…And how to begin
By Samantha Ramsay
As a student, I’ve always wanted to invest time into volunteering and I’ve always known that it’s something we should all be doing if we have the time… but I suppose I never put too much thought into how someone gets started with it all.
Linda Grant is someone I like to refer to as a “professional volunteer.” Yes, she works. She’s taught for many years in fact. She is also a single mother with her own kids. And yes, like us all, she has financial commitments. But volunteering is where her heart is at.
Linda is currently working on her Masters of Education at Lakehead, so meeting with her in our library was comfortable for us both. I came in to my interview with Linda with a clear and definitive list of questions in mind for her such as inklings into how she got started volunteering, how she manages to dedicate so much time with financial considerations in mind, and how she found her niche— but these questions were quickly thrown out the window and what I collected instead was am awe-inspiring and genuine conversation with someone I am happy to have met.
“Volunteering is an investment for your own life. The improvement in a community reflects directly on my own life.” Linda currently dedicates her time to three different volunteer groups in Orillia, all of which are interconnected. The Orillia Food Council, the Community Gardens Project, and the Sustainable Schools program are all organizations that relate to healthy food consumption, plant-based learning, and understanding the importance of plants and the holistic values of gardening.
When we talked about how to begin volunteering, Linda made it seem easy. You find something you love and you only bite off as much as you can chew. Volunteer committees are successful when all members are honest about exactly how much work they can handle. No one over exerts themselves and everyone is just as dedicated to making the volunteer machine run smoothly. Linda herself began a large bulk of her volunteer work on the island of Haida Gwaii which is off the west coast of BC. The Haida community is largely based off volunteer work and monthly events such as community potluck dinners ran solely on volunteer hours while Linda resided there. “The island nurtured you to see that [community work] as valuable because you got to be involved in situations that were part of the way of life. Things such as community dinners were so inspiring to everyone. Everyone was like this. If you went to a function, you just helped.”
Linda talked about her volunteering as something she used for self-growth as well. She makes a wonderful point in saying that if you do not love what you’re doing and if you are not invested in your volunteer work, it may get swept under the rug. She used volunteering as a way to figure out exactly what she wanted to do in life and later to become more involved in the fields she wanted to become involved in.
Volunteering is also much more beneficial than working for a pay cheque. When volunteering, the choice is yours when it comes to what you want to do with your time. Linda analogously compared this to group work which many of us in university experience. If you’re stuck in a group you aren’t meshing well with or aren’t comfortable in, you stick it out and you get it done— even if it means taking the brunt of the work and giving others credit. When you volunteer you get to choose exactly who you’re working with, what you’re doing, and what your focus is going to be for the time being. Because of this your work develops a meaning and the projects you see through have your personal identity and goals riddled through them. These personal connections to volunteer work are what make it so inspiring and so worth the time it takes to develop a good repertoire in the volunteer world.
One of the most inspiring things Linda said was how volunteering has affected her joy and lust for life. “Volunteering has made my life very interesting. I get up in the morning and I am excited about my day. I get up early because I am excited about my day. I also fall asleep early because I’m tired, but that’s because I was so busy running around and doing things I like.”
Though “the dishes don’t always get done” at home, and life is somewhat unconventional at times, the enriching experience Linda has had being able to immerse herself in to community projects that she loves has turned her in to an inspiring role model for all of us stuck in volunteer purgatory. Don’t retreat, but don’t go ahead full force and plunge head first in to the world of volunteering. Start off slowly, ask questions, and accept duties and time commitments one at a time. Eventually, you will reach capacity and you will be volunteering as much as you can, without volunteering too much.
The most important message I took from my meeting with Linda was spoken eloquently and honestly, “[volunteering] inspires you to work harder, to think bigger, and to try things that you maybe would have been afraid of trying.”
So with parting words— jump in, Lakehead. Volunteer, nurture your self-growth, and make a difference.