‘What would the community look like? What would change if volunteers withdrew their services?” asked Linda Graff, an internationally recognized trainer and author on volunteerism, at recent celebration in Whitehorse.
The answers were diverse.
“There would be no sports for kids.”
“People would die alone.”
“There would be far fewer plays and music festivals.”
“People would go hungry.”
“Abandoned dogs wouldn’t have a shelter.”
“More houses would burn down.”
These responses prove how volunteers are fundamental to the life of our communities.
More than one in four Canadians over the age of 15 volunteer, and they contribute an average of 162 hours a year, according to the National Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating drafted in 2000.
Using this national statistic, calculations show Yukon volunteers contribute more than one million hours each year.
Throughout the territory, people donate their time to unpaid jobs as school council members, firefighters, support workers, gardeners, artists, committee and board members, coaches, educators, event organizers, fundraisers and so much more.
If all volunteers went on strike, life in our communities would be far less safe, healthy and interesting.
Graff was speaking at the Mad Hatter Tea Party, a National Volunteer Week event hosted by the Yukon Volunteer Bureau and Yukon Local Network of the Canada Volunteerism Initiative to celebrate the contributions of volunteers.
Tea partiers were encouraged to write their volunteer roles on small, hat-shaped pieces of paper and pin them to a large top hat in the middle of the room.
In many cases, one person could be seen writing out a few different roles.
The overall result was a strong visual picture of the many different hats Yukon volunteers wear.
At a similar celebration in Faro, participants wrote out their thanks to different volunteers and posted them on a “Who do you appreciate?” display.
And, 100 mugs with Volunteers Grow Community printed on the side were given to people who had given their time to an organization, to the community, or even to a neighbour.
One Faro family received eight mugs that recognized each family member for his or her unique volunteer contributions to the community.
“We believe in honouring everyone who contributes to our community, no matter what the age,” said Michelle Vainio, a town councillor and an organizer of the Faro community celebration.
“Young people who help out now will likely continue to contribute for the rest of their lives. The mugs are a small token of our thanks.”
In Teslin, another 120 volunteers were recognized for their efforts at their second annual volunteer appreciation dinner.
In addition to receiving mugs and certificates, Teslin had a wall covered with 400 photos of community activities topped by a banner stating Volunteers Make This Happen.
Overall, 75 groups across the Yukon ordered more than 3,500 Volunteer Grow Community mugs.
Some volunteers are receiving their mugs at community-wide volunteer celebrations while other organizations are saying thank you to their volunteers over a cup of tea in the new mugs.
Although National Volunteer Week provides an opportunity to focus on thanking volunteers for their contributions, recognition is something typically practiced all year round.
Volunteers are often given awards, T-shirts, dinners, gifts, pins, certificates and thank-you cards.
For example, the Canada Winter Games “awarded” 500 volunteers with chocolate medals over the month of April.
And it’s often the less formal and more personal forms of recognition that are cherished the most.
Saying thank you for a job well done is perhaps the most important form of recognition that will keep volunteers coming back.
Time is now more precious than money for many busy people and so they give it sparingly.
Every volunteer experience influences the next.
Often the quality of every experience will influence a person’s future contributions.
For example, Australia noticed a spike in volunteerism after it hosted the Olympics — a likely testament to the positive experience people had working on the international sporting event.
So next time you see a volunteer in action, take the time to stop and say “thanks.”
“Thanks for stuffing those envelopes, our members will be better informed because of your efforts.”
“Thanks for helping dress the kids for the rehearsal. I couldn’t have done it without you.”
“Thanks for coming to every board meeting this year. Your input has been invaluable.”
And ponder what your world would be like if the volunteers in your community went on strike.