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Is that a Teddy Bear on a Harley?

The normal hubbub of Saturday traffic was interrupted by the sound of over 800 motorcycle enthusiasts riding through the streets of Medicine Hat. One would need to do a double take to identify the passengers of these bikes; giant teddy bears and other toys rode alongside these big-hearted bikers!

The Medicine Hat News Santa Claus Fund (SCF) believes EVERY child deserves to have a Merry Christmas, and 800 bikers donating their mound of toys is just the start! Food hampers are also given to families in need during the holiday season. SCF also partners with the Medicine Hat Ministerial Association and the St. Vincent de Paul Society throughout the year to provide aid for families, and individuals, in need. SCF, like Santa Claus, works all year long to help community members in need.

Like Santa Claus, SCF would not be able to deliver toys and hampers without the help of elves! Hundreds of volunteer bikers, and non-bikers alike, pulled together for this incredible event! If you weren’t on a bike, you were helping with food, registering volunteers, gathering toys, or selling raffle tickets! Events like this make me proud to be a part of an amazing and generous community.

Executive Director, Celina Symmonds, was touched by the community’s commitment to their families. As I stood and watched this event unfold, she handed out hug after hug to donors and volunteers – everyone’s heart grew a little bit bigger this weekend!

Even though the Toy Ride is over, there are still plenty of other opportunities to help out in the Medicine Hat community:

• Corona Auction
• Mountain of Wishes
• Countless business events through the city

SCF is always looking for gift wrappers, office volunteers, or to be Santa Claus himself and deliver toys to families. Please call 403-528-9900 to find out how you can help.

A special thanks needs to go out to the Biker Enthusiasts, SCF Board of Directors, students at Crescent Heights High School, and the many volunteers who helped this year!

Thanks for reading,

Amanda Leipert

Knowledge Exchange Coordinator (South Region)

St. Albert Appreciates Volunteers

National Volunteer Week was a huge success! There were many great volunteer appreciation events across the province and staff represented Volunteer Alberta at a number of events, including the Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon hosted by the St. Albert Community Information and Volunteer Centre (CIVC).

When Ellie (VA Program Coordinator) and I arrived at the St. Albert Alliance Church Hall, it immediately became clear this was going to be an outstanding event. There was a constant stream of vehicles pouring into this large parking lot. The venue was adorned with white and orange balloons and streamers; it took on the feel of a gala rather than a modest luncheon. The hall was filled with over 300 volunteers, public officials, small business owners and honored guests – the atmosphere was one of tremendous warmth.

Emcee Glennis Kennedy, from the St. Albert CIVC, welcomed everyone and introduced special guests St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse and Member of Parliament for Edmonton-St. Albert Brent Rathgeber, who both expressed their heartfelt thanks to the volunteers of St. Albert. Last year’s Volunteer Citizen of the Year, Anna Rodger, was then invited on stage to say grace. After Anna’s beautiful words, everyone filed into the buffet lines.

Waiting in line for lunch, it was fascinating to see all these outstanding members of the community treat each other with such admiration. These volunteers, who are used to serving others, now found themselves being catered to for their invaluable contribution to their community, and yet their incredible spirit of giving still shone through. As Ellie and I waited in the salad line we remarked at the diversity of the group, and how these volunteers made up what seemed to be a perfect cross section of the community. It was uplifting, seeing teenagers sharing a laugh with seniors, and individuals of every walk of life together celebrating the vital role of volunteerism.

After lunch, Glennis drew door prizes contributed by local businesses.  When all the prizes were gone, we were all treated to a performance by the musical comedy group, Il Duo. They put on a great show and there couldn’t have been a more perfect way of putting smiles on the faces of the volunteers of St. Albert. Their performances had people doubled over in their seats laughing. At the end of the event we were all encouraged to take individual cakes baked in mason jars with tangerine icing… by a volunteer, of course. They had thought of every detail – the event was organized largely by volunteers, after all.

Mayor Crouse said something during his remarks that stuck with me; he pointed out that without the efforts of volunteers there would be no extracurricular school activities, no amateur sport, no music festivals, or religious institutions. These are the things that make a community a community. The Mayor captured the true essence of volunteerism, and this event captured the true essence of community.

