April 17, 2020

National Volunteer Week: The pompoms are out for all of you who give back

Whether you volunteer for your kid’s soccer team or your alma mater, it gives you the chance to form the kind of world you want to live in

During unprecedented times, people are showing remarkable acts of kindness, from balcony serenades to pop-up community kitchens who are, miraculously, feeding the world’s most vulnerable. For free. But long before COVID-19 sparked this outpouring of generosity and altruism were bands of volunteers who have always worked behind the scenes, in good times and in bad.

That’s just what they do. Always have. We hope — they always will.

Research, in fact, suggests establishing community connections (even from a distance) can be as critical for resilience to disaster as physical materials such as disaster kits or medical supplies.  In other words, volunteerism is good for the health of people who receive social support, but is also good for the health of people who offer their help.

Precisely why every year for 25 years, Canada has saluted volunteers across numerous industries, ages, stages and races with a national week devoted to recognizing those who, all too often, are our unsung heroes.

This year’s theme for National Volunteer Week, April 19 to 25, is a massive “applaud” which Volunteer Canada hopes is heard, and felt, by all 12.7 million volunteers in Canada who gave their time last year to 1,000s of organizations.

UCalgary’s Alumni Association would also like to break out all pom-poms and cheer on the hundreds of volunteers who step up to help our many program and events — who act as board members, advisors, mentors, guest speakers, event registrants and the myriad of roles that are required at convocation and Alumni Weekend.

Take Matt Woofter, BSc’84, a petroleum geologist whose day job consists of evaluating new opportunities for business development and reservoir characterization studies. By night and weekends . . . well, you just might find him mentoring UCalgary students in programs such as the Haskayne School of Business’s “Petroleum Game” which he finds immensely gratifying due to the “excitement and the disappointments and how that influences outcomes,” he says, adding he also volunteers as an annual fundraiser for the Heart and Stroke Foundation and Ski for Heart. Like so many of us, when Woofter was raising his children his volunteer focus was on helping out with their hockey, rugby and soccer teams. Raised in a family of six children, Woofter remains astonished that his parents found time to volunteer, in politics and with their church.

“I grew up believing that volunteering is a way to build a strong and vibrant community that supports its many members,” he says, “and that includes the young and the elderly.” Now that his children no longer need him to coach, Woofter looks for volunteer opportunities that employ his skills as a geologist.

A relative newcomer to volunteering is Marcus Smith, a third-year student who represents his colleagues at Haskayne and Kinesiology on UCalgary’s Student Advisory Council (SAC), the Future Alumni Network (FAN) and has just been elected president of the International Business Students’ Association (IBSA) for the upcoming year.

Smith counts his role on SAC as “one of the most rewarding experiences” he’s had during his studies at UCalgary, “because, I feel that I’m truly making a difference,” he says. “I am able to give a voice to my fellow students by bringing matters that mean something to them directly to the council.”

Another long-time devoted volunteer is UCalgary chemistry instructor Vivien Mozol , PhD’98, who not only teaches first-year university students but volunteers with k-12 students and teachers as well. And at Beakerhead, Brownies and, really, “anything that involves youth and promotes science literacy,” she adds.

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Beakerhead 2013 on Stephen Ave Mall in downtown Calgary

When deciding what or where to volunteer, we all have individual criteria.

Mozol asks herself this: “Who needs help to understand chemistry-related issues and, secondly, how do I let people know what my department or institution does and what that value is to the community?”

Woofter shares her criteria (replace chemistry with geology) and, like Mozol, prefers working with kids, “preferably ages eight to 16, because they are so eager to learn new skills and absorb new experiences.”

Many volunteers stress that the social and emotional connections they forge with like-minded individuals are a huge benefit and most find the very act of giving back personally rewarding.

Your life stage – something explored in the UCalgary Alumni Strategy — may determine why and where you want to volunteer but we’d be remiss not to point out that networking, for the purpose of enhancing your career, naturally occurs through many volunteer projects.

A survey by TimeBank shows that 73 per cent of employers would recruit a candidate with volunteering experience over one without. At the same time, 94 per cent of employers believe that volunteering can add to skills, and 94 per cent of employees who volunteered to learn new skills had benefited either by getting their first job, improving their salary or being promoted.

Whether you’re a student like Smith, a professional such as Woofter or Mozel, community commitments help enhance our sense of identity and promote on-going networks of social relationships. And remember — an added advantage of volunteering over paid work is that you can try many different things and feed areas of yourself that, perhaps, are not nourished at your job.

Discover volunteer projects and initiatives at UCalgary Alumni by visiting here.