April 19, 2021

Celebrate UCalgary alumni volunteers during National Volunteer Week 2021

Dedicated to saluting the impact of Canada’s 12.7 million volunteers, we start with thanking our own

If ever a catchline deserves to be replayed, this may be the one: The Value of One, The Power of Many.

This is the theme for National Volunteer Week 2021, running April 18 to 24. And, if the phrase sounds vaguely familiar, it may be because the same one was used in 2001 to salute the International Year of Volunteers.

It also aptly reflects the monumental efforts of the 2,000-plus UCalgary alumni volunteers (up from 1,442 in 2019) who, in 2020, found themselves grocery shopping for seniors, creating PPEs on the side, tutoring, mentoring and counselling — all while being tested by lockdown life.

“Volunteers play a huge role in our community,” says Sheena Swierenga, community cultivator with Propellus (Calgary’s volunteer centre). “Volunteers do everything from leading organizations at a board level to completing highly skilled project-based work, facilitating events, to handing out water bottles at a race.”

Giving of one’s time, which is tremendously valuable to beneficiaries in its own right, also helps volunteers combat their own feelings of isolation, especially at a time when public health officials are advising everyone who isn’t performing an “essential job” to stick close to home. In 2020, charitable work, normally a social activity, could only be conducted at a distance due to the safety protocols set by public health officials due to COVID-19.

Despite what could have been a setback, UCalgary’s volunteer numbers rose last year, as did those at Propellus. Swierenga says part of the increase in virtual volunteer opportunities was due to more families and youth signing up to volunteer.

“Perhaps it’s because more people are realizing that volunteering is good for our mental health as it decreases loneliness and isolation,” muses Swierenga, adding she witnessed this play out numerous times in 2020.

Besides boosting our mental health, volunteering can increase your professional skills, keep you socially connected, help you develop new abilities — and even give you a sense of purpose, reports a recent study in the Journal of Happiness Studies. These reasons were certainly cited by alumni volunteers we recently interviewed. In fact, it was the enormous span of reasons to volunteer, as well as numerous opportunities available — even during a pandemic — that inspired a new series that begins today, the Alumni Volunteer Spotlight.

If you’ve ever wondered what volunteer work a vet med grad might do in Myanmar, Thailand or Winnipeg, meet Dr. Scott Zaari, DVM’13.