A big thank you to the St. Albert CIVC for their incredible hospitality. Congratulations on a successful event and Volunteer Alberta looks forward to attending next year!

Tim Henderson
Office & Communications Coordinator

UN Report Paints New Picture of Volunteerism

“It is essential to understand and appreciate volunteerism in terms of the focus which it places on people centred approaches, on partnerships, on motivations beyond money, and on openness to the exchange of ideas and information.  Above all, volunteerism is about the relationships it can create and sustain among citizens of a country. It generates a sense of social cohesion and helps to create resilience [which] are often the mainstay of a decent life for which all people strive. Volunteerism is an act of human solidarity, of empowerment and of active citizenship.”

This is one of the closing remarks of the 2011 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report, an informative and enthusiastic testament to the value of volunteering in all corners of the world. The report is the United Nation’s first on volunteering and marks the 10th anniversary of the International Year of Volunteers.

While the focus of the report is on how volunteerism contributes to peace and development globally, the insights it shares are certainly applicable right here in Alberta. The report defines ‘development’ as much more than economic growth, instead it sees development as “expanding the choices available to people so that they may lead lives that they value”. This definition challenges us to think about volunteering differently, to see it as even more powerful than many of us in the voluntary sector believe.

The Volunteerism Report dismisses the idea that volunteerism is a one-way street where the volunteer gives and someone else benefits. Instead advocating an understanding of volunteering as a reciprocal relationship where volunteering works to benefit the volunteer and their community simultaneously.

With this in mind, the report provides a wide range of examples of how those engaging volunteers around the world are changing their techniques to achieve their goals.  Rather than only sending volunteers from developed countries to developing countries, international volunteering programs are involving people from developing countries as volunteers themselves. Volunteers living in poverty remind us that while a lack of income may restrict their opportunities, they also have knowledge, skills, labour, and networks. Through volunteering, they are able to improve their own lives while sharing these assets with their communities. These are lessons that we can apply here in our own province.

A quick glance at the 2010 Canadian Survey of Giving, Volunteering, and Participating (CSGVP) statistics, released last month, shows the pronounced effect volunteering has on our communities. For volunteers, the benefits of getting involved are numerous; volunteering offers people an opportunity to change the society they live in, for example, through political lobbying and activism. Volunteering provides individuals with skills and values they can bring with them into the workforce, or to continue to use a lifetime of knowledge. There is a correlation between volunteering and improved mood, life satisfaction, self-respect, and increased physical health. Alberta is great because of our volunteers, but volunteers may just be the biggest winners of all.

Join us in celebrating volunteerism in Canada and all the good that it represents during National Volunteer Week, April 15th–21st.

If you’d like to find out more about world-wide volunteerism, you can read the 2011 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report here.

Sam Kriviak
Program Coordinator

Policy for Thought

A social policy framework for Alberta will be comprehensive in nature, reflect our shared values as Albertans, and guide collective efforts to support all Albertans to attain a high quality of life – where all Albertans have access to the programs and services they need, when they need them.  All Albertans share the benefits when people can participate as full members of our society.

The framework will focus on the social system that serves disadvantaged Albertans while considering how the whole system works to serve its citizens. The framework will provide a foundation for governments, communities, nonprofit organizations, and individuals to make decisions about the relevance and effectiveness of social policies and programs for Albertans.  It will lay the foundation for an accessible system that produces results – both for the Albertans who use it and for those who share in the benefits of a stronger society.

The framework will be fully realized by fall and be developed in an inclusive way and will articulate the roles that government, communities, nonprofit organizations, and individuals play in the system that serves Albertans.  It will communicate Alberta’s social policy direction to the public, both within and beyond our borders.

Some of the key questions that we, as a sector, need to provide strong, collaborate  answers to:

  • What do you see as the purpose of a social policy framework for Alberta?
  • What are the respective roles of government(s), communities, individuals, and business in achieving a quality of life to which Albertans aspire?
  • What kind of society do you want for yourself, your family and community?
  • What social and economic issues should be included in the framework?
  • Social programs are delivered by government, communities, and nonprofit organizations across the province. How would you like to be engaged during this process?
  • How would you define success?
  • How should we measure success?

