By Brian Vossen
Special to the Red Deer Express
Volunteer Central is a not-for-profit organization that has operated under a number of different names and structure for more than 10 years. Executive Director Karen Oatway said the organization fills a need that many volunteer and not-for-profit organizations have, but don’t have the resources to manage.
“Most non-profits, they work on very small budgets and they work with very few staff,” said Oatway. “Lots of times there is not the money or the manpower to do a lot of volunteer recruitment.”
Volunteer Central partners with volunteer organizations and initiatives to help them find the volunteers they need. They also work with potential volunteers to connect them with groups that can make use of their skills.
Volunteer Central accomplishes this by spreading the word about why volunteering is important, said Oatway. This is done by doing school presentations, speaking at resource centres and through the media.
Oatway said that making links between volunteers and organizations is important, because a lot of volunteers don’t know how to go about making them themselves.
“I think there are lots of people that would like to volunteer they just don’t know where they should go or what’s involved,” said Oatway. “So we’re trying to help with that.”
Quite often, large events that utilize volunteer work are how volunteers get their start volunteering, said Oatway. She said once they get involved with volunteering through such an event, they enjoy it so much that they want to do more.
For Oatway, volunteering is a valuable experience that anyone can learn a lot from. She said it can be very rewarding whether volunteering is a familiar concept to someone or not.
“With volunteering, you are putting somebody else ahead of yourself,” said Oatway. “I think you learn empathy, about what other people are going through and you see how much you truly have and how lucky you are when you are helping with something else. You feel a part of something, you feel part of the community.”
Oatway went on to say that there are lots of different reasons to volunteer. She said it helps people gain experience, get connected in a prospective career field, make references or just give them something to do in their free time.
There is a wide range of groups looking for volunteers that Volunteer Central works with. Volunteer Central utilizes a search service on its web site that can help connect volunteers with different organizations.
Organizations seeking volunteers can post volunteer opportunities on the web site. Potential volunteers can then search opportunities by geographical location, areas of expertise and so on, not unlike a job search service.
Volunteer Central also helps not-for-profits and volunteer organizations through workshops and training for staff and volunteers. Sometimes Volunteer Central might design a workshop to fit the organizations’ needs, or other times direct them to other workshops already being held.
Lacombe is certainly a community that has a strong spirit of volunteering within it. Oatway said she has visited Lacombe and witnessed that spirit first-hand and is working with organizations in Lacombe to help it grow.
Oatway said she has been involved with a ‘volunteer task force’ in Lacombe to help address any issues volunteers and volunteer organizations face in the community. She said it deals with issues ranging from recruiting, to training, to volunteer recognition.
Volunteer Central began its life as the Community Information Referral. It later became Volunteer Red Deer and this spring became Volunteer Central as a result of forming partnerships throughout Central Alberta rather than just in Red Deer and a desire to continue that trend.
“If Red Deer was having problems getting volunteers and connecting with organizations, we felt that the smaller communities might be having the same sort of problem.”
Volunteering is for everyone, said Oatway. While people who sign up to volunteer tend to be the same people who are already volunteering for 10 other things, she said there is an opportunity for everyone looking to share some time and effort with a larger cause.
Retirees, students, people looking for other careers, parents helping out with children’s activities, new residents looking to make connections and everyone else can find a way to volunteer.
“I think there is a volunteer opportunity for every single person.”