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Volunteerism: The Glue Binding Communities

Notes for remarks by Hon. David Kilgour, M.P., Secretary of State (Latin America & Africa)
Vitalize ’99, The Many Faces of Volunteerism
The Wild Rose Foundation, Shaw Conference Centre
Edmonton, June 12, 1999

Volunteerism is probably one of the glues that hold communities, regions and nations together. Without volunteers, a government’s reaction to problems and issues often falls short of the timely and sensitive response required. Volunteers are closest to the community. That is why we in government rely so heavily on the volunteer community, and why we should support so strongly its activities.

The level of volunteerism in our province is particularly strong. At a dinner I attended at the home of an ambassador in Ottawa soon after the Calgary Olympic Games in 1988, two European ambassadors expressed astonishment at the nature and extent of the community spirit each had witnessed at the Games. One said he had been chauffeured by a volunteer who had devoted a two-week vacation to help out. A computer-expert volunteer said he had donated his two weeks because: "Calgary has been good to me." Both diplomats said no country in Europe hosting the Games could muster anything like the same level of resident commitment. There was later a general toast to the Calgary Games, and the host ambassador called upon Western Canadians to relocate to Europe.

In short, it is a pleasure to participate in this event and bring greetings from the federal government to the Alberta volunteer sector. I also pay tribute to the Wild Rose Foundation, as sponsors of this event, and as a shining example of the partnership between the volunteer sector and our provincial government.

The Wild Rose Foundation provides services so that local and regional volunteer programs can be assured of the training, management and administration needed to make these programs effective.

Governments should be catalysts to the volunteer sector, but it is essential that volunteers be able to claim ownership for the projects to which they devote their time and energy. You – the volunteers – are our richest resource. It is essential that governments at any level play a supportive role without stifling initiative.

How can government enhance the spirit of people and help to bring out the best in them when a community is hit with disaster? Or when it comes to a regional project with a local pulse that requires constant, timely and focused attention? Government can be an information resource, and in some cases a source of matching funding, but it can never replace the "human touch" and community spirit of dedicated volunteers.

Volunteers give freely to their communities, but they also receive. They gain focus, a sense of purpose, camaraderie, and a sense of accomplishment. Volunteers may themselves have dire needs some day – interests that may be served by those they helped previously. What goes around comes around.

Volunteerism is often a springboard to personal and community development. Volunteering can provide experience and contacts ultimately leading to paid employment. This is particularly true in the case of youth, so governments have focussed on this segment.

With new technology and the advent of the information highway, we have access to new tools for disseminating information, sharing ideas and gaining new recruits. Industry Canada is exploring new ways to use this access for the benefit of Canadian volunteers and the organizations to which they contribute so much time. Recently, I heard about young people working with seniors to create digital records of our history. This is an excellent example of how volunteerism can be inclusive of all segments of society, bringing the community together.

As we approach the year 2000 and a new beginning, it is exciting to think of the possibilities the new millennium holds for volunteerism. Federal support for next year’s millennium celebrations is much more modest than the $1 billion spent celebrating Canada’s centennial in 1967 – which some of you may remember. In today’s climate of fiscal responsibility, that kind of extravagance would not be tolerated. Still, the federal government is making $145 million available over three years, largely to volunteer groups, for projects celebrating the millennium. Hopefully these projects are being sufficiently screened so that only the truly deserving are accepted. Still, I believe there are many Edmonton and Alberta volunteer groups with worthwhile ideas, and I encourage you to take advantage of this initiative.

Our commitment to the promotion of volunteerism is stronger than ever. We in government realize the value of volunteerism as a partnership between individuals, communities, regions, business and government. We have only just begun to tap our real strength as a people and a nation.

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