Become a part of the conversation and send your answers and ideas to afisher@volunteeralberta.ab.ca.

To read the draft discussion guide: Social Policy Framework Discussion Guide

Letter: Volunteer Alberta –Submission to the Premier’s Council for Economic Strategy

August 10, 2010

The Honourable David Emerson, P.C.

Premier’s Council for Economic Strategy
11th Floor, Legislature Annex
9718 – 107 Street
Edmonton, Alberta
T5K 1E4

Attn: Honourable David Emerson, P.C.

Premier’s Council for Economic Strategy, Council member

Re: Volunteer Alberta –Submission to the Premier’s Council for Economic Strategy

Dear Mr. Emerson:

The recent acknowledgement by the Premier’s Council for Economic Strategy (in An Invitation to Help Shape Alberta’s Future) of the investment and contribution volunteers make to communities in Alberta and to the overall economy was unexpected, but welcomed by Volunteer Alberta’s members and collaborating organizations.

Volunteer Alberta applauds the Council’s recognition of the strong linkages between the strategic development of Alberta’s economy and increasing the development of the ‘brainpower of people’ or the so-called social and human capital aspects of the economy. The Council rightly identified how creating strong and vibrant communities will attract and retain the human capital necessary to diversify and strengthen our economy.

It should be highlighted how the ongoing activities of the nonprofit/voluntary sector in Alberta are already complementing three of the Council’s conversations in the report, particularly related to:

  • #3 creating new wealth through knowledge and innovation;
  • #4 ensuring healthy, skilled and engaged citizens;
  • #5 ensuring communities are vibrant, supportive and inclusive.

Nonprofit/voluntary sector organizations in Alberta are actively working to make communities stronger and more desirable places to live. Volunteer Alberta encourages the Council to focus public policy and financial investment on the nonprofit/voluntary sector to achieve its objective of raising and sustaining the quality of living for Albertans.

The Social Investment Volunteers Make in Alberta

Alberta leads the way in 21st century volunteerism. The rural roots of the province established the foundation for generations of volunteers, at a time when neighbours relied on each other for social and economic stability. Although the demographics of Alberta volunteers reflect an urban shift, the intensity of the act of sharing time and talent has not diminished. Some characteristics of the sector include:

  • Alberta has a volunteer rate of 52 percent exceeding the Canadian average of 48 percent.
  • Roughly 1,445,000 Albertans contributed an average of 172 hours in community services in 2007 (6 percent more than the national average).
  • Of the 19,000 nonprofit/voluntary organizations in Alberta, approximately 58 percent have no paid staff and are entirely volunteer run.[1]

How can strategic Volunteerism contribute to Alberta’s Economic Strategy?

Nonprofit/voluntary organizations provide cost-effective structures to deliver social services and respond to grassroots level community needs. The efficiency and effectiveness of voluntary organizations goes a long way, making for a high social return on investment. However, if the only value added is that of low cost delivery systems, Alberta’s economic and political leaders are missing the overall impact that community based organizations make to create a standard of living that is unparalleled.

Besides delivering services that are integral to the quality of life in communities, volunteer participation also builds trust and reciprocity among people, encourages social solidarity, and enhances citizens’ belief that they live in a caring community.

There are several other benefits from volunteering noted in the recent Canada Survey of Giving Volunteering and Providing (2007) as well as in academic research about how volunteering enhances an individual’s own social capital (expression of values and what makes people fit into a social reference group) and human capital (the skills, enhancements, competencies, and knowledge an individual gains).[2] A learned and connected populace promotes civil engagement and creates a valued community.

The nonprofit/voluntary sector not only serves underprivileged and vulnerable populations (this is often acknowledged by elected and corporate leaders, but is a facile observation that does not nearly reflect the diversity and integration of the sector in every single Albertan’s life), but also serves and are supported by ordinary, middle-class Albertans. Every day in Alberta, individuals and families participate with volunteer groups such as the 4-H Club, Big Brothers Big Sisters, local sport associations, or volunteer firefighters.

