Sometimes, the gifts that cost nothing are the ones that have the greatest value.
Such is the case with the gift of time, which is given every day by selfless people across the country, including many in our own community. These are the people being celebrated last week during National Volunteer Week.
“Volunteerism really does build community,” Diane Sim, executive director of Volunteer Lethbridge, said at a flag-raising ceremony April 8 to mark the start of the week of recognition.
The week is an opportunity for Volunteer Lethbridge to encourage thank-yous for the many local volunteers who make a difference in the community through their contributions of time, which last year amounted to more than 625,000 hours, according to the agency’s figures. That time, provided by more than 24,667 volunteers, has an economic value of $16.8 million.
Many of the more than 700 local organizations which rely on volunteers could not do what they do without the contribution of these people who generously give their time without monetary payment. But these volunteers are compensated in other ways. For the vast majority of them, giving back to the community is payment enough. According to research by Statistics Canada, 93 per cent of volunteers say they do it in order to make a contribution to community, and 78 per cent say it provides an opportunity to use their skills and experience.
Nationally, volunteers donate more than two billion hours each year, equivalent to 1.1 million full-time jobs. It’s a contribution that was valued at $55.9 billion in 2017, or about 2.6 per cent of the gross domestic product. The 2018 report titled “The Value of Volunteering in Canada” says if volunteering were an industry, it would employ nearly as many people as those currently working in education.
Many of the services provided by organizations that rely on volunteer help would not be possible without that contribution. That means many in our communities would be worse off without those efforts, and thus, our communities would be worse off.
It’s with that in mind that Canadian curler Sherry Anderson was on target when she once noted, “Volunteers don’t get paid, not because they’re worthless, but because they’re priceless.”
Certainly our communities are richer thanks to the contributions of volunteers. As journalist Brian O’Connell pointed out, “Volunteering creates a national character in which the community and the nation take on a spirit of compassion, comradeship and confidence.”
Or, put another way, in the words of American author Terri Guillemets: “The world is hugged by the faithful arms of volunteers.”
If you know someone who volunteers, give them a pat on the back. If you’re a volunteer, give yourself a pat on the back. You deserve it. And thank you for your gift of time, and for helping to make the community a better place.