Zoe Fleming has left Volunteer Calgary for a role with Volunteer Canada. We asked her to reflect on life in a volunteer centre. Here is her story in her own words.
Five years ago, only months after starting with Volunteer Calgary, Mario Siciliano, the President & CEO at the time, asked me about my career goals. I responded – emphatically – that I was a “Volunteer Centre girl”. I told him that I wanted to learn as much as I could from any position at Volunteer Calgary. I believed that this would be the best education I could get about volunteer centres.
Coming from the Banff Volunteer Centre, I expected that there would be many, many differences between the communities and volunteer centres. The fact that they could actually be so similar, however, came as quite a surprise. As it turns out, these unexpected similarities are the main reason why I love volunteer centres – of all shapes and sizes.
One of the most striking similarities is the volunteers themselves. It doesn’t matter if you are talking to a student who is living inBanfffor three months, a family looking to do something together, an employee group from a large corporation or really anyone who wants to volunteer. At first, most people don’t know where to begin. I love how their eyes light up when they realize that “the world is their oyster” and that they can volunteer for a cause they are passionate about, while gaining new skills or sharing skills they already have.
This simple fact comes as an awakening to so many people, who may initially perceive volunteering as more of a duty to serve than the gift that it truly is, to have a chance to strengthen our local and global communities. Having learned at a young age to volunteer at what I loved and where I could make a real difference, I couldn’t believe how many people were shocked by this.
I’ve always believed that our communities and organizations are built, developed and strengthened by volunteers – by people who had a vision and found the skills to make the vision real. Volunteers have everything we need to make a difference in the world. Organizations, and the professionals in these organizations, just need to be the catalysts in volunteer engagement to make the “volunteer magic” happen.
I’ve learned that this is true in communities of any size. At first I was really apprehensive about working in a big city likeCalgary, after living inBanfffor so long. In fact, I didn’t even move into Calgary when I first came here to work. I thought big cities were places without a real sense of community. I’m so thankful that I was wrong! Yes, there are more people, everyone seems to be moving really fast and not always in the right direction and travelling is a little harder in rush hour then it is in a town with only a few sets of lights and an elk or two, but what I love is the heart! It beats loud, strong and clear here. There are amazing individuals in this city that don’t stop for a second to question if they should do anything to make things better. If you don’t believe me, check out Volunteer Calgary’s “Leadership Awards”, Youth Central’s “Youth of Distinction Awards” or browse any social media source on any given day.
Everyone has a role to play in building a better local and global community and volunteer centres help achieve this in so many different ways. I love how each centre is as different as the community it serves, but I’m thankful that I have had the chance to learn that, at the heart of it all, we are the same. We are all passionate about community, people and, in our own ways, hoping to leave everyday a little better than it was found.
I could write volumes about volunteer centres and my passion for the work many of them do and the necessary work that still needs to be done, but instead I’m going to do what I tell others to do. I’m going to invest my time in the area I’m most passionate about. As of May 2, 2011, I am moving on to a new career as the Manager of Volunteer Centre Relations at Volunteer Canada. I’m so excited to have such and amazing opportunity to work with volunteer centres and provincial associations acrossCanada. But don’t worry, I’m not taking off my cowboy boots or leaving the mountains any time soon, I get to stay right here in Calgary, a place I’m now proud to call home!