Helping hands in a crisis

By Dorothee Birker 

It’s National Volunteer Week and there is no better time to acknowledge the value of volunteerism than right now. 

Volunteers are the lifeblood of non-profit organizations and at the heart of our community. They share their time, skills and resources to deliver programs, sit on boards and generally help the organization achieve its mandate. In Canada, over 40,000 non-profits are run by volunteers alone. Staggering facts to consider: Canada has almost 13 million volunteers that contribute over $55 billion to our economy and share 160 million hours of their lives every month. And that’s just in an average year. 

Right now, it’s not exactly your average year; however, it’s a great opportunity to highlight a few ways extraordinary volunteers rise up to meet extraordinary challenges. 

Times of crisis bring with them turmoil and struggle, and many of us are dealing with changed work/home environments, fear and uncertainty and a surreal, socially distant, new world. 

Times of crisis also heighten the need to act, and people throughout our community are doing just that, taking time to help right the world, to take charge and to make a difference wherever, and however they can. Consider local examples from this past year.

Late in 2019, our community was in crisis over housing for the homeless, and it was volunteer efforts that spearheaded a solution that came to involve all levels of government, a few paid staff and a raft of volunteers.  Welcome Inn ultimately housed and cared for some of our most vulnerable humans during the coldest winter months. It’s a testament to the power of people and volunteers that Welcome Inn was created. Jason Siebenga, who stepped forward to help lead the creation of Welcome Inn along with Tara Tschritter, explains how he became involved.

“For me it was a number of nights seeing tent city and asking myself what could I do, if I was the one sleeping outside. It’s easy to only think about the problem when you aren’t living it. If there is a place that I can help, then I should put my hand up.”

What began as a volunteer effort, became short-term contracts for Siebenga and Tschritter to manage the centre. However, the centre relied heavily on dedicated volunteers that came day and night to stay open. While the shelter has now closed, it has morphed into a Hygiene Centre that is helping the homeless stay safe, clean and healthy during the pandemic.

As stress and worry consume us during the pandemic, Crisis Line Responders are there to help. The Crisis Line is available 24/7 as a critical safety net to support our community all year long; however, now these highly-trained volunteers are experiencing higher call volumes, longer calls and higher-risk calls that they answer. They are there to help callers in a variety of ways, including navigating their anxiety and crafting self-care plans. The Crisis Line Responders also relieve pressure for health care workers by supporting them on some of their higher risk calls on emergency lines. 

With so many businesses currently closed, many in our community have lost their jobs, leading to increased demands on organizations like the Central Okanagan Food Bank. For Nica Graziano, being laid off suddenly, meant she had more time available and she is volunteering at the food bank to help meet the increased need. 

“For me, I am a big believer in being kind and caring, that you help somebody when they are in need. If I have the ability and time, I would always volunteer. It’s doing good, it’s showing community support and it’s showing the youth that it’s important.”

Sometimes volunteerism starts with just a strong desire to make a difference and to build hope during difficult times. This is what spurred John Scott and Alison Bradley to start the Facebook group “Caremongering Kelowna” as a way to connect people wanting to help with the COVID-19 crisis. The group has over 1,800 members who look to help, from buying groceries to walking dogs to sewing face masks. 

“It’s grown way beyond Kelowna,” says John Scott. “People want hope and to know how to help out. They want to share kindness and caring. When you help someone out, the work isn’t hard. You are impacting people and it’s for a greater good.”

In a world where there is so much change and uncertainty, the value of volunteers remains constant and the time for recognizing that is more important than ever. So, take time today to recognize a volunteer in your life and give them three cheers for the impact they make. They don’t do it for the accolades, but let’s recognize them anyway.  

Dorothee Birker is the Communications and Development Coordinator for KCR Community Resources, a multi-service agency offering projects and programs in four areas: Community Services, Employment Services, Immigrant Services and Family & Adoption Services. KCR is home to the Volunteer Centre of the Central Okanagan and Dorothee has the privilege of working with non-profit agencies and volunteers throughout the region to support the amazing work they do. She loves sharing stories of organizations and people and welcomes your input to tell these stories. Reach her at 250-860-4911 or [email protected] 

And if you need someone to call the Crisis Line, they are there to help 1-888-353-3783 (1-888-353-CARE).

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