Julien LeBourdais will discuss the benefits and satisfaction he has received over the years volunteering for a variety of charitable organizations. Using his own experiences as examples, he will demonstrate the importance of finding the right “fit” for any volunteer. He will show how it can be an uplifting experience to combine volunteering for UUCD with volunteering in the outside community.
The complete sermon can be read below:
I called this talk “The Joys of Volunteering” because I hope to demonstrate that volunteering can be rewarding and also fun – perhaps not every day – but often enough to be worth it.
When I look out at everyone assembled here today, I see many people with a lot in common – not only as Unitarians but also as volunteers.
In the pre-COVID days, some of you greeted us at the door, prepared coffee, set up the room, provided music, led the service, coordinated the service, arranged for the speaker, prepared and printed the order of service, acted as the speaker themselves, sat on committees, chaired committees, helped out in RE, organized pub nite, coordinated the book club, led meditation, worked with youth, took minutes at board meetings, produced the monthly newsletter, produced the weekly update, printed name tags, and served as members of the board of directors. I have probably overlooked a few jobs people did.
The point is that UUCD could not exist without help from a great many volunteers.
Many of you have performed more than one of these jobs at the same time. It’s probably fair to say that a few of you have performed all these duties at one time or another.
During COVID, some of these jobs disappeared while others continue. Some of these volunteer jobs will never return while new ones are being created as we adapt to the pandemic.
COVID is still having a major effect on UUCD as it has for many people around the world. Not holding in-person services for over six months put a strain on all of us.
For many, the personal contact and interaction is what makes UUCD unique and central to our lives.
Today’s service alone required hours of work by a number of people. No fewer than seven of us were involved in one way or another preparing and delivering the service this week. On other weeks, different members of the Worship Committee play a role. And, of course, our minister Rev. Carly Gaylor always serves in an advisory capacity and is more heavily involved on the 20 or so weeks per year she writes, prepares and delivers a sermon.
One of my reasons for speaking today is to tell all of you how important you are. UUCD could not exist without the commitment of a great many people. While I like to encourage more people to volunteer, I also acknowledge the significant contribution many of you have been making for years.
The other reason for my talk today is to show how fulfilling any type of volunteering can be and to share with you a few of my experiences.
It’s important people volunteer for the right reasons. The volunteer usually knows he or she is making a difference. However, that is not enough. Ideally, the volunteer should also get some personal satisfaction from the time they put in.
Volunteers sometimes take on a responsibility because “no one else is available or willing to do it”.
A certain amount of sacrifice is required of any volunteer but it should not be the driving force. Volunteers should not feel like martyrs.
Some volunteers are more committed than others.
In pre-COVID days, Ontario secondary school students were required to volunteer for at least 40 hours between grades 9 and 12 in order to receive their diploma.
Some students completed their obligations within the first few months of grade nine. Others who were less motivated, waited until the last minute – when panic sometimes set in.
When I was executive director of Feed the Need in Durham, I received a call from a woman on a Thursday telling me her son’s graduation was the next Tuesday. After four years of high school, he had done no volunteering at all. She was hoping I could take him on as a volunteer, 10 hours a day, for the next 4 days, over a weekend, when we weren’t open. I declined. At the same time, I was not impressed that the student’s mother had called me – and not her son.
About 16 years ago, I volunteered at a food bank at an Anglican Church in Etobicoke. I had no involvement with the church itself and never attended a service. One day, I noticed I was thanking people when I gave them food – and I hadn’t realized it.
I thought about it and realized people who come to food banks often feel they’ve hit rock bottom and their self confidence couldn’t be lower. Maybe, I was lifting their spirits by acknowledging they had a right to have enough to eat and were not merely accepting a hand out.
I have to admit some feeling of pride in this revelation and some years later, when I was with Feed the Need, I always made sure we never made people feel we were doing them a favour.
While I was at Feed the Need, we had a number of high school students with some serious physical and emotional challenges come to our warehouse a couple of afternoons a week, accompanied by their teachers, to help sort food. It was repetitive but it tended to give the kids a sense of fulfillment because they soon became really good at the job. To be honest, I had little to do with them since the regular volunteers in the warehouse provided the guidance needed.
At the end of the school year, the principal, who often accompanied the kids herself, quietly took me aside and told me I had literally saved the life of one of her students. I was flabbergasted. I barely knew the student and had almost no interaction with her. The principal told me the girl had heard all her life that she was stupid and no good but everyone at FTND had treated her with respect and encouragement, never looking down on her. It had been a great experience for her and helped boost her confidence. She had gone through several brain operations and the principal believed the confidence we had shown in her helped her go through the surgery with flying colours.
I shared this story with the volunteers in the warehouse who really deserved the credit. This experience has stayed with me ever since as it probably has with them.
The key is to find a volunteer activity that appeals to you, where you will be comfortable and perhaps where you can use skills you have already developed.
