April 19, 2023

Alumnus finds time to give back to the community — again and again

National Volunteer Week turns spotlight on those who gift time, talent and energy
Gordon Hoffman
Gordon Hoffman Christina Ryan

For many University of Calgary alumni, there’s nothing like the feel-good "emotional high" that comes from volunteering — even if it can be a challenge to find the time.

Just ask Order of Canada Member Gordon Hoffman, MEd’71. For more than 40 years, he has been at the heart of Calgary's philanthropic and volunteer community, serving as chairman, co-chairman, director and founder of nearly 100 charitable organizations.

After studying law at the University of Alberta, he launched the legal practice, Hoffman Dorchik LLP, and while that certainly kept him busy, he knew he had an opportunity to use his talents to do so much more.

"Volunteering is so important, so I make the time," Hoffman says. "I'll admit, some days, I am tired. But, when I do it, I feel better. Speaking to people and connecting with them gives me energy." 

One of the messages behind National Volunteer Week 2023April 16 to 22, is the importance of sharing one’s time, as well as talent and energy, to make the community a better place. This year’s theme is Volunteering Weaves Us Together.

In 1996, Hoffman first took the leap from volunteering to founding his own charity, Project Warmth Society of Alberta. He had a vision of setting up a distribution hub to get much-needed winter clothing and apparel donations directly to the community. Since its creation, the organization has provided millions of items to individuals in need, year-round. 

That same year, he also launched Operation Kickstart, a non-profit providing education and training for individuals having difficulty finding meaningful work due to age, education, ability or other barriers to employment. 

"[When launching a charity,] it's so important to focus on something you're passionate about," says Hoffman. "If you see a need in the community that no one else is addressing, and if you have a strong vision, some experience and a team behind you, then you have a good basis to start from."

He didn’t stop there. In 2003, Hoffman co-founded the Alberta Champions Society, which has installed more than 40 Fields of Fame monuments across Calgary, recognizing exceptional Albertans ranging from Dr. Clara Christie Might (Calgary's first female obstetrician) to iconic Canadian yodeller Wilf Carter. Hoffman says the best part is when someone connected to the honoree attends dedication ceremonies. 

"The opportunity to have a family member present when we unveil an Alberta Champions Monument is so rewarding,” he says. “You see the pride in their heritage, the pride in their family. And you know that pride will inspire others to do good work and serve their community." 

A more recent effort for Hoffman was founding a charitable golf tournament supporting the Foothills Academy Society that, to date, has raised more than $1 million to provide wrap-around services to children and youth with Learning Disabilities and ADHD. 

Hoffman was named a Member of the Order of Canada in 2019 for his volunteer service and philanthropy, but says his memories are as valuable as any award.

"One of my favourite moments was bringing kids to Theatre Calgary's A Christmas Carol,” he says. “For many of them, it was their first time seeing a live production. They all stood clapping and cheering when it was over!"

For Brian Lambier, volunteering is rewarding at any age, and especially in retirement.

"It can be so easy to become wrapped up in your work as your identity," explains the UCalgary Continuing Education instructor, certified retirement coach and career counsellor with Career Vitality. One course he leads is Planning for a Positive Retirement. "With volunteering, you can re-establish who you are from a place of your values. You can understand your worth outside of your job. 

"Volunteering is an opportunity to learn more about yourself, who you are and what's important to you. Volunteering takes effort, but it's worthwhile for your self-awareness.”

Now in his 70s, one might think Hoffman might want to slow down a little. Not a chance. In fact, he says he's just getting started — and that the need for volunteers is greater than ever.

"A lot of people are struggling right now,” Hoffman says. “If you're in a position to help someone, you should. It doesn't need to be a grand gesture; even lending a friendly ear and listening to someone's story can make a difference.

"You get more than you give when you help someone."

To search for volunteer opportunities in Calgary, visit Volunteer Calgary's website. There are also many volunteer opportunities at UCalgary; visit Community Engagement for more information.

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