May 01, 2013

Volunteers essential in Canada's social fabric

As published in The Erin Advocate

Canada's 13.3 million volunteers make a huge contribution to the quality of life that we enjoy and provide a strong foundation for our economic prosperity.

Whether it is coaching minor sports, tending to a disabled relative or community member, helping a service club support local causes, participating in church events, performing amateur music or drama, joining the fire department, boosting community radio, sitting on a board of directors or getting out in the sunshine to plant trees in public spaces, there is an understanding that contributions (and rewards) are not all about money.

Marking National Volunteer Week, April 21 to 27, Governor General David Johnston calls us “a smart and caring nation.” The Week began in 1943 to draw attention to the vital contribution women made to the war effort on the home front, but it has evolved into a broad-based "Thank-you" and an appeal for more citizen involvement.

Volunteer Canada helps local organizations in the vital tasks of recruiting, screening, training, motivating and retaining volunteers ( They help set standards with a National Code for Volunteer Involvement, and keep up with new trends such as virtual volunteering, in which people help with needed tasks through their computers or smart phones.

There's always a temptation to measure the economic value of volunteering by multiplying an arbitrary wage rate by the number of hours contributed. Volunteer Canada says that would show an incomplete picture, partly because money is needed to support volunteering, and because you cannot put a dollar value on a healthy, engaged community.

The Volunteer Centre of Guelph-Wellington is the official clearing house for volunteer opportunities in this district. They can be reached at 519-822-0912 or through

They promote a "culture of giving" and serve a population of more than 200,000, dealing with hundreds of non-profit and charitable organizations in the community.

If you are wondering how many charities are officially registered in the Erin-Hillsburgh area, the answer on the Canada Revenue Agency website is: 35

That includes 18 church organizations, five cemeteries, the Agricultural Society, the Erin Arts Foundation (Century Church Theatre), the Air Cadets, the Optimists' CHICKEN Club, Station Road Nursery School, the Humane Society, Cats Anonymous, the East Wellington Family Health Team (Medical Centre) and East Wellington Community Services (EWCS).

There is a core of about 100 active volunteers at EWCS, with a total contribution of about 9,000 hours per year, said Erika Westcott, Manager of Community Services and Volunteers.

"Our volunteers are the heart and soul of our agency," she said. "Their contribution is huge – we could not thrive without them."

They are currently seeking volunteer drivers, coverage for their front desk, and assistance with their website.

Help is also needed in operating the book store and used clothing stores, where volunteers create an ongoing funding source for the agency. EWCS has a variety of programs for children, seniors and families in need. Find out more at