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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.

 

Edmonton Sun – Province launches volunteer-based bursaries

By Tanara McLean,Edmonton Sun

There’s a new $1,000 incentive for post-secondary students to volunteer.

The government of Alberta, in collaboration with Volunteer Alberta, has launched the Serving Communities Internship Program (SCiP), that will award $1,000 bursaries to post-secondary students who complete internships with any non-profit or volunteer organization.

“This is so much more than painting fences or cleaning up parks,” says Karen Lynch, executive director of Volunteer Alberta.

In the first year, 500 bursaries will be distributed throughout the SCiP pilot project, with up to 1,000 available by year three of the program.

Eligible students include anyone enrolled in a certificate, diploma, undergraduate, graduate or PhD program at one of Alberta’s 26 public post-secondary institutions.

The idea for the program was hatched by Timothy Jobs, chair of the Alberta Student’ Executive Council (ASEC) and his fellow council members.

“The idea came from the clear need to find innovative solutions to increase the affordability of our post secondary system,” says Jobs, adding that this project will “create a program to reward students for using their skills to benefit their communities.”

For Kirsten Poon, 20, the bursary program isn’t so much an incentive, but a bonus for her years of volunteering. The University of Alberta science student is chair of the City of Edmonton youth council and a board director for Literacy Without Borders.

“I’m excited to be exposed to these new experiences,” says Poon. “Doing a meaningful internship in the non-profit sector and learning new things. Hopefully it will inspire a lot of students.”

Lynch says although students may be driven to choose organizations based on their future careers, they aren’t limited in which non-profit they intern with to earn the bursary.

“We know that the real world doesn’t fit into faculties and descriptions of their objectives,” says Lynch.

In Alberta there are 19,000 charities and non-profit organizations that support 2.5 million volunteers. Almost 58% of Albertans volunteer, according to information gathered by Volunteer Edmonton.

The bursary funds are distributed throughout the Advanced Education and Technology ministry.

Premier Ed Stelmach says the program is an opportunity for students to “sharpen their skills” while making a bit of money. Stelmach also called the program “innovative,” saying it will “put Alberta ahead in so many jurisdictions when it comes to this sector.”

tanara.mclean@sunmedia.ca

 

News Flash – KnowledgeConnector.ca launches

Attention senior leaders and volunteers: Regional Capacity Coordinators now working in Alberta communities

 

Leaders of nonprofit/voluntary organizations often raise concerns that they don’t always know where to find professional development and learning opportunities and don’t have time to search. KnowledgeConnector.ca is the solution!

KnowledgeConnector Initiative Phase One is now launched, where five Regional Capacity Coordinators are working in communities across Alberta to connect learners and learning providers across the nonprofit/voluntary sector with the KnowledgeConnector Initiative.

Once fully operational in Fall 2011, KnowledgeConnector.ca will provide a free assessment tool then connect nonprofit/voluntary sector leaders with professional development providers and opportunities. TheKnowledgeConnector Initiative enhances the capacities of organizations – large or small – to achieve their missions and strengthen local communities in Alberta.

It’s all about strengthening communities! 

“The KnowledgeConnectorwill allow me to quickly and easily assess my capacities as a leader, manager and board member” said Lisa Topilko, Director of the Volunteer Vegreville (and a Volunteer Alberta Board member).“From right here in Vegreville, KnowledgeConnector.ca will enable me to connect with learning opportunities strengthening my ability to lead my nonprofit organization and better support the needs of our community.”

Toby Rabinovitz, Project Manager of the KnowledgeConnector Initiative explained: “From sports and recreation to social services… from education to environment, the leaders, managers and board members of nonprofit/voluntary organizations – both large and small/ rural and urban – depend on tools and knowledge to build their capacity.”

“The KnowledgeConnector will be a “one-stop shop” web-based portal of opportunities, providing a searchable listing that enables organizations and individuals to find targeted learning opportunities in line with their specific interests, needs and training objectives” said Rabinovitz.

ABOUT

The KnowledgeConnector Initiative is managed by Volunteer Alberta on behalf of the nonprofit/voluntary sector in Alberta. Rather than duplicating, the KnowledgeConnector is about connecting with learning opportunities already available.

With significant financial support provided by the Rural Alberta Development Fund, the KnowledgeConnectorenables leaders from nonprofit/voluntary sector organizations to assess their strengths and abilities based on a Competency Framework, and fill identified gaps with targeted learning opportunities. The Initiative works to ensure rural and eventually urban communities and nonprofit/voluntary organizations can sustainably provide key services to Albertans.

MORE INFORMATION

Please visit www.KnowledgeConnector.ca or contact a

Regional Capacity Coordinator directly for more information.

– North West Region –   Yvonne Rempel        780-827-1464
– North East Region –     Donna Smith             780-718-5379
– Central West Region – Robert Mitchell         403-704-7122
– Central East Region –  Victoria Poschadel   780-945-6134
– South Region –              Amanda Leipert        403-977-4610

 

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