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Infectious Energy

Published: Feb 14, 2024 @ 12:00 PM

This week we welcome guest blog writer Kathy Enrique-Nyguyen. Kathy is a freelance writer just starting out with a huge love for One Piece and an even bigger heart for cats – she would die for her cat or any cat. Scribbling stories and chilling with her cat is her purrfect day. To connect with Kathy or read more of her work check out her blog.

When I first signed up to volunteer at the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo back in 2007, I’ll admit, I was skeptical. The thought of giving up my time for free made me question my decision. However, I wanted to leave my comfort zone and do something different. I’m glad I did because the experience changed my view on volunteering entirely. 

Back then, the Expo was just a small local convention compared to how they are today. I’ve always had a love for comic books and pop culture. However, it was my first volunteer experience, and as excited as I was, I wasn't sure what to expect. I was assigned to a team responsible for assisting exhibitors and vendors, and initially, I thought, “How could this possibly be fun?”

Oh, how wrong I was! The energy of the event was infectious. Being an attendee was fun, but getting to volunteer, you get to see all the backend things that happen. The team I joined was more than just a group of volunteers; they were super fun to hang out with once we got past the awkwardness. We connected over shared interests and the thrill of being part of something bigger than ourselves. 

Assisting the exhibitors and vendors turned out to be incredibly rewarding. I learned about the hard work behind the scenes and the joy of making someone’s day a little easier. The energy and the smiles we received made it all worthwhile.

The experience was so much fun that I volunteered at the Expo for two more years. It wasn’t about the event but the connections I built and the community I became a part of. I even ran into Brent Spiner wandering around by himself and saying hello to everyone! This newfound love for volunteering led me to other volunteer opportunities, including the Calgary Drop-In Centre.  

To anyone who feels like volunteering might seem like giving your time away for free, it’s so much more. Unlike work, you can volunteer to do things you love and care about. It’s about connecting with your community, discovering new passions and learning about yourself. It’s a chance for you to step out of your comfort zone, and I encourage everyone to volunteer at least once in their lifetime. 

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Evaluating Goals: Setting up your 2024 for Success

Published: Feb 7, 2024 @ 3:08 PM

Part 1: Defining Goals

A new year is underway. Some of us have made goals, and some may have already given up. If you have fallen into the latter category, fear not. There is plenty of time left in the year, and I have discovered some tips to help you reframe your goals and pick them back up again. Whether your goal is better physical fitness, a new career trajectory, increasing time with friends and family, or volunteering, this two-part article series will encourage you and help set you up for success!

Be S.M.A.R.T.

I recall being in primary school and receiving an agenda each year. If this is new to you, an agenda is a day planner for students with room for schedules, assignment planning, and goals. It's a mandatory $10 purchase that most students never use. One thing that has stuck with me all these years is an acronym on each agenda's first page. S.M.A.R.T. is a guide on how to set and keep goals, and it still rings true to this day. While this rubric can be helpful regardless of your goal, let’s look at how it can be beneficial within the scope of volunteerism.

Specific – Broad goals can be harder to achieve. The more details you can include, the better you can picture and plan for it. Consider narrowing your focus. Instead of simply saying you wish to volunteer or volunteer more, think about how or where you want to volunteer. What values, skills, and passions do you have? Are you social and want to volunteer directly with people? Do you enjoy laborious activities?  Narrow down a couple of places using Volunteer Connector before you set the goal!

Measurable – Analyze your goal and determine if you can quantify the steps you must achieve to get you there. If it’s not measurable, consider reframing in a way you can track. If your goal is to find a place to volunteer or to increase the amount you want to serve your community, consider how many days a week or month you want to spend doing so. Consider that the time you need to volunteer must come from somewhere. Try to break it down even further by hours. This way, you can track your progress, adjust your schedule, and measure your success.

