Although I unknowingly married into a volunteering family, my own background has volunteering roots. My late father served on boards of quite a few charitable and public service organizations, and as a military veteran, he viewed his role as a Trustee of the then Sunnybrook Hospital (Toronto) as his most important contribution. My late father-in-law was a longtime member of KIWANIS, and both my in-laws did ‘meals on wheels’ into their 80’s!
My first personal experience was an ad hoc fundraising enterprise as an 11-year-old at an Appleby College May ‘Sports Day’. My brother and I, with glass jars in hand, raised over $25 from parents, as they entered the grounds, for the Toronto Sick Children’s Hospital. The local newspaper, the Oakville Beaver, found out about this, was intrigued, and a photographer added us to the usual track and field photos, and we ended up on the local front page.
I never forgot ‘Sick Kids’. Maybe a tonsillectomy in 1960 had something to do with it, but before Christmas in 1982, I chanced to enter a draw put on by the ‘Laura Secord’ store at Sheridan Centre (Mississauga). As the family was wrestling with our Christmas tree, the store called to say that I’d won the 25 lb. chocolate ‘Santa Claus’. The prize was collected, the box opened (you can just Imagine the aroma), the contents left undisturbed, despite a mild protest from my grandmother. On Christmas Eve, I drove ‘Santa’ down to ‘Sick Kids’, and handed him over to ‘patient inquiry’ for those who couldn’t go home on the 25th. I drove back to Mississauga feeling like I’d donated a million dollars.
It took me 2 years after I married to make up my mind about joining my father-in-law as a Kiwanian. I had no experience with the ‘service club’ movement, and I was a wary newlywed. Ultimately, it came down to a matter of “Oh, why not?!”, and that proved to be one of the best decisions of my life.
Aside from a weekly opportunity for fellowship with community-minded men and women in our local club, KIWANIS was a gateway to collaboration with many volunteer organizations and worthwhile public agencies. It made me aware of just how vast the needs are in our communities, and how diverse the challenges are to respond to these. Thankfully, many active minds (and bodies) are capable of doing many things. And while the mission of KIWANIS is ‘Serving the Children of the World’, service clubs individually do so much more.
More recently, a volunteering experience with a well-regarded food bank and outreach in Peel opened my eyes to how vulnerable so many people are in our self-proclaimed affluent society. ‘Vulnerability’ manifests itself in both obvious and subtle ways, and we need to identify with those in such a position, and to respond with intention, purpose, meaningfully, and with thoughtful sensitivity. Government and public agencies simply cannot do everything, and this is why volunteering is so very, very important.