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Annual weeks of giving: An informal volunteer story

Growing up, December was the season of giving. My family celebrated Christmas by sharing with the community. Early on, my parents instilled the lessons that Christmas was not about the presents under the tree, it was about gifting our time and creating joyful memories for those around us.

I recall many a December preparing shoeboxes for Operation Shoebox, donating our gently used toys and household items to Goodwill, or inviting those who had no one to celebrate with over for a warm meal and conversation. Regardless of my faith or the seasons I celebrate, it is the lessons about community that I carry with me throughout the year and inspires my love for informal volunteering.

Starting a tradition based on community and generosity

Annual weeks of giving is a tradition I started during post-secondary. December is a busy time for students and nonprofits. December is about fundraising campaigns, volunteer drives, and requests for donations because nonprofits rely heavily on the goodwill and charitable nature of others.

Annual weeks of giving became my way of contributing to the cause and giving back when I had limited funds and time. I was able to balance my chaotic schedule with the needs of the community by being an informal volunteer (e.g. food bank donations or gently used winter clothes).

Although I am no longer in post-secondary, my tradition continues! It has even grown over the years – from my original two weeks to six weeks. Now, I see the impact my contributions have on those around me and inspire others to volunteer. And, this year was no exception! I made connections within my neighbourhood and inspired others to keep paying it forward.

Bonding neighbours together by cleaning up shared green spaces

One of my contributions for 2018 was a commitment to clean up shared green spaces – picking up trash, upcycling plastics, and recycling reusable products. A small action had HUGE consequences. Starting with just my bags, a stick, and a wheelbarrow, my single person mission turned into a neighbourhood cleanup.

It started with children being curious about what I was doing, their curiosity gave way to a desire to help, and eventually became a family activity. By the end of the walk, we had cleared two public parks from surface litter and upcycled enough one-time use plastics that I can start my entire garden from seedlings!

This action of cleaning up shared spaces didn’t just end at the park, it allowed me to foster connections in my relatively new neighbourhood. Even though we’ve been in our current home for three years, work schedules and travel made it difficult to get to know our neighbours. Surprisingly, the fastest way to get to know people is by looking like you’re storing plastic for the end of the world. It’s a great ice breaker!

I’ve met several neighbours with an avid love of gardening. We’ve traded tips on maximizing space, what yields the best results in certain spaces, and some new ideas on how to upcycle our old plastics. I even have someone who is willing to teach me the basics of jam and jelly making this fall! I’m excited to learn from a Farmer’s Market master and to have some new friends that live close by.

I hope that I’ve inspired others to join me on the journey or create their own traditions. Supporting community through informal volunteering and random acts of kindness is a win-win. For everyone!

Do you want to spread some kindness? Check out RandomActsofKindness.org for some inspiration and get started!

 

Daniela Seiferling

Volunteer Alberta

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Member Spotlight: Hinton FCSS emboldens informal volunteering in community

Imagine trees wrapped in hand-knitted scarves on a cold winter’s day or children handing out lemonade on a hot summer day. In Hinton, you can easily come across informal volunteering or random acts of kindness. And, Hinton’s Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) is no different.

One of Hinton FCSS’s main goals is to foster community connection and reduce social isolation. As a result, informal giving or volunteering organically flourishes in their programs and services.

Friendly Visitor Program turns strangers into friends

Recently, Hinton FCSS launched the Friendly Visitor Program; a program made possible entirely by volunteers. The volunteer centre provides the framework, but it is brought to life by people deliberately offering their friendship to another person. Adults are welcome to apply to become a volunteer companion or a recipient.

“Friends are just strangers waiting to happen,” says Lisa Brett, Volunteer Centre Coordinator at Hinton FCSS.

Formal volunteer transforms opportunity into informal volunteering

While the program is relatively new and typically considered a formal way of volunteering, one volunteer match, Ginnie and Kim, demonstrates how formal volunteering can transform into informal volunteering.

“Ginnie and Kim visit so often that Kim has become a part of Ginnie’s family,” says Lisa. “It has helped Kim’s life and her mental health, and fulfilled the gaps in her social life. It’s exceptional.”

Instead of doing bare minimum visits, volunteer Ginnie went above and beyond in the program by simply living and expressing kindness, and in the process, turned a stranger into a life-long family friend.

“Informal volunteering is essential to individual, family, community, national, and global wellbeing,” says Lisa. “When you model kindness, you never know who you’re inspiring. Those small gestures, they add up. They are so critical to community health and wellness. You might create a ripple effect.”

How Hinton FCSS staff encourage informal volunteering

Another possible reason informal volunteering blooms in Hinton FCSS’s programs could be due in large part to its staff and their dedication to spreading kindness.

“My coworkers are mega informal volunteers! I am very inspired by their deeds all the time,” says Lisa. “Some bake and share the treats at work, some participate in every single fundraiser, some are animal advocates, and some babysit others’ children.”
“Informal volunteering is a new word, but not a new concept. To me, informal volunteering is consciously exhibiting kindness and caring. It is about performing without expectations. It is being human. It is being an active citizen,” remarks Lisa.

To learn how to encourage informal volunteering in your community, contact Lisa Brett at Hinton FCSS.

Hinton Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) focuses on “people helping people help themselves.” Hinton FCSS enhances the social well-being of individuals and families in the community through their programs and services. For over 24 years, Hinton’s Volunteer Centre has operated under Hinton FCSS, making volunteer matches and community connections as a way to sustain people as active participants in the community.

