Hi, I’m Ayah! I’m a fourth-year sociology major at U of O and I’ve been volunteering with GenNext East Ontario as an Advocate since August 2021. I joined GenNext because I wanted to use my voice to make an impact, and educate others about social issues by raising awareness and teaching them how to help.
Something that’s been top of mind for non-profit organizations as we cross over the two-year mark of living with COVID-19, is that many staff and volunteer have reached or are reaching their breaking points, all while demand for services continues to rise.
What does this mean for our local volunteer sector?
Volunteers are a huge part of the community building work that goes on across East Ontario. These local heroes offer their time and expertise to improve the lives of thousands of local people, whether through front-line support work, advocacy, event organizing, and so much more.
I was excited to sit down for a Q and A with Adam Janes, Director of Programs and Fund Development at Volunteer Ottawa, to get his perspective on what “rebuilding the volunteer sector” looks like.
Adam stepped into his current role at Volunteer Ottawa (VO) in the beginning of January 2022.However, he’s been an active VO member, workshop facilitator, volunteer, and speaker—leaning on six years of professional volunteer management experience that he gained while at his previous position, before joining the VO staff.
Adam believes that volunteering opens our world views, our hearts and our minds to new possibilities, and deepens our understanding of reality. When done well, it also helps the causes and communities we care about. He hopes that in the future, we can enter a season of reinvention and discover new possibilities for what it means to be ‘community’.
By Ayah Beydoun
University of Ottawa Student
GenNext East Ontario Advocate
Q. Why is Volunteer Ottawa partnering with GenNext? How, through volunteering, will GenNext help make our communities stronger?
A. I was part of the GenNext Cabinet from 2013-2015 and was the Youth Mental Health Giving Circle Ambassador for a season, and I still am a giving circle member (even if it’s no longer known as that). Being invested in the community, and in causes you care about, means offering what you can in the best ways possible.
I believe building places and spaces for people to build community and build it around making the community stronger is amazing. I believe volunteering ties in very closely with being a donor—I like the words often used by my friend and colleague in the field: Christian Robillard – “We give our time, talent and treasure to the community”.
Q. Why do you support GenNext and what do you like most about being part of the GenNext community?
A. I believe places like GenNext have a gateway into innovation and systems change. The networking of unique individuals with similar values is a powerful ecosystem for change. I love meeting the people who care about various causes and hearing their stories.
Honestly, I believe volunteering is just part of being human. We choose how, how much and why we give our time and talent. I believe we as a society need more resources to help people give their time and talent with excellence.
Q. What’s the volunteer sector like in Ottawa and across our region?
A. Ottawa has long been one of the best volunteering cities per capita globally and recently (2018), second only to Calgary in Canada. We have some excellent resources in Volunteer Ottawa, and there are other large volunteer hubs and programs here as well.
VO has programs for individuals, businesses, youth, potential leaders, and other groups like GenNext to get involved with and engage in valuable volunteer experiences. As of 2018, volunteering formally contributed to the equivalent of tens of thousands of full-time jobs, mainly in the not-for-profit and charitable sectors.
Q. What are some of the challenges the volunteer sector is seeing right now?
A. To put it in recent terms, it echos the storm we just had. The landscape has shifted. A few organizations have continued on strong with a full slate of volunteers, others have been toppled and unable to be rebuild at all. Some still struggle to regain the capacity of volunteers.
Q. Tell us more about the impact of the pandemic and how the volunteer sector can work towards recovery.
A. The impact was widespread and devastating to volunteer programs and thus the capacity of charities and not-for-profits. The lingering problem is that fewer people are volunteering. This could be because of health concerns, for example, many senior volunteers did not return to volunteer after pandemic restrictions lifted. There are fewer leaders of volunteers active in their roles—some have been redeployed, others let go, and others are too busy doing the work of volunteers to recruit new volunteers.
The trend of volunteering, much like that of donors, is waning with an older generation who gave more time and money passing away. But there’s also the effect that younger generations are having to work more for less, so both time and funding are at a premium.
Recovery in the sector will take investments. Investments in advocacy and awareness, investments in staff to rebuild volunteer programs, and investments in volunteers themselves.
Q. Why should GenNext supporters consider volunteering?
A. I think GenNext supporters should participate in volunteer opportunities like Welcoming Ottawa Week and other cause-based formal volunteering to seek out causes they care about, grow passions, and build community with people with different perspectives.
These opportunities will help volunteers develop their worldviews while using their knowledge, networks, and experiences to support and guide others. Events like Welcoming Ottawa Week move the needle on several fronts, building back Ottawa as a welcoming city for all who choose to live in peaceful harmony—embracing a global world of faiths, races, cultures and practices that brings about a respectful understanding of our humanity and oneness.