Volunteering: What it Can (Has, and Does) Do For You

June 6, 2011

This summer, I’m looking forward to a lot of concerts – the Vancouver Folk Festival, Live at Squamish, and Ben Harper, along with Said the Whale, Hey Ocean!, Hannah Georgas, Neko Case, Mother Mother, The Be Good Tanyas, Dan Mangan, and Daniel Wesley, who will all be featured acts at Summer Live, a three-day celebration of 125 years since the city was incorporated put on by the City of Vancouver.

While Summer Live is an admission-free event, and I bought my ticket to Ben Harper, I’ll be volunteering at both the Vancouver Folk Festival and Live at Squamish – which is also what I did last summer. This will be my fourth year at Folk Fest, and it’s the highlight of my year (though this year it may have some pretty stiff competition from my road trip down to Los Angeles for the Animal Rights National Conference that I’ll be leaving for the Monday after the ‘Fest).

There are a lot of reasons and factors that contribute to how amazing the Folk Festival is in both my mind and my soul, and volunteering makes it extra-special. The music, the commradery of attendees and between the bands who perform alongside one another, the beauty of Jericho Park and the beach just outside the fences, and the ideas that are floated, not the least of which is that a better world is possible. Then on the inside track that volunteering gives you access to are the delicious, hot food that’s provided (with vegan options! and a lot of the musicians eat with the regular folk all weekend, too), space near the side of the main stage to watch the headliners from, and a wrap party that the two years I’ve gone to has gone on waaaaay past 2am and leaves your legs pretty upset with you the next couple of days from all the dancing.


Luluc at the Vancouver Folk Festival last summer


If you happen to be so lucky as I know I am, volunteering might just give you the opportunity to meet someone famous. For me, that was Michael Franti the first year I volunteered (who was also the reason I volunteered). I got the chance to talk to him when he was in the fenced off backstage area within the larger backstage area that is the volunteers’ space, and gave him some Pumpkin Oatmeal Raisin Cookies I’d made for him. Now that was the highlight of my summer, for sure. And I was in awe – he really had a quality about him that I can only describe as majesty, and I felt like he really knew a lot about this world, and was probably harbouring an old soul.

So far I’ve mostly talked about what I’ve gotten out of volunteering that’s easily measurable, but there’s so much more to it. I’ve also been fortunate enough in the past to participate in what was then a 9-month stint in Katimavik, and I learned an unending list of things about the world, myself, and communicating and living with people. It’s an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything else in the world, and it involved a lot of hours of volunteering. 40 per week, plus occational extras, to be exact. And some of it definitely felt back breaking, and a few days even involved bruises that had me almost worried for my internal organs (those days involved going into a logging site, selecting suitable logs, and hauling them out by hand to a waiting truck to be transported back to our work sponsor’s backyard, where we then spent something like a week peeling the bark off of them to ready them for their next incarnation as a foot bridge on one of the trails we were maintaining as part of our volunteering in Port Alberni, BC).

Katimavik is an amazing, coast-to-coast example of just what volunteering does not only for yourself, but also for those you volunteer for. A 2002 study about the program determined that the net impact to benefit the Canadian economy through the program (taking into account factors such as a participant’s increased employability at the conclusion of the program as a result of skills learned therein) is $8,812 per participant. That’s dang impressive, especially when you consider that approximately 1,000 youth aged 17-21 participate in the program every year.

What I wanted to point out here is that, even though probably a majority of Canadians have never heard of Katimavik (basing this solely on my own story preface of, ‘Have you heard of Katimavik?’ and the percentage of people who have vs. who haven’t heard of the program), you’ve probably benefitted either directly or indirectly in some way because of it.

Katimavictims as we like to call ourselves (Will Ferguson also wrote a memoir of his time spent in Katimavik in its 80s hey-day, called I Was A Teenage Katimavictim, which only spurred us on in my group) hold such positions as my own trail building, data entry, and high school library assistance, as well as in food banks, at Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Habitat for Humanity, in daycares, at museums, and all sorts of non-profits you may never have heard of, thought of, or realized were non-profit.

So there’s just a little taste of what volunteering can do for you, along with what it might be doing for you right now – whether you’re aware or oblivious of it. I highly recommend volunteering. I don’t even realize I’m doing it half the time, or at least it doesn’t really feel like it when I’m at my current recurring gig Co-Hosting the Animal Voices Radio Show in Vancovuer every week. That’s an opportunity I’ve wanted since I was 10 years old, and am now seeing come to fruition. It’s also something that wouldn’t be possible if I wasn’t willing and ready to volunteer when opportunities come my way.

I’d like to invite you to try volunteering today, be it as a means to get in to a concert, or scrubbing cages and floors at an animal shelter. You’ll be a better and happier version of yourself if you do.


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