Achievable – Let's be honest: not all goals are realistic. Determine whether your goal is reasonable enough for the year or whatever timeline seems appropriate. As someone whose goal last year was to lose weight, I was propelled to further success by achieving an attainable goal. After that, I was encouraged to keep going, sustain good habits, and set new goals. While volunteering can be a realistic goal for anyone, don’t be afraid to set the bar slightly lower and then exceed the goal rather than aim too high and get discouraged. If you have never volunteered before, I would encourage small steps. Try it once a month to start, check a few different organizations, use some trial and error, and adjust your goals accordingly.

Relevant – If a particular goal is entirely outside your lifestyle, values, or long-term goals, it can be much harder to achieve. This can be especially true when volunteering. Volunteering within your life ecosystem will lend some ease to attaining this goal. Find out if your work, place of worship, or community association has volunteer initiatives you can participate in. Volunteering at your children’s school can be great if your work hours allow it. Consider places with a short commute time and remove the excuse of driving across town. If you have friends also interested in volunteering, try doing it together. Volunteering as a social activity is a great way to add it to a busy schedule. Changing your life to accomplish specific goals can be difficult and ultimately unfeasible, but fitting them into your life will help immensely.

Time-based – If you are setting goals for the year, map them out. Set smaller goals or steps for the weeks and months; this will help you prioritize tasks and get a much-needed boost when you accomplish these targets. Planning it out can help avoid the excuses of “I’ll do it in the summer when I have more time.” Never be afraid to dream big and further into the future. Long-term goals and planning are also important. Start immediately; schedule one volunteer experience and adjust your timeline after you get a feel for it.

The S.M.A.R.T. system is simple and effective. It's a tool designed to help you assess and achieve goals. Once you learn how to analyze and break down your goals through this process, this will equip you to succeed. If you are interested in volunteering or if that is one of your goals for the year, I encourage you to browse the opportunities listed on our site and use this rubric to develop and evaluate how you want to achieve that. Stay tuned for part two of the article, where I will provide plenty of practical advice on achieving your goals!

 

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Halton, Ontario to Edmonton, Alberta Volunteerism Across the Land!

Published: Feb 7, 2024 @ 12:37 PM

We love seeing what our friends across the country are up to. The work they are doing and open to sharing- 

Volunteer Halton published their ‘Our Halton’ report which brings together their own data along with tons of other research to tell the story of volunteerism in Halton Region. Check out the footnotes for so many brilliant other points of interesting reads, including research from the University of Waterloo are on engaging youth in philanthropy. 

Our friends in Edmonton at ECVO published a lovely story featuring Turlough from the Winspear Centre (Edmonton Symphony Orchestra) and how we took an opportunity to shift the culture of a volunteer program. Turlough was a speaker at our Symposium in the Fall and we also enjoy his perspective. 

CBC’s show Now or Never featured a whole episode on people stepping up in their community to respond to need. You can listen to that episode here!

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Africa Centre Launches Black Leadership Development Program

Published: Jan 31, 2024 @ 12:00 PM

If you are an organization based in Calgary, you have an awesome opportunity to work with The Africa Centre as they launch Ujima Fellowship Program. "The Ujima Fellowship is a leadership development program that aims to address structural racism and inequity by creating opportunities for diverse representation within policy-making entities. The purpose of the fellowship is to support young Black leaders between the ages of 18 - 35 who demonstrate a willingness to develop their leadership skills and want to serve within advisory or policy- making entities."

Africa Centre is looking for organizations to host mentors for board placements. If you are interested please contact them here.

If you are a young leader interested in participating in this fellowship opportunity you can find more information here. 

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Adventures In Volunteering - Episode 5

Published: Jan 31, 2024 @ 11:11 AM

On this episode of Adventures in Volunteering we once again join our main character Jeff as he tries to kick his new year off by helping support an organization he loves. Despite his demanding day job, Jeff has found a unique way to engage in micro-volunteering that aligns with his passion for promoting anti-racism initiatives.

Jeff's story is one of balancing responsibilities and making a meaningful impact within the constraints of a hectic lifestyle (read: he just got a playstation and is trying to beat Spiderman: Miles Morales, jk kinda). As a first-generation Canadian born to Pakistani parents, Jeff brings a unique perspective to his commitment to anti-racism efforts. His personal experiences fuel his desire to contribute to positive change and create a more inclusive society for his children and future generations.

