This week, April 19-25, is celebrated across Canada and around the world as National Volunteer Week. It’s estimated that across Canada, around 12.7 million people are active volunteers.
Karla Weber, current President of the Kingston & Area Association of Administrators of Volunteers (KAAAV), notes that volunteerism is a key underpinning of a strong community, and this is certainly the case in Kingston. “People often ask me how many active volunteers there are here in Kingston, and it’s almost impossible to estimate. There are so many organizations that engage volunteers, and so many individuals that are giving their time, their skills, and their energy to support our community.”
Even in these unprecedented times of social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the contributions of volunteers are invaluable, says Weber. “In some ways, I think that it’s times like these that show the importance of informal volunteering. So many people are giving their time to do things like drop off groceries for someone who is unable to get out to the store, and they might not think in that moment that they are volunteering, but they are, and it’s so important.”
Volunteers in more formal roles with organizations are finding ways to adapt their roles as well, given a new set of restrictions and needs that their constituent communities face. “I just heard a report from a local nursing home about how their volunteers that would usually visit residents face to face have taken it upon themselves to call the residents by phone regularly to check in on them,” Weber says. “And they came up with other safe ways to encourage residents, like hanging bird feeders outside the building that will be visible from residents’ windows in their own rooms.”
In a press release, KAAAV notes that COVID-19 has presented challenges and an evolving reality for volunteers and organizations that engage volunteers. They acknowledge the crucial balance between ensuring volunteer safety and continuing to provide support for vulnerable people. Many volunteer organizations have transitioned in whole or in part to virtual volunteerism, and although the nature of some roles requires that their work is put on pause during the pandemic, other organizations are finding that there have been even more ways to keep volunteers engaged. “One of our members has told me that their volunteer numbers are up significantly,” Weber says. “The pandemic has not shut down opportunities to volunteer.”
Weber encourages anyone who is interested in finding volunteer opportunities at this time to start by checking online through the KFL&A United Way Volunteer Centre. “People volunteer for so many reasons, but the main one I hear is that they want to give back to their community. And there are still so many ways to do that, whether through formal volunteering opportunities, or through continuing to safely share their time and compassion with their neighbours through informal volunteering. It all makes a difference. Thank you, Kingston volunteers!”