For many in downtown Victoria, volunteering, project-based or ongoing, is a vital part of their lives. For others, it exists somewhere along the trajectory of “I really should be doing that” and “No, but I hear it’s a good thing.” I sat down with Lisa Mort-Putland, Executive Director, Volunteer Victoria, to gain perspective on how individuals and families, at all stages of their lives, might integrate, appreciate and reflect on volunteerism.
“How can I engage my family and kids in volunteerism?”
“It’s not an activity, it’s a conversation,” she shares, “Choose age-appropriate activities.” Soap for Hope, beach clean ups and invasive species removal are strong options for families with young kids. “Best to work with things and plants, not people and pets when kids are young,” she adds. Some families want to visit old age homes, but did you choose to have the flu shot? Are you well? You don’t want to possibly bring any illness into a place where immune systems may be compromised. In contrast, looking at seniors’ community centres, and community dinners might be a more appropriate fit. “It’s not an activity, it’s a conversation,” she repeats, smile in her eyes, “You are preparing a child for volunteerism.”
“I’m so busy – what can I do just for a night? Like, um, tonight?”
There were 240 volunteer options available for the single day I met with Lisa. Events are a strong way to help out, meet some people and also know you’re helping. Network, explore new organisations and ladder your skills.
“I’m new in town and looking for work, how can I connect with the organisation I like?”
One way to assess how you want to volunteer is to decide if it’s strategic, or just for fun. Does it fit in with your current work, where you might sit on a board, advising a non-profit, on a committee, sharing your skills and experience? Or would you prefer to walk dogs, as you either can’t have one where you live or your lifestyle precludes having one?
A common pitfall of volunteering is idealising what the actual experience will be like. It’s a nice idea to go cuddle babies at the hospital, but does the idea in your head reflect the reality? The babies you would be spending time with are sick. Families are in distress. It is not shiny and happy. It’s important and supportive, but is that what you want to do?
There are many things to consider and many options. Asking Lisa’s advice on how to approach volunteering if this is new: “Pick two things a year, one that’s strategic, and one just for fun. “But be realistic about the time you can give.”
“I know I should volunteer, I feel bad but I really don’t have time.”
This is true for many in downtown Victoria. But instead of feeling any guilt or shame, you may already be pitching in without calling it volunteering. Did you give someone a lift home? See a few pieces of trash on the sidewalk, pick them up and put them in the garbage? Watch a friend’s child for an hour while they had a meeting? Informal volunteerism builds relationships and community as well. You may be already contributing and you didn’t even know.
For more ideas and also a fulsome list of volunteer opportunities, visit Volunteer Victoria’s website. There are myriad ways to help, and you’ll find a couple that might fit into your life.