It’s not necessary to be part of an organization for a long time before you have something to contribute. In fact, the most effective board or committee is often a mix of people with years of experience combined with others who are relative newcomers but may have fresh ideas and are able to provide a different viewpoint.
Right here in Durham Region, again pre-COVID, there were many volunteer opportunities including assisting patients in cardiac rehab programs, allocating government funding for anti-homelessness initiatives, helping at food banks and washing dishes at meal programs. I know this because I’ve done all of them in the last few years.
My purpose in recounting my own volunteering experience is to stress the great variety of opportunities available. It’s seldom a good idea to make a commitment to any organization in which you have no interest. In my case, both as a volunteer and then as an employee, it’s clear my priorities were often with poor and marginalized people.
All charities strive to match the right person with the right job. Food banks receive much of their food from industry so it’s not uncommon to see a giant jar of peanut butter or ketchup arrive.
It’s too big to give to an individual family so food banks divide up the contents into smaller containers. This is harder to do nowadays with tighter health regulations – even before COVID.
At that time, in the Etobicoke food bank 16 Years ago, we had a volunteer in his ‘80s named George who enjoyed dividing the contents of a jar of peanut butter into smaller quantities. It’s a sticky and messy job so we were all happy to have him do it.
One week, George didn’t show up so I was asked to handle the job – which I started to do. George then arrived and saw what I was doing. I sensed his somewhat protective feeling so I totally deferred to him, saying I was happy to follow any of his suggestions, thinking we’d work together. George looked at me and said: “I know one thing…..it’s a one man job”
I laughed and said he was undoubtedly the right man and left him, happy, with his peanut butter.
To me, this was a perfect example of matching the right person to the right job. No organization would want too many people who were as inflexible as George but in this situation it made perfect sense.
I believe these personal anecdotes show that volunteering can be both satisfying and enjoyable.
Right now, some of you – especially committee chairs – may be asking yourself “What’s he doing?”
“We have trouble enough recruiting volunteers and here’s Julien extolling the virtues of volunteering outside UUCD”. Rest assured, that is not my intention.
Many of you are already very involved volunteering your time and talents for UUCD and I’m certainly not going to suggest you give it up and volunteer somewhere else. I am, however, encouraging you to make sure all your volunteer experiences – including those within UUCD – are as fulfilling as they can be.
One way is to set goals for yourself. What would you like to achieve while you’re serving on a particular board or committee? Are there any changes you would like to see? If you’re relatively new to UUCD, perhaps you can bring a different perspective.
When I became president of UUCD nine months ago, the board had five members – one woman and four men – with two vacancies. One of my eventual goals was to expand the board and achieve gender parity. By the end of May, two very experienced board members had retired and two new members had joined us. We still had a five-person board but with two women and three men. I am very pleased to announce that as of last week, we now have three women and three men when Lucy Sanford agreed to join the UUCD board.
I find it satisfying to be able to work towards an objective – even if it takes a while (not that long) to achieve.
This is not about gender parity for its own sake. I believe we have a very strong board to act on behalf of the congregation. Two of them are former board presidents themselves so I know their experience will be invaluable and they’ll keep me in line – should it be necessary.
You might ask yourself if you would prefer to serve on a different committee or play a different role within UUCD. Do you have some ideas for changing how your committee functions or new projects it might take on? UUCD by-laws list the duties of each committee but also state: “other duties as delegated by the board of directors”. This means any committee could approach the board with some fresh ideas.
There are few contributions anyone can bring to any organization more important than the introduction of ideas. I know from experience that continuing to do something only “because we’ve always done it that way” can be stifling to the organization and to the volunteers themselves.
It’s also true that volunteering isn’t for everyone. If you don’t have the time or you feel that volunteering is not something you want to do right now, you should not feel embarrassed and no one should ever put any pressure on you. As Unitarians, we respect the individual. That’s not exactly one of our principles but it’s still very true. (And it’s shorter than any of our principles). No one should feel or be made to feel they have a duty or an obligation to volunteer or become otherwise involved.
Volunteer burn out can be a problem for some people and not for others. Sometimes, taking a break for a while can be a good idea.
A number of us here today volunteer for other organizations in addition to UUCD. From personal experience, I know this can give you a broader perspective on life while also allowing you to use other skill sets. Being president of UUCD takes some of my time almost every day but I’m usually on my computer. It’s totally different from walking around a track with cardiac rehab patients as I do one afternoon a week – or did before COVID-19.
Volunteers have always been crucial to UUCD’s success and continue to play a major role in every aspect of our congregation’s life.
At the end of the day, a volunteer with any not-for-profit organization or charity needs to be able to answer three questions:
1. Am I making a difference in the lives of others?
2. Am I making a difference in my own life?
3. Am I enjoying myself?
If your answer to all three is “Yes”, you’re doing the right thing.
Many of you are doing the right thing – and we all thank you for it.
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