Volunteerism in our communityPublished on July 22, 2021
A conversation with Jeff Mills
A conversation about volunteerism in our community
through the summer of 2021
Photo taken from January 2020 - Jeff Mills and Merrilee Fullerton
MPP Merrilee Fullerton: The neighbourhoods of Kanata and West Carleton are special places to live largely because of the many community-minded people who reside here. Our community is enriched by associations and interest groups that serve as its glue to bring people together and undertake local initiatives.
This year the efforts of volunteer groups within our community will be even more important. Unquestionably, volunteers will play an important role in our community’s re-opening and recovery. For individuals who volunteer, their actions will ensure a healthy re-engagement in daily activities and with fellow residents. In this way, volunteer efforts will help advance us all to realize the “new normal.”
At the February MPP Community Volunteer Roundtable, local volunteer groups continued discussions on the significance of volunteerism. We explored the challenges experienced by both groups and individuals who are responding to the changes brought about by the pandemic. (The roundtable report is attached and link to the news release is here.)
As the summer approaches I am hoping we might reconvene and pick up this important conversation. I have turned to our volunteer roundtable facilitator Jeff Mills (Community Engagement Director for Carebridge Community Support in Mississippi Mills) to ask a few questions on his views about volunteer groups preparing for their community re-engagement. I hope these thoughts may prompt us to consider the importance of the summer and fall months ahead – and also provide a spring board into our next roundtable discussion.
Q – The Province just announced a reopening plan for the summer months where we will begin to return to community activities. With the pandemic still a concern for Canadians, can you relate the importance of volunteer groups and volunteer efforts in our community?
Jeff Mills: I would say agencies like the one I work for rely heavily on volunteers, even during the pandemic. We had to pivot a little bit and do things like a grocery delivery program for shut-ins for mostly seniors.
We needed volunteers – we couldn’t do that with staff because it would take us away from our desk and our work. A couple of examples: that grocery program we have has been quite successful and it has helped seniors to stay connected. It has also helped others, our volunteers, who are also struggling with the pandemic, to have a purpose. They are helping us answering phones, shopping (they are comfortable to be in the store safely with protocols in place), and delivering groceries. We have people dropping groceries at people's front doors, doing a little check-in with them, with appropriate distancing. It’s good for us because that is what we do: we connect with seniors with a lot of community programs and we haven't been able to bring those seniors together.
So, this program has been an opportunity for people to volunteer during this very difficult time. And really, it has helped everybody to stay connected with seniors in the community. Yes with the pandemic things have changed, but volunteerism has not.
Also, when we talk about volunteerism, we tend to think of volunteer organizations and agency run community programming. But really what I am seeing in our community is good citizenship. That is what really counts.
People are checking in on their neighbors. That’s the core of a good citizen. He or she is thinking about the lady who lives next door who just doesn’t get out – and connecting her to an agency or doing an errand for them.
So, it is a changed world and we will not be going back to things as they were before. I believe we will be looking at the world slightly differently and I really hope that we’re looking at it through a “good citizenship” lens. Today, we are seeing good citizenship happening and that’s really hopeful.
Q – In every community through the pandemic, volunteers stepped up and there are many stories that illustrate just how important their actions have been. Can you provide a few current examples of how volunteer efforts are benefitting our community?
Jeff Mills: One example we started early in the pandemic here in Mississippi Mills that we call MM Together. It all started when we were talking to some of the businesses that provide service to our agency. One business in particular is North Market in Almonte. This restaurant was providing us with food for board meetings food and training sessions. I’ll always remember the day that Amanda came to my office to discuss how local businesses can help seniors who are shut-in in their homes. That day we started MM Together. All of the funds and donations we’ve received have gone to support local businesses by purchasing their services and goods and then having them delivered to people that are shut in. There are basic goods, simple crafts – a care parcel just so people in the community know that we haven't forgotten them and we’re there for them. It is a way for our agency to get our information out to them about our services. It has been a wonderful thing to be supporting local businesses at the same time as supporting people who are shut-in.
Another example is our community gardens. In fact, I just ran in the door a minute ago from one of our gardens. There were two volunteers who are senior ladies working in the heat of the day preparing for this year’s planting. Because of COVID the garden didn’t do so well last year; it was quite overrun. So, I spent an hour on a whipper snipper with them. When I left I said thank you for letting me help because it was a great time away from my desk, I got an hour of exercise and I contributed to their efforts. I wanted to recognize the importance of what they are doing because they are managing this garden for others. These gardens are right next to some of our housing projects, so it’s a really important community space. These ladies were sharing their gifts. There are both very, very knowledgeable with gardening. We tend to think of volunteers as a volunteer effort. But often what volunteers do is they share their skills and gifts. The two ladies are passionate about the community garden and their volunteering effort is sharing their skill. It just makes for a perfect marriage.
Q - What would you say to someone who is uncertain whether they should get involved in a volunteer initiative in the weeks and months ahead?
Jeff Mills: To any person hesitating to volunteer I would say, “Make a phone call to the organization you are thinking of volunteering at.”
In our case, we have always had a very open relationship with the volunteers. I tell them, “When you feel you have kind of done your bit, there is no pressure here. You have to feel comfortable in what you doing.”
If it’s somebody who hasn’t volunteered before, I would suggest they start a conversation with your agency of choice. Know that you can make a difference. At Carebridge we have some volunteers who are calling seniors and having hour long conversations on a weekly basis. They love it and it is important for the seniors because it is making them feel special and making them feel connected. So, back to the basics in terms of how you can volunteer -- make sure you feel comfortable and just take that step.
Any agency that’s offering positions will have protocol in place. They are going to make sure you’ve got PPE and they will make sure they are not putting anyone in an inappropriate position. Nobody should worry about that. We’ve been at this for over a year. Agencies will be vetting applications to make sure people fit the job and task at hand. Everyone can contribute; everyone has something to contribute.
Our agency offers wellness programs. On a recent zoom call we had Doctor Will Affleck, who is a psychiatrist who specializes in men's mental health. He told us that when you look at what good mental health can mean it has a lot to do with feeling that you have meaning in your life and that you have a greater purpose than just yourself -- that you’re a member, a citizen of a community and that you have something to share. That’s a really strong step towards good personal mental health.
MPP Fullerton: Thank you Jeff for these thoughts. At the last roundtable there was a commitment that we would meet again in September. However, I am scheduling the next roundtable in early June. We will convene on a zoom call to pick up this important conversation. I am also pleased, Jeff, that you have agreed to facilitate our discussion.
Jeff Mills: Merrilee, I look forward to the up-coming roundtable. It’s been a real pleasure to see the volunteer groups that have participated come together and jell as a community of groups. I really believe we are better together.
Coming out of the pandemic I think that local groups will want to lean on each other – to have someone to share ideas with and act as a sounding board. At the end of the last meeting we did talk about coming together, formally or informally, to have meetings on a regular basis so that the organizations may compare notes.
I think that it is really healthy and helpful for them. I think coming out of the pandemic there is going to be some really good news stories about how the world has changed in a positive way. I believe “how our volunteers are helping” is going to be a big story.
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