Friday, July 12, 2024

Volunteering is a Great Way to Connect With Your Community

Later this month (April 18), this community will host its first ever volunteer recruitment fair, and as the date has been approaching, I have been reflecting upon the value of volunteering to communities, as well as to those who do the volunteering.

When I first moved to Meaford in the autumn of 2005, the following spring I began volunteering with the Meaford Farmers’ Market, something I would continue to do for six years, eventually becoming a part of the market board and market manager. While that volunteer work was valuable to me as it helped to focus on the wisdom of buying our food as locally as possible, and it helped bring farmers and other food producers directly to consumers, it was also a great way to meet people in my new community.

New residents have contacted me a number of times hoping that I can connect them with a local organization, or to opportunities to volunteer in their new community, and every time I receive such a request, I am reminded of the value that volunteering has brought to my own life.

This community is known for its wealth of dedicated volunteers, and one need look no further than the ever popular Scarecrow Invasion & Family Festival to see what can be accomplished by a team of volunteers. Every year hundreds of volunteers make that event happen, and it is enjoyed by the community along with visitors to this community. The Scarecrow Invasion was recognized in 2011 with the June Callwood Outstanding Achievement award for Voluntarism in Ontario.

Volunteers are needed for much more than making events happen. We rely on volunteers for a range of services, including driving patients to medical appointments, or to operate food banks, or to undertake community clean-ups. Even our firefighters, though technically paid a small fee for the fires that they attend, are part of a volunteer fire department, as is common in many smaller communities. If you have a skill, or a passion, you can bet that there is an organization in town that could use that skill and passion to help with their initiatives.

In the early days of this newspaper, beginning in 2010, we hosted Meaford’s first Earth Day cleanup, which we undertook at Memorial Park, and we did it for more than five years. Dozens of volunteers would join us at the park for a clean-up, followed by some warm apple cider and treats along with some fun conversations among the volunteers. The first year we were finding air conditioners and rolled up carpets hidden in the woods of Memorial Park, but by the fifth year, we were finding very little to collect, as a cleaner park, with annual clean-up events, seemed to have caused folks to think twice before tossing their trash in the woods.

Meaford’s Deputy Clerk told me recently that more than 20 organizations submitted expressions of interest in the upcoming volunteer recruitment fair, so those who attend will have a wide range of community organizations to consider for their volunteering efforts.

As I wrote in 2018, from the time I moved here in 2005 the volunteering spirit in this community has impressed me.

There’s something in the water in Meaford that produces fantastic volunteers. I began suspecting so not long after I moved to Meaford more than a dozen years ago,” I wrote back in 2018. “In fact, there is so much volunteer activity in this town that it’s here that I developed a true appreciation for the value of volunteers. Prior to moving here, I had done my share of volunteering – or so I had thought. I had helped out on election campaigns in the ’80s and ’90s, I had taken part in community cleanup initiatives from time to time, but being wrapped up in family and career, the amount of time I had available for volunteering was fairly limited. Once in Meaford, I found the volunteer spirit here to be contagious, and I have been inspired by my friends and neighbours in this town who frequently offer their services for a wide range of initiatives.”

Often the ability to volunteer is dependant on how much free time one might have. As a result, many find the time after retiring from a busy career that didn’t allow enough time to participate in volunteer efforts; many volunteers are of retirement age, but certainly not all. Volunteers can be found in all ages, and from all backgrounds, and even if all you can give is a few hours per month of your time, there is a local organization that would treasure having those few hours of help.

Giving back to your community with your time, with your skills, helps to build stronger communities, and the time invested is typically as rewarding for the volunteer as it is to the greater community. Without volunteers there would be very few public events to enjoy, there would be nobody to offer compassion and assistance to the homeless, or to those who work hard but are struggling to put food on the table in an era where particularly the lowest wages have not kept pace with inflation for decades.

So if you have been thinking about volunteering your time to a worthy cause, but are unsure of where your own skills and passion could best be utilized, the volunteer recruitment fair is a great place to start. The event will be held on Thursday, April 18, in two sessions from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m., and 4 p.m.- 6 p.m, at the Meaford Public Library.

This initiative stems from the action item in the Municipality’s Well-being Plan with the goal of offering an event for those interested in volunteering to discuss opportunities with organizations seeking volunteers. By connecting prospective volunteers with organizations who have current vacancies in this free and engaging format, we hope to promote resident involvement in the community and encourage the sustainability of local services,” the municipality noted in their media release promoting the upcoming event.

The event is free to attend, no registration is required. Food and refreshments as well as live music will be included. If you have any questions, you can email wellbeing@meaford.ca or contact 519-538-1060 ext. 1110.

 

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