Volunteers crucial to N.L. communities

Deana Stokes Sullivan
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Youth volunteering at significant rate, says CSC CEO Penny Rowe

Penny Rowe, CEO of the Community Sector Council Newfoundland and Labrador, speaks at a volunteerism luncheon in St. John's this week to announce details for Volunteer Week, April 21-27. — Submitted photo

About 50 per cent of the province's population, 15 years of age and older, are involved in volunteer activities to support their communities.

According to Statistics Canada, about 197,000 people in the province were volunteers in 2010.

And, Penny Rowe, CEO of the Community Sector Council Newfoundland and Labrador (CSC), says young people are volunteering at a significant rate, but they're probably doing it differently than previous generations.

"Let’s Make Some Noise," will be the theme this year for Volunteer Week in Newfoundland and Labrador, April 21-27.

The CSC says the plan this year is to celebrate volunteer efforts in a unique way, by encouraging people and organizations to make some noise to  let everyone know how much volunteers are appreciated.

Details for the week were announced at a recent volunteerism luncheon in St. John's.

Rowe said in an interview, broad celebrations will be held during Volunteer Week.

"We don't focus on individuals being nominated, selected, brought through a process and becoming a winner," Rowe said. "It's about encouraging people all around the province to say thank-you during Volunteer Week. In St. John's, we do have an award ceremony, but anyone who's named by their organization will receive an award."

Rowe said, as an example, there can be 80 people named by an organization who will receive certificates during the week.

An awards ceremony will be held Apr. 21 in St. John's, but other events will be held throughout the province as well.

One of the biggest events, Rowe said, is on the Bonavista Peninsula, hosted by the Coaker Foundation in Port Union. She said volunteers from every community around the peninsula come out and have a night of great fun and celebration, with entertainers, singers, skits and speeches by local politicians.

Rowe said the biggest challenge today is how to restructure volunteering and match volunteers with activities they're interested in.

Some people may be interested in being a treasurer on a board, but not interested in going out and cleaning up a beach and vice versa, Rowe said.

Some volunteers may not be willing to sit on a board or make a commitment for two or three years, Rowe added, and investing time in meetings may not be the right fit for everybody.

"Organizations have to be better equipped at knowing what they need and targeting and pitching their recruitment to people for specific positions," Rowe said.

"The other message is that volunteers just don't fall out of the trees. They just don't happen. You've got to be open, got to be known, have a way for people to communicate with you and you've got to reach out," she said.

The most important way of recruiting volunteers is the personal touch, Rowe said, but having really good fits or matches is important.

Otherwise, she said, although a person may feel strong-armed by a friend to volunteer with an organization, it may not be something they're really interested in.

"So, it may turn you off a bit," Rowe said, "whereas if you go to another organization, where you had a really good fit and really good match, it would be great.

The CSC has a project out of its Gander office called Matchmaker which aims to match volunteers and the needs of organizations.

Rowe said the same thing is being tried in a clusters project in Bonavista.

"If you're going to be able to continue and have good volunteer programs in the future, your organization has to give some serious consideration to how you recruit your volunteers and what kind of opportunities and levels of satisfaction you give to those volunteers. It's not just about counting heads. It's about making really good matches," Rowe said.

Organizations: Statistics Canada, Community Sector Council Newfoundland and Labrador, Coaker Foundation Port Union

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, St. John's, Gander Bonavista

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