GoVolunteer. Seriously, go volunteer!
Vantage Point began its career as a volunteer centre. In recent years we have relied heavily on our online posting service, Go Volunteer, to play the role of connecting individuals to organizations hoping to engage people to deliver their mission. As we clean out our storage room in anticipation of some possible renos to the office we have uncovered some fabulous tidbits of our history. This history reminds us that personal connection is still deeply important, even in the days of ‘surely there is an app for that?’
Take young Linda Johnson. In 1967, she was a sixteen-year-old student at the Jericho Hill School for the Deaf and Blind. As a visually impaired young woman, the Parks Board was reluctant to allow her to volunteer with children. Because the Vancouver Volunteer Bureau (aka Vantage Point pre-2013) had open doors to everyone, we were able to support her and find the right role for her, showing the Parks Board that every individual in the community has gifts to share. Stories like this happen frequently even today. If anything, digital tools can act as ways to separate us even more, depersonalizing our strengths, helping make invisible our gifts. Don’t get me wrong, I believe there are ways that technology can support volunteerism for example, GoVolunteer.ca works as a great resource.
However, these days connecting face to face can be considered an innovative act. Volunteering, being engaged with friends, neighbours, communities IRL (In Real Life) makes us better and lifts us all. The benefits of volunteering are well-researched (see the fun and interactive ‘Value of Volunteering Wheel’ created by Volunteer Canada: https://volunteer.ca/vdemo/Campaigns_DOCS/VC_ValueOfVolunteering_E_Final_Linked.pdf), including breaking down isolation, learning new skills, advancing democracy and helping someone through crisis, (to name a few). People who volunteer are typically healthier, more satisfied, and perform better at school.
Let’s explore the meaning of the word ‘volunteer’. The term is ethno-centric, in other words “one tied to the dominant culture” in Canada and its history. Although the practice is not just an anglo-saxon concept. Volunteering is often the simple act of ‘helping out’. 44% of Canadians ages 15 and up volunteered in 2013, and 82% gave charitably.
I asked the staff at Vantage Point to share their cultural understanding of “volunteering,” and here is some of what the team shared:
Shagun: In India it is called "Seva" It's a Hindi word meaning "to Serve" and originating from our scriptures like Vedas and Gita it means selfless service.
Joyce: In Chinese, there is a classical idiom called 守望相助 (pronounced "shou wang xiang zhu", which Google Translate non-poetically suggests is "watching out")…I was taught that this means if our neighbours need something (goods/services), we do our best to help. To this day, it is taught in early years education and tied to concepts of community and good citizenship.
Shemin: In my faith, we have something called Time and Knowledge (TKN). Instead of a monetary gift/contribution, individuals in the community have pledged their time to offer free service to the community or AKDN (Agakhan Development Network) projects here and abroad.
Kathleen: The common French translation for volunteer is bénévole, but there is also the word entraide, (direct translation = mutual aid).
In my family, volunteering was part of our Anglican tradition, but even more so, we were taught our duty to participate actively in electoral politics. No matter what our family traditions, the capacity to get out there and connect with community continues to ask the support of organization’s like Vantage Point. We continue to maintain and explore enhancements to GoVolunteer as a digital program, but these days -- over 50 years since Linda walked through our doors -- we also focus most of our work on helping a very specific set of volunteers: the governance volunteer.
Let us not forget: the very legal foundation of a not-for-profit is tied to volunteerism. If you are a registered Society, you must have at least three volunteer board members to provide oversight, insight, and foresight, and ensure your non-taxable status is put to the use you promised. Despite our name, the not-for-profit sector is a key economic driver in BC, generating more GDP than mining, oil and gas, or the retail sector. It is driven by volunteer energy.
So celebrate Linda. Step out again and lend a hand. If you would like guidance along the way, our doors are open.