 

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

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Member Spotlight: IVC for Strathcona County’s spirit of giving

As the holidays draw near, you can feel that the spirit of giving is in the air. It’s a great time of year that reminds us of how powerful giving back and spreading kindness can be. But, Alberta nonprofits remind us each day; they model this spirit of giving by voluntarily and selflessly giving back to their communities year-round.

Throughout the year, the Information Volunteer Centre (IVC) for Strathcona County generously gives back to their community through their various programs and services. But, one program, in particular, is unique in how it supports other nonprofits in the community.

Giving to local nonprofits and their community

The ‘We Care… so We Share!’ program helps to enhance the effectiveness of other nonprofits by providing much needed equipment or items free of charge. Many of the items can be used for fundraising events, and organizations are welcome to borrow any item. Items include a cotton candy machine, an overhead projector, a bookbinding machine, just to name a few.

“I can tell you it’s wildly successful. In fact, we’ve recently received a grant from Suncor to increase our inventory as we were getting so many requests for equipment,” says Judy Ferguson, Executive Director at IVC for Strathcona County.

Impact on the community

Many nonprofits can’t afford to rent or buy this type of equipment for organizational use. As a result, the ‘We Care… so We Share!’ program helps nonprofits in the Strathcona County community to save money.

“It’s an interesting program that is very popular here in the county, and I don’t know who else could do it,” says Judy. “It’s a difficult thing for other organizations to purchase equipment like that and make it available free of charge to community organizations.”

By spending less on equipment for overhead purposes or fundraising events, it allows nonprofits to maximize their dollar for their causes. That is, nonprofits can re-allocate their funds to achieve more social good.

IVC for Strathcona County actively works to achieve inclusion and affordability, and their ‘We Care… so We Share!’ program is an example of this work. By considering the needs of the community and filling that need, they support and empower nonprofits, big or small.

The Information and Volunteer Centre (IVC) for Strathcona County has operated for 43 years. The organization gives back and strengthens its community by providing pathways to connect, engage and empower residents with volunteer opportunities and services, and by providing training and information to other nonprofits and community organizations.

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Share the gift of cheer: Random acts of kindness

Often times when we think of social impact, we think of the grand gestures that are at the forefront of the sector and the most talked about. We think about impact in terms of financial donations, advocacy, and formal volunteering because these are the easiest stories to tell (and the ones our funders usually want to hear about).

As a result, we tend to forget about the day-to-day actions that strengthen and vitalize community, and support our overall wellbeing – random acts of kindness and the simple gesture of paying it forward.

The science of kindness

I came across an article from Random Acts of Kindness that talks about the science of kindness, and how easy it is to make a difference. Kindness is teachable and contagious – we can inspire kindness in others and build up compassion, creating a desire to help others. Simply witnessing an act of kindness can improve your mood and can create a domino effect of good deeds in your community.

So, what do we mean by a random act of kindness?

  • Hold the door open for the person behind you.
  • Pay a sincere compliment to a stranger on the bus or train.
  • Shovel your neighbour’s walkway.
  • Buy a person in need a meal or hot beverage.
  • Send a “thinking of you card” to someone you haven’t seen in a while.

These are just a few ideas to spark your next random act of kindness. As you go about your day, think of one thing you can do to be kind to a stranger. Together, we can help spread kindness and goodwill across the community.

For resources or to learn more about kindness and ways to improve your overall wellbeing, visit the Random Acts of Kindness website.

Follow Daniela’s six days of giving journey!

Daniela is passionate about helping her community. Currently, she is encouraging others to join her six weeks of giving initiative. You can follow her journey on our Facebook page.

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Member Spotlight: Stony Plain FCSS builds community resilience with local network

Strengthening and equipping communities with outreach programs can be key in connecting and creating a local network. And, when communities are connected through a local network, they know how and what type of resources they can access, as well as identify opportunities for collaboration.

Creating a ‘local network’ to end family violence

Through its various outreach programs, Stony Plain FCSS is building a local network that supports and establishes community resilience. Stony Plain FCSS’s most recent program, Cut it Out, leverages existing community relationships to create a safe haven for victims of family violence.

Stony Plain’s Cut it Out program provides education, awareness and skills to salon professionals for how to refer clients suffering from family violence to community resources, safely.

“The goal is to work collaboratively to end family and relationship violence in our community through education, awareness and support,” says Dianne Dube, Volunteer Development Coordinator.

Promoting good mental health and social well-being

Salon professionals can play a key role in ending family violence, as they are experienced listeners who see their clients regularly, and thus build trusting relationships with their clients.

By engaging volunteers to provide necessary information and education to salon professionals, Stony Plain FCSS equips salon professionals to recognize and respond to signs of abuse. This valuable and educational service leverages salon professionals’ unique relationships with clients as

“We provide many programs that promote good positive mental health and social well-being. We are enhancing inclusion and diversity by spreading the news of how we can be an all-inclusive community, how can we do better, and how to remove barriers to inclusion,” says Dianne. “And that’s what the volunteer centre strives to promote is supporting volunteerism because that’s what makes a healthy community.”

Stony Plain FCSS launched the program in early fall of this year, in partnership with other agencies and volunteers in the community. “I think the impact our organization has is that we are connecting the community,” says Dianne.

Located in Stony Plain, AB, Stony Plain FCSS supports families and individuals in all life stages through prevention-focused programs, to promote and maintain social wellness for a healthy community.

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