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Volunteering 101 – open up to the awesome

From the Hinton Voice – April 14, 2011
Tyler Waugh

Karen Lynch was everything I’d hoped she would be as executive director of Volunteer Alberta.

She’s outspoken and doesn’t sugarcoat emerging and ongoing challenges within the volunteer world, but is equally optimistic about how boards and committees will adapt to those challenges.

Lynch spoke to around 100 people April 11 at a board of directors appreciation dinner hosted by the Town of Hinton at the Hinton Centre as part of National Volunteer Week.

The volunteer advocate and self-described board junkie pulled no punches in giving a realistic assessment of what too many boards are doing wrong.

Among other things she touched upon during the 40-minute presentation was the issue of marketing opportunities within an organization. She emphasized word of mouth in setting the tone for positive experiences. Sounds hokey, sure, but her example rang true to me.

How many times have we stood in a checkout line and either overheard a conversation or held one personally with somebody lamenting how they had to go to a meeting that particular night and how they’d rather be lounging in their chair in front of the television. Can’t say I haven’t been guilty of that myself. Lately, I have been pretty open about the fact that I am likely going to pull back on my volunteer commitments for a year or so. I’ve never thought about statements like that being misconceived as negative about my volunteer experiences.

It couldn’t be further from the truth and since I value volunteering, I probably owe it to the movement to discuss how the different roles make me feel and how I’ve benefitted. So here it goes.

Hinton United Way – I was invited to a lunch meeting in 2005 under the auspices of covering it for the paper and left as a board member. While I still wonder just exactly how that happened (I didn’t get a lunch, either!), it’s hard to argue with the experience.

Helping coordinate fundraising and marketing opportunities for a diverse group of local non-profits is pretty exciting, especially considering the vital services these groups provide to those less fortunate in our community.

It’s provided me a far better perspective on some of the unique challenges in our town and a deep appreciation for those who toil in relative anonymity to make it better. I hope I never need their services, but I feel better knowing they exist in case the unexpected should occur.

Citizens Advisory Group – This is my first experience on a town-driven committee. I spend my professional life reporting and commenting on what these committees undertake and this was my first foray into “seeing how the sausage is made” so to speak.

Honestly? It’s been a long grind and frustrating at times as 11 people with unique perspectives endeavoured to marry long-term municipal planning with public-driven objectives.

With the end near (our final draft goes to Town Council on May 3), it’s easier to reflect on what a remarkably rewarding experience it’s been. I’ll miss the debates about Hinton’s future with people I respect and learning that “making the sausage” should be somewhat hard if it’s going to be relevant.

Hinton Minor Hockey – Helping to coach atom hockey this year meant being at the rink a lot and, for me, being at the rink helping out is like a two thumbs up sundae dripping with awesome sauce.

Volunteer, I tell you, and open yourself up to the awesome.

 

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