Many segments of the Albertan population benefit from volunteer activities. The classification of the voluntary sector relies on the ‘John Hopkins International Classification System’.[1] Volunteer Alberta recommends adoption of this internationally recognized system, which underscores the diversity of the nonprofit/voluntary sector and its 12 distinct subsectors. [2] From sports and recreation to social services…from education to environment…from arts and culture to business and industry ­ –organizations large and small depend on volunteers as they provide community programs and services to assist, entertain and connect local residents.

Volunteer contributions generate considerable benefits for organizations, individual volunteers, people served by volunteers, communities, and society at large. These benefits should not be taken for granted. Volunteers are not free –indeed they are citizens whose investments of time and energy require support.

Challenges facing the Sector

Increasing economic pressures are challenging the capacities of nonprofit/voluntary organizations to maintain the levels of active citizenship and community engagement in Albertan communities. Some of the practical and conceptual challenges facing the nonprofit/voluntary sector include:

  • Organizations are financially vulnerable as the Alberta government decreases an already lower than national average level of investment in the sector and are struggling to meet growing demands with the same or less revenue;
  • Staff leading nonprofit organizations struggle to generate revenue, maintaining contract arrangements, and recruit and retain skilled employees – all the while trying to create an elusive level of sustainability;

Volunteer engagement trends are fluctuating dramatically. Organizations struggle to respond to changing demographics in Alberta. (For instance, a core of highly-engaged people (10 percent of volunteers) contributes 54 percent of all hours. Losing these types of volunteers

  • would have disproportionately adverse effects on organizations and local communities. New strategies are available and investment is required to implement recruitment and retention for youth, immigrant populations, baby-boomers, etc. as volunteers).

Recommendations:

Volunteers support individual Albertans and provide life to our communities.

Volunteer Alberta encourages the Council to consider strategies which harness and support the powerful spirit of citizenship in Albertan communities by supporting volunteers and nonprofit/voluntary organizations. Strategic actions might include:

  • Allocating both financial and thought investment to reinforce the efforts of volunteers and nonprofit/voluntary organizations;
  • Expanding the levels of support for ‘made-in-Alberta’ legislation, programs and services designed to remove barriers to volunteerism in Alberta. A heightened understanding of the impact of legislation on the nonprofit/voluntary sector either as delivery mechanisms or responders to the changes in community is required.
  • Supporting ‘capacity-organizations’ (such as Volunteer Alberta, Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations, Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations and others) in providing human resource tools, training initiatives and more, to better assist the operations of nonprofit/voluntary organizations;
  • Assigning specific resources to support research and development in the nonprofit/voluntary sector, with the aim of generating innovative programs, services and policies in response to the needs of local communities.

Volunteer Alberta: Supporting Volunteerism in Alberta

Volunteer Alberta is the only provincial capacity builder for the voluntary sector. Since its founding in 1990, Volunteer Alberta evolved to become an expert source of knowledge on volunteerism and the nonprofit/voluntary sector, with hundreds of members reflecting all twelve subsectors –including arts and culture, social services, education and health.

Volunteer Alberta leverages its knowledge to provide tools, initiatives and resources that build internal leadership and help community organizations engage volunteers to achieve their missions.

By energizing volunteerism and empowering local organizations, Volunteer Alberta shares with the Government of Alberta the goal of improving the quality of life for Albertans by creating on-the-ground action that will build strong, engaging communities.

Volunteer Alberta accesses networks (both formal and informal) and resources/information that could assist the Premiers Council for Economic Strategy in further developing strategies for the province.

For more information about volunteerism in Alberta, visit Volunteer Alberta on our website at: http://www.volunteeralberta.ab.ca/ or phone 780.482.3300.

Sincerely,

Karen Lynch

Executive Director

Volunteer Alberta

 

cc: Volunteer Alberta Board of Directors

 

[1] Salamon, Lester M. and Helmut K. Anheier, “The International Classification of Nonprofit Organizations: ICNPO-Revision 1, 1996.” Working Papers of the Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project, no. 19. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies, 1996.

[2] These subsectors include: culture and recreation: education and research; health; social services; environment; development and housing; law, advocacy and politics; philanthropic intermediaries and voluntarism promotion; international; religion; business and professional associations, unions; and not elsewhere classified.

 

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