In the evenings, after tucking his kids into bed and winding down from a full day at work, Jeff dedicates a few moments to micro-volunteering. Instead of conventional volunteer work that may demand a substantial time commitment, Jeff has chosen to fill out a survey for VolunteerConnector to enhance its anti-racism approach. This form of micro-volunteering allows Jeff to contribute meaningfully to an organization he believes in without overwhelming his already busy schedule.

Jeff's decision to focus on anti-racism initiatives stems from his own journey as a first-generation Canadian. Growing up with Pakistani heritage in a culturally diverse environment, he faced the challenges of navigating identity and combating stereotypes. These experiences ignited a desire within him to actively participate in initiatives that challenge prejudice and promote understanding.

The survey Jeff fills out covers a range of topics, from assessing the barriers to participating in volunteering to gathering insights on potential areas of improvement in the volunteer experience. Despite the brevity of the survey, Jeff understands the cumulative impact of his contributions. Every opinion he shares becomes a valuable piece of feedback that aids VolunteerConnector in refining its strategies and fostering a more inclusive environment.

Jeff's micro-volunteering approach is not only practical but also showcases the accessibility of contributing to social causes in the digital age. The flexibility of filling out surveys aligns seamlessly with his lifestyle, allowing him to be an active participant in the fight against racism without compromising his responsibilities as a father and professional and a gamer.

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Serving Sandwiches, Disarming Anxiety: My Eye-Opening Volunteer Experience

Published: Jan 26, 2024 @ 9:24 AM

We welcome guest blog writer Josie Simon. Josie is a freelance writer with a BA in Political Science from the University of Calgary and a steadfast believer in the power of volunteering. Her journey has taken her from the vibrant lecture halls of the University of Calgary to the heart of our community, serving in roles like the Humour and Opinions Assistant for the Gauntlet Publications Society, the Director of Education and Outreach for the Women in Politics Club, and a student volunteer with the SU Campus Food Bank. These roles have deepened her conviction in service and advocacy, reinforcing the significant impact we can have through commitment and action.

Growing up, I was plagued by extreme shyness and self-doubt. Being in social situations terrified me, and the fear of making mistakes held me back in every aspect of life. Transitioning into adulthood as a first-year student at the University of Calgary only exacerbated my struggles, as I found it incredibly difficult to form new connections and make friends.

Desperate for a change, I volunteered for the 2019 Alternative Spring Break program with SU (Students Union) Volunteer Services. This program allowed undergraduate students like me to lend a helping hand to various non-profit organizations in Calgary over Reading Week.

One of the places I had the opportunity to volunteer with was the Calgary Drop-In Centre. There, my group and I were responsible for making sandwiches for individuals experiencing homelessness. To say I was nervous would be an understatement. But it was not because of the people we were serving or my fellow volunteers but rather the voice inside my head whispering that I would inevitably mess up or ruin the sandwiches.

However, as the hours ticked by and the sandwiches were successfully prepared, I experienced a transformative realization. Engaging in light-hearted conversations with the other volunteers, I began to feel a sense of confidence growing within me. This experience was not a miraculous overnight transformation, but it marked a significant starting point in my journey toward overcoming my crippling social anxiety and self-doubt.

Fast forward to the present, and I am now a graduate with countless hours of volunteer work under my belt. Although I still occasionally battle with anxiety, it no longer paralyzes me as it once did. Volunteering has become a catalyst for personal growth and empowerment, allowing me to develop confidence in my abilities. It is funny how we often view volunteering as solely a means of helping others. However, I have come to realize that the power of community extends far beyond that. Volunteering has the incredible ability to transform and shape us into better versions of ourselves.

To all those struggling with anxiety and low self-confidence, I implore you to seize the opportunity to volunteer. It may seem daunting at first, but through the act of giving back, you will discover strengths and capabilities you never knew existed within you. Sign up and volunteer today and watch as your perspective on life begins to change.

