The benefits of volunteering

Laurier and Kitchener-Waterloo
communities discuss the impact of giving up free time to those in need

Graphic by Lena Yang
Graphic by Lena Yang

Giving up your time for free is not a new idea. Volunteering has made the key difference in countless organizations.
Wilfrid Laurier University’s student population already sees an immense amount of volunteer involvement on campus, however the impact students have on the community around us is often overlooked.
Community members in the Kitchener-Waterloo area have access to a variety of organizations that they can get involved with.

Ray of Hope

One such example is Ray of Hope. An organization that has been providing care for those struggling with crime, addiction or homelessness.
Ray of Hope offers hot meals to hungry people everyday of the year. With an average of 250 people showing up for meals every day and a yearly volunteer count of around 2500, volunteering makes a huge impact.
“It helps them to look at the lives of people who they may not even notice and may not even know are in their same community and realize that the things that we take for granted, in our day to day life, a lot of people don’t necessarily have those things,” said Ken Wideman, manager of volunteer services at Ray of Hope.
Applying to be a volunteer consists of an online application, after which you are contacted for a follow up. Commitments from volunteers start from a minimum of completing 40 hours and would amount to about three to three and half hours per week.

The Alzheimer’s Society Waterloo Wellington

Another prominent organization in the K-W area is the Alzheimer’s Society.
There are currently 11,000 people living with Alzheimer’s in Waterloo Region, and The Alzheimer’s Society Waterloo Wellington provides a variety of services to help cope with this illness.
The society focuses on accommodating the needs of volunteers and the needs of those who benefit from their services, whether you are looking to get involved on an ongoing basis or just for a one-time event.
One of the main volunteer programs offered by the Alzheimer’s society is the visiting companions program.
With a time commitment of two hours per week for a minimum of six months, this falls more towards the intensive side of the involvement scale.
However volunteers find this work to be especially rewarding.
According to Barbara Eastman-Lewin, volunteer coordinator at the Alzheimer’s Society Waterloo Wellington, students make up roughly 60 per cent of the volunteer roster in the area.
Having lost her own father to Alzheimer’s, she feels a personal connection to the cause.
“It’s a very personal experience for me, having gone through the journey. I know so much about what a difference a volunteer can make, not only to the person with Alzheimer’s, but their family as well. We as an organization could not do what we do without the support of our volunteers,” said Eastman-Lewin.

Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union

At the heart of Laurier’s connection with the community is the Students’ Union. Students on the Laurier campus have access to a variety of opportunities and resources that allow for them to make a difference in the K-W community.
“I think the importance of volunteering in the local community is that it gets you out of the Laurier bubble,” said Students’ Union president and CEO Olivia Matthews. “Getting outside of a campus realm is very important to understanding what a community needs, because you’re soon not just going to be a part of a campus community.”
There are many clubs on campus that work directly with organizations in the K-W community.
Laurier University Charity Kouncil, for example, chooses three charities from within the community every year to work with.

Volunteering as activism

Laurier’s learning environment also plays a huge role in encouraging activism.
“While we are here to get our degrees, there’s a lot of experiential learning that we are offered outside of the classroom. There’s a lot that students learn, a lot of skills that make them good members of society afterwards that they get from participating in things outside of their traditional classroom sense,” said Kaipa Bharucha, vice-president of programming and services.
Matthews spoke about an event she attended in May called the Laurier Society Celebration.
“One of the alumni that was getting honoured graduated in the ‘60s. One of the things he brought up in his speech to the community and all these donors was, ‘the reason that I’ve been so successful in my life is that I learned charity early, through Shinerama,’ ” Matthews shared.
There is no shortage of opportunities to get involved in off-campus in the Kitchener-Waterloo community — it’s just a matter of finding what fits.

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