Tichelle Reay was one of three $1,000 Lions Club university student bursary recipients. (Contributed photo)

Tichelle Reay was one of three $1,000 Lions Club university student bursary recipients. (Contributed photo)

2020: Why volunteerism is more important than ever

Trichelle Reay’s bursary-winning essay on volunteering pre-pandemic, during COVID and beyond

Trichele Reay is a university student at Vancouver Island University who plans to go on to law school. The following is her esay that accompanied her application for a $1,000 Lions Club bursary.

I have been thinking about writing this for quite some time. I could write about the impact that volunteerism has had in my life. I was a 4-H member for 14 years and plan to return to the Bulkley Valley after my post-secondary education in the hopes of becoming a 4-H leader and giving back to that program a fraction of what it has given me.

I could reference the projects that have been completed in our communities and the donations that have lead to life-saving, life-altering or life-affirming equipment, events and facilities that bring joy, physical activity and health to people from all walks of life on a daily basis.

I could tell you about the time I have spent as a volunteer at Rainbows in Nanaimo B.C., an organization that works with children who have experienced loss and are grieving, where I was fortunate enough to be invited to facilitate the four- and five-year-old group with a fellow volunteer who was supportive, encouraging and very, very dedicated.

I could write about the difficulties service groups are experiencing with shrinking memberships, as well as, aging members no longer able to carry on as they did in the past.

I could write about the socialization aspect of volunteering, the amazing people you meet, the enjoyment that comes from working with others toward a common goal, and the fact that for some, volunteering is what gets them up in the morning and out of the house to be with people or homeless pets at their local animal shelters.

Last year, I would have written about something like that…

Then 2020 happened.

Jobs disappeared, people sheltered in place, domestic violence and food insecurity increased, seniors’ homes and extended care facilities were closed to visitors, de-incarceration was employed, and homeless populations had no protections.

The need for volunteer-based community services reached an unprecedented high during a time when the very people that volunteer are among the group of most at-risk individuals, being that many of our volunteers are retirees within our communities.

Additionally, those volunteers not in the more at-risk groups, found that because of the age or health of their family members, the risks of volunteering prevented them from engaging in activities they normally would participate in.

Those of us that volunteer, do so for many reasons. A huge part of volunteering is answering the call to get out and help others, but the gift that it provides is filling our need to socialize, to be with others.

Physical distancing is lonely and has changed the face of volunteering in the short-term at least, with the need for smaller groups and limited circles, and because we are still looking forward in this journey without the benefit of hindsight or history, the change may be long-term – if not permanent.

The question of why volunteering is important to a community is evident all around us from feeding the hungry to coaching children, from building a ball diamond or a skate park to planting a memorial garden, from a new wheelchair to a new van, from the Bulkley Valley Exhibition to the Telkwa Barbecue and Demolition Derby, and trails developed and maintained for walking or biking, just to name a few. Our Valley is full of examples of the hard work and dedication of our multitude of volunteers and volunteer organizations.

The year 2020 has demonstrated what our communities look like when many people could not volunteer. So much was absent from all our daily lives and we all missed a lot. It has presented so many hardships for so many people and organizations in our world.

What will the future of volunteerism and volunteering look like in the months and years to follow? Volunteers are the community. Volunteers are the reason communities look and function in distinct and unique ways. Now, because of 2020, it is possible to imagine what our communities would look like if people did not volunteer.

So, in 2020, after thinking about this essay for some time, remembering how things used to be, missing the camaraderie of my own volunteer works, and re-reflecting on the importance of volunteers in our community, I am left with this hope: May we each continue to do for others as we did in the past, even though and in spite of, the “new normal” in our world that effects the way we can do that.

May the need for volunteering and volunteerism not be lost in the chaos that is our lives at the moment.

May we continue to answer the call to serve others. Lastly, may we be kind and considerate and passionate about the things that need doing and participate in whatever way we can while still being safe and protecting others.