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Reason, Season or Life?

Published: Jan 18, 2024 @ 12:00 PM

In our part of the country, we have just come out of an arctic chill, a whack of snow and what has felt like months of grey cloudy skies. The sun and blue sky have reappeared and thus it is feeling more like a time to set new goals and intentions than that post-holiday haze. If becoming more engaged in your community or meeting new people or trying out something new is on your list for 2024 then we would invite you to have a peruse here on VolunteerConnector. With a couple things to keep in mind…

Volunteering is all on your own terms. You get to decide when, where, what and for how long! It can sometimes feel like you need to commit to something for a lifetime and let this be your permission to commit for a reason or season! Volunteering for a reason can be wanting to practice a specific skill, meet some new people, deepen relationships, share a skill set that you have or feel good about the energy you are putting out. A season of volunteering is acknowledging the realities of ebb and flow in everyone’s life. It might be you have one free weekend in the next 6 months or that summer is a time where you have less on your job plate, so you have more capacity. All the choices are ok! Depending on where life is for you engaging with an organization might not be for you this year, that is ok too. You can still get all the wonderful brain chemicals from volunteering by being mindful of your community. Pick up an extra loaf of bread and drop it off in your community pantry, take someone else’s kids for an hour, shovel a neighbour’s walk, check in on someone you love, take notice of something that would make your community better and do it! 

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Practices for Non-Profits and Corporations

Published: Jan 10, 2024 @ 12:00 PM

In the past 30 days the conversation around corporate volunteer groups has come up a lot. It is this season that puts a magnifying glass on what can be a tough experience for both organizations and the humans inside a company, all to the tune of a lovely holiday jingle. 

Volunteering should always feel meaningful for both parties. Volunteer Canada has put together this helpful resource for organizations and corporations in thinking about engaging in a mutually beneficial relationship. Volunteer Canada (2023, November 14). Different Ways to Engage with Your Local Business Community [PowerPoint Slides]. Centerville Network Forum – November 2023, Volunteer Canada.

If you are looking to work with an organization in your area, have a look on VolunteerConnector and start next year off with a conversation. 

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Dear Elected Officials, It is 2024!

Published: Jan 3, 2024 @ 6:00 PM

Happy 2024! We made it! From us to you, we wish you all the best in the coming year. We wanted to kick our year off here at VolunteerConnector with a note to the humans who serve in government. This blog was inspired by the awesome team at Volunteer Ottawa. You can check their posts here.

So yes, the first blog of 2024 goes out the people who make up the 338 Members of Parliament, the 751 people serving as elected officials in provincial and territorial legislatures and the thousands more who hold positions of mayor, councillors in municipalities and regions across the country. Thanks for your service and energy as you look forward to the next year, we have some thoughts;

Volunteerism contributes to thriving communities and creating places where people feel like they belong. Not going to say that is priceless but it is certainly worth far more than 56 billion dollars, not that our brains can even understand that number. Think about all the interactions everyone in your community has every day with space and places that would not exist without volunteers.

Connect with the societies, non-profits, charities and grassroots humans in your areas. Learn about them, provide connection, funding and most importantly gratitude for their vital work. 

Use your platform to talk about volunteering, civic engagement, mutual aid. It all matters, it all counts. 

Make it easy for people to find volunteer opportunities in your area. That can be a link to your local volunteer centre/capacity builder, your own featured suggestion list or of course VolunteerConnector

Have questions? Want to talk more? We are happy to help

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'Tis the season for saying thank YOU

Published: Dec 27, 2023 @ 12:00 PM

We want to take the time and space to profoundly thank those volunteers who do not take a break over this time. So much continues to happen in our communities and it is all thanks to people who give their time and energy. The people who keep on making and delivering meals, taking people to appointments, shovelling sidewalks, coaching kids in sports, checking on the food cupboards, participating on boards, responding to emergencies, visiting people who need it. There are seriously to many things to list. So if this is you -Thank you. You make our communities great places to live and exist in. You make sure that people feel seen no matter what time of year and what else is going in the world. 

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