July 23rd, 2024

Expo showcases need for volunteers

By Delon Shurtz - Lethbridge Herald on June 26, 2024.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDdshurtz@lethbridgeherald.com

Like many organizations in Lethbridge, the COVID pandemic hit Volunteer Lethbridge and other non-profit groups like a ton of bricks.

Fortunately, the pandemic is over; unfortunately the need for volunteers isn’t. In fact, the need is greater than ever before.

“Volunteers are needed badly,” says Amanda Jensen, executive director of Volunteer Lethbridge.

Volunteer Lethbridge and JustServe, a database of volunteer opportunities in the community, are calling on individuals, families and groups to volunteer. From 3-7 p.m. today, a Summer Volunteer Expo will be held at the Galt Museum downtown, at which 21 non-profit organizations will showcase opportunities to become a volunteer and make an impact in the community.

Jensen says the impact of the pandemic is still being felt, and many people who regularly volunteered before the COVID outbreak, haven’t returned.

“Non-profit organizations have a history of being under-resourced,” Jensen says. “It’s, unfortunately, becoming very common knowledge that it is post-COVID; I think it’s harder for everyone, whether you’re looking at social services, the arts, or sports.

The demand for volunteers may be greatest in social services, which was hit the hardest during the pandemic and continues to struggle to serve increasing numbers of clients and deal with additional complexities.

“They are stressed. We continue to battle underfunding and unpredictable funding. We don’t know year to year what’s coming down and how many people we can employ, so volunteers become the way that we can keep the organizations running during uncertainty.

“If you look at how hard the pandemic was on art and culture and sports, it was just brutal. Most of the programs shut down completely, of course, because we were in lockdown.”

Jensen notes, however, that while organizations struggle to attract more volunteers, two groups of people in particular have stepped up to fill some of the void left by the pandemic: immigrants and post-secondary students.

“I like to share that whenever I can. It’s fascinating to me; every time I say it I think, how can that be, because these are groups of people that are facing a lot of uncertainty in their lives; post-secondary and people that have just moved to the country, and here they are, those two groups of people showing up in such a big way in our community. It is so heart-warming to me.”

“Now is just an excellent time for everyone, for families, to be really looking at how they can engage with each other and with the community this summer.”

Jensen says there are many opportunities for families to serve together. A prime example is the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup directed locally by the Helen Schuler Nature Centre. The activity runs the first Saturday in June, July and August, and participants can pick up gloves, a bag and data sheet from the centre between 10 a.m. and noon then go for a stroll and pick up litter.

“I wonder if it would surprise the community to know we have at any given time about 150 open volunteer job opportunities,” Jensen says, noting there are 450 non-profit organizations in the Lethbridge service area.

“There are a ton of things to do.”

Jensen says there are many reasons people volunteer, which often benefit both the organization and the volunteer. While the typical reasons include to serve others and be good citizens, there are other reasons. For Jensen, volunteering with her family is one way to get her children away from their electronic devices during the summer. Volunteering is also a way to meet new people, expand networks, make new friends, learn new skills, build a resume or advance a career.

“So there’s lots of reasons why people volunteer, and they’re all valid, they’re all good.”

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