December 5 is United Nations (UN) International Volunteer Day. The UN General Assembly officially mandated the day in 1985 to celebrate the contributions of both volunteers and their organizations, as well as to showcase their efforts in their communities.
The focus of International Volunteer Day is to thank volunteers worldwide and to highlight their work during the COVID-19 Pandemic with the slogan “Together We Can Through Volunteering.”
The pandemic had an extensive impact on the various volunteering activities in Canada, with many events and programs – religious congregations, medical services, social programs, athletic groups, and recreational activities – being cancelled, postponed, or moved online.
Throughout the pandemic, Canadian volunteers and organizations have found unique ways to help others in their communities, such as providing emotional support to others online, sewing non-medical masks and delivering groceries for those who were self-isolating. Additionally, they have assisted in helping vulnerable groups in the community, including those in need of shelter, providing services for women and children escaping domestic violence, reconnecting with isolated seniors, and supporting medical professionals during emergencies.
Defending children and vulnerable groups online
Two local groups that will be celebrating the contributions of their volunteers on International Volunteer Day are DEFEND and the North Shore Community Resources. DEFEND, a Canadian non-profit organization, was established in the midst of the pandemic with the mission to defend children and other vulnerable people in Canada and around the world from predators and other dangers on social media. Like DEFEND, the North Shore Community Resources, an organization that provides an array of community services, depends on volunteers to help its programs.
When asked about the importance of volunteers for DEFEND, Sandrine Kakieu Djossi, a committee member and a medical doctor from British Columbia, says that volunteers play an integral role in the organization.
“We are 100 per cent volunteer run, and our volunteers are in the organization because they are passionate about advocating for children,” she adds.
DEFEND is composed of three teams of volunteers that each focus on three main areas – advocacy, education, and technology.
“Our advocacy team collaborates with lawmakers to bring change to social media to make it safe for all people, and so far, this has led to significant results. On the other hand, our educational team creates educational materials like videos and workshops to increase awareness and to help people with their choices online,” says Djossi.
“In addition, the technology team is building a new social media platform that allows for healthier social media interactions for children and other vulnerable groups, and which incorporates all the features that we are advocating for, like age verification and content that is suitable for children.”
Djossi believes that volunteering with the organization can be an enriching experience.
“As volunteers, the kinds of risks online that we learn about are eye-opening; however, the projects that we are organizing to mitigate these issues can be very rewarding experiences,” she explains.
As part of International Volunteer Day, DEFEND will be starting a new volunteer recognition program.
“We have discussed the creation of a recognition program that we are implementing soon to coincide with International Volunteer Day, and we are looking to start volunteer-of-the-month celebrations,” says Djossi.
Seniors are being looked after
The North Shore Community Resources offers a wide variety of programs and services to help its community thrive and to foster social connections. In addition, it operates several important programs for seniors in the North Shore area to help ensure their well-being.
“We operate the North Shore Seniors One Stop, which provides information and referral services to both seniors and their families,” says Elaine Smith, coordinator for Volunteer North Shore and Seniors One Stop. “We also have the North Shore Caregiver Support program to assist individuals who care for others, and we run the North Shore Better at Home program, which provides seniors with services to help seniors at home.”
According to Sue Carabetta, the Seniors and community engagement manager, many new volunteers joined their diverse volunteer base during the pandemic.
“We now have over 200 volunteers, many of whom came on during the pandemic,” she says. “We had many volunteers even before the pandemic, and they come from diverse age groups, including many who are seniors. This is good for helping build integration among our volunteers within our different programs.”
The vast group of volunteers assist in several important roles to help support the programs for seniors.
“Our volunteers help with numerous tasks, such as grocery shopping, dropping off seniors at seniors centres or medical clinics, having friendly check in calls, light yard work and house repair duties,” says Carabetta.
When asked about whether they have anything planned for International Volunteer Day, she indicates that they have several things arranged.
“We are excited about what our volunteers do, and we will be recognizing them with a gift that includes a card and another token of appreciation. We will also be posting on our social media in celebration of International Volunteers Day,” Carabetta says.