Volunteer Ottawa spotlights community engagement and encourages volunteer participation

Organization working hard to attract new volunteers during national volunteer shortage
Photo: Brahim Ait Ouzineb
(From left) Patricia Pau, food bank director, with volunteer Elizabeth Heatherington and Catherine Burnett, the coordinator, finance and administration at the Rideau-Rockcliffe Community Resource Centre.

With tears in her eyes, Shirley Whitford talked about her volunteering years as she received the Outstanding Senior Volunteer Award at the 2023 gala of Volunteer Ottawa (VO).

Whitford started volunteering for the Rideau-Rockcliffe Community Resource Centre (RRCRC) during COVID times and has never stopped.

“Rideau-Rockcliffe is my second home. I do not like holidays, and I do work more than 40 hours a week and I wish it was more hours,” said Whitford when she received the award.

Elizabeth Heatherington is one of the longtime volunteers at the RRCRC who has been on the board of directors over the years. She was also honoured at the VO gala with the Mayor’s Award for volunteer spirit.

Heatherington was initiated at an early age since her parents moved to Canada in 1949. She grew up to become a master in fundraising and an infallible volunteering marketer.

“There’s a lot of room for volunteering,” said Heatherington. “I worked in the last census, and I realized there is a high percentage of people living alone. There may be seniors with issues of dyslexia or other reading problems. There may be a need for a kids’ volleyball or a hockey coach.”

“There is so much bonus in volunteering, and I look forward to volunteering for the rest of my life. The more you volunteer, the more you learn about yourself and maybe you will meet some very interesting people who will teach you a lot,” said Heatherington.
“There is so much bonus in volunteering, and I look forward to volunteering for the rest of my life. The more you volunteer, the more you learn about yourself and maybe you will meet some very interesting people who will teach you a lot,” said Heatherington. Photo credit: Brahim Ait Ouzineb

Volunteering has been a defining trait of Canadian society since 1900 when credit unions began in Quebec. Canadians have always been supportive of each other.

Statistics Canada in its latest report on volunteering and charitable giving in Canada found out that 79 per cent of Canadians volunteered. The time volunteers give is equivalent to 2.5 million jobs every year.

COVID brought the numbers to a halt, but many organizations kept serving the community.

VO, which was founded in 1957, continued to offer several opportunities to volunteers. It is acting seriously to solve the eternal dilemma of adding more and more volunteers without losing sight of its survival.

“We want to tell people about volunteering because it will have positive returns in your life. Even if you are whatever type of volunteer, it builds your resume,” said Amy VanTorre, the communication manager and an Algonquin College graduate.

VO has a great educational institution partner in Carleton University and it is negotiating with Algonquin College to provide more opportunities for the college community to serve the Ottawa region.

In the 2023 Gala which Algonquin College sponsors, college president Claude Brulé said: “It is our second year sponsoring the event of Volunteer Ottawa. Volunteering is a critical part of education at Algonquin College. When students volunteer during their time at Algonquin College, they receive a co-curricular credit that complements their academic transcript and helps build their resume by the time of their graduation.”

Volunteer Ottawa does not only promote volunteerism or engage communities, but it also builds expertise through offering substantial training. The organization has become a reference in linking over 10,000 volunteers to its 371 member organizations of all sizes.

It fosters collaboration with other entities through its VOscars awards gala, Volunteer Expo and Fall 2022 Learning Path. It is keen on raising awareness to decision-makers as to the organization’s contribution to the community. The portfolio of projects fills the year and yet the organization’s strategy is seeking ways for better engagement and service.

“We are the hub of the wheel in a sort,” said Christine Trauttmansdorff, the executive director for VO. “We connect volunteers to organizations that need them.”

The opportunities may be online, indoor, outdoor and on a regular basis.

“If you do not know what you want to do, just create a profile on our website volunteerottawa.ca then our members who need your skill set and availability would come to you,” said Trauttmansdorff.

VO is conscious of the versatility of the sector, and they are setting up strategies to adapt. They initiated a Connect Program which makes it easy for companies to engage in a wide variety of volunteering activities.

“We’re noticing still a national volunteer shortage. All of our members are reporting an increase in demand for services and a decrease in volunteers. So, we’re really doing our best to get more people into volunteering and make it easier to connect them to those organizations,” said VanTorre.

Volunteer Ottawa is trying to increase both the supply and the demand for volunteers. Yet the biggest challenge for VO, according to VanTorre, is creating more self-generated revenue. The organization aspires to be a stable, well-funded part of the community.

“The first threshold of success is to see more sign-ups in our website and more volunteers engage in the community. The second step is recruiting more membership organizations,” said Alvaro Caso, who was the partnerships and learning manager at VO.

“Running a website that has thousands of volunteers actually costs a lot of money. We may do it in a cost-effective way,” says Alvaro Caso the then-partnerships and learning manager at VO.
“Running a website that has thousands of volunteers actually costs a lot of money. We may do it in a cost-effective way,” says Alvaro Caso the then-partnerships and learning manager at VO. Photo credit: Brahim Ait Ouzineb

VO seeks partnerships with businesses to keep the engine rolling, especially with the cut of the government’s grants.

“Running a website that has thousands of volunteers actually costs a lot of money. We may do it in a cost-effective way. However, running educational and learning opportunities along with supporting volunteers would require even more and more investments,” said Caso.

The organization has a resourceful website, helping organizations like RRCRC.

“We received 400 volunteer applications but after all the checks and interviews, about 143 are retained to operate our several operations,” said Catherine Burnett, the finance and administration coordinator at RRCRC.

The centre is constantly looking for volunteers to help with their great initiatives for Ward 13’s constituents.

“Well, it’s a little bit more difficult now because some people need to spend more time finding or perhaps having part-time jobs to feed themselves. So it’s not as simple as it used to be,” said Heatherington.

Walking gracefully and humbly around the centre at the old Rideau high school, Heatherington knows everyone and has a word for all. She takes congratulations on her latest award as a greeting because she is always eager to hear the others.

“There is so much bonus in volunteering, and I look forward to volunteering for the rest of my life,” said Heatherington. “The more you volunteer, the more you learn about yourself and maybe you will meet some very interesting people who will teach you a lot.”

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