Take a moment to consider volunteerism yourself, if you aren’t currently doing so.  If you are in need of volunteer services, don’t be shy or embarrassed to ask for them.  Our communities are better off, thanks to the work that volunteers do.

Zack Gross is a former Executive Director of
The Marquis Project and a lifelong volunteer. 

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