April 16-22 is National Volunteer Week and this year’s theme is “Volunteering Weaves Us Together.” #NVW is all about celebrating our individual and collective actions in creating strong, interconnected, and vibrant communities.
Volunteers help grow their communities, enhance civic engagement, and generate positive and meaningful change in the social, political, and environmental arenas. One unique aspect of volunteering is how it holds specific meaning for each volunteer. Whether they are contributing to community well-being or supporting a meaningful social cause, volunteers strengthen the fabric of their community by sharing their time, talents, and energy to benefit others.
Ed has been volunteering at Choices for Youth’s (CFY) Outreach and Youth Engagement (OYE) since December 2022. Ed and his wife lived away from NL for 33 years, and when they returned to the island, he knew right away that he wanted to start volunteering locally.
“I need to get connected with the community, so I’m going to volunteer somewhere” were Ed’s first words upon their return to St. John’s. Ed learned about CFY through social media and eventually landed in the OYE kitchen assisting Chef Lois. Ed is now the kitchen’s regular Monday volunteer, helping prepare nutritious meals for youth. Ed’s strong sense of community has driven him to volunteer his time, energy, and experience for 40 years.
“As an individual, to have some purpose, to be engaged with the community, but also the community is engaged with you. It’s a give-and-take. What we do is what we become. That really fulfills why I volunteer.” Ed explained.
Like many non-profit organizations, volunteers are essential to Choices for Youth (CFY). Without the contributions of volunteers, we would not be able to operate our programs and services or run our fundraisers and events as effectively. CFY volunteers have the opportunity to develop trust and friendships with young people and enhance their mutual connection to the community. It is safe to say that the contributions of CFY volunteers help weave our community together.
Ocean-Dawn has been volunteering with CFY since 2016. As a former in CFY’s programming, Ocean-Dawn understands the value of volunteering and now supports CFY’s programs and events through her volunteer efforts. Ocean-Dawn’s volunteering has not only had a positive impact on CFY; it has also helped her personally.
“A lot of it had to do with my mental health. I found volunteering really helped me. And I just love helping people.” Ocean-Dawn explained. One of the amazing things about volunteering is that it is often a win-win for the volunteers and the organizations and individuals they are supporting. While organizations and individuals benefit from their contributions, the volunteers gain a sense of fulfillment that can only come from knowing they are making a difference in their community.
“We can make a huge difference when the community comes together,” Ocean-Dawn explained. “There is so much purpose in helping people. You can’t pour from an empty cup, and my cup is overflowing. I’ve been supported here since 2016, and to be able to get that support and now give it back is a really huge deal for me. I love helping people.”
Throughout the year, volunteers in the community come to support CFY and its efforts to build programs and resources through funding initiatives. Many CFY events and initiatives, such as Coldest Night of the Year or OYE’s daily drop-in and meal services are successful because of the volunteers who dedicate their time and energy. OYE Chef Lois sees the impact that volunteers have on CFY services firsthand every day.
“It’s quite invaluable. On any given day, if I know I have volunteers coming in, I can cook something more substantial. The meal can be more involved than if I am in the kitchen by myself,” Lois explained. Contributions from volunteers like Ed and Ocean-Dawn actively improve OYE’s capabilities, allowing them to offer a better meal to youth on the day that they volunteer in the kitchen.
Volunteering has even more implicit benefits that might not be obvious on the surface. There are great opportunities for personal growth and development through volunteering, and volunteers often learn as much about themselves as people as they do about the organizations they are supporting. This element of personal growth is one of the things that keeps drawing Ed to volunteer.
“Quite often in our day-to-day, we can be down a certain path. Volunteering lets you find your strength in something else and learn about your other passions. In the kitchen, I get to support. I think a person can volunteer because they can test where their other passions lay.”
And all that is to say nothing of the human element of volunteering and how volunteering weaves people together, forging friendships and reinforcing a sense of community amongst volunteers and the individuals and organizations that they support. Volunteering offers value to CFY’s programs, but also to CFY’s people.
“It’s a great experience meeting people. I’ve become friends with my volunteers,” Chef Lois explains. Working with volunteers allows her to learn about others.
Momma Moment is another CFY program that relies on the support of a dedicated group of volunteers. Cheryl Edmunds, Outreach Support Worker with Momma Moments, shared just how valuable volunteers are to their programming.
“Volunteering is very crucial to Momma Moments,” Cheryl explained. “We run four groups a week, two here in St. John’s, one in CBS, and one in Paradise. We offer meals every week, so we need volunteers to help cook. Volunteers also support the child-minding services offered during our groups.” The child-minding services are of great value to the Momma Moments program participants – it gives them a two-hour break while their children are in a separate area playing and doing activities supervised by the volunteers. The moms use this break to chat, engage in peer-to-peer support, and enjoy a hearty, home-cooked meal.
“Without these volunteers, those moments don’t happen,” Cheryl explained. The dedication of Momma Moments’ volunteers is an inspiration to Cheryl.
“To see the commitment that these women have, coming here every week, some for years, to support these children and these families and our programming, it really touches my heart.”
Andrea has been volunteering with Momma Moments for more than six years. She takes great personal satisfaction from supporting her fellow mothers.
“As a mother, it is a way for me to support other mothers in the most important role of their lives and to give back to the community. I love children, and as my own children grow it’s an opportunity to spend time with sweet little ones while helping someone else at the same time, even if it’s just for a short period of time.”
The work that Momma Moments is doing also resonates with Kathy, who volunteers in the kitchen cooking meals for Momma Moments every Thursday.
“I volunteer to keep active and make a difference in my community. Helping out at Momma Moments makes me happy because this innovative program provides wonderful support to young mothers and their children.”
Many Momma Moments volunteers find the opportunity to connect with the mothers and children in the program to be tremendously rewarding. Janelle originally volunteered with Momma Moments while attending school, and she continued to lend her time and support to the program whenever possible.
“Volunteering for me is a way that I can pay back my appreciation for what my community resources have done for me. I have been a volunteer with multiple programs, but I have been with Choices for Youth, specifically the Momma Moments Program since 2015. The thing that keeps me coming back, is the positive community that has been created between the moms and staff of the Momma Moments Program. I am continually inspired by the resilience of the moms – and kiddos – and being able to provide my time to make a small difference in their lives brings me joy. At the end of the day, it is an amazing community to be a part of – a group of positive, uplifting, welcoming, and supportive women.”
Thank you to all the committed volunteers in our community for making a difference in the lives of young people and for bringing your empathy, compassion, and dedication to CFY. Our work would not be possible without your support.
Written by Chris Morris