Volunteers are integral – John Rafferty MP

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John Rafferty MP
John Rafferty MP

THUNDER BAY – Politics – Volunteers are an integral part of any community and since last week was National Volunteer Week in Canada I would like to dedicate this column to everyone who spends or has spent a bit of their time, however small, assisting family, friends, neighbours, and/or local organizations without seeking anything in return.

Volunteers make a huge difference

National Volunteer Week originated in 1943 and was originally conceived to celebrate the contributions of women who gave their time and energy to help out on the home front during WWII. Post-war, National Volunteer Week was all but forgotten until a revival in the late 1960s when not-for-profit organizations in particular began to recognize and appreciate the work that ordinary volunteers undertake on a daily basis.

Volunteer Canada (www.volunteer.ca) has spent the last thirty-five years promoting volunteerism and provides various tools, campaign and resource material to encourage citizen engagement in communities throughout the country.  I agree with Volunteer Canada and believe that the recognition of volunteers need not be an annual occurrence; we should always tip our hats and offer a kind ‘thank you’ whenever we can as volunteers contribute a valuable – and free – public service.

The three key words of this year’s National Volunteer Week were: Passion, Action, and Impact.   This makes a lot of sense as volunteers often have a passion for the work they undertake, they take action by supporting the organizations that matter to them, and they almost always have a lasting and positive impact in our community.  

Concerned and involved citizens are an important part of any strong community, and volunteerism is a simple way in which everyone can make a contribution to our collective well-being.  Throughout history, volunteers have brought about social and political change through the championing of important issues, the circulation of petitions, and the organizing of rallies and other public awareness campaigns.. Volunteers are also responsible for keeping many of the programs enjoyed by children running year round.   Heck, they even fight fires for us in small and rural communities. 

What separates a volunteer from an employee, and a placement from a job is that the relationship is based on faith, good will, and compassion instead of financial gain.  We may love our jobs and be able to pay the bills because of our work, but to take the time to volunteer is a truly unselfish act.  That being said, anyone who has volunteered before can you tell you that it is also often a morally and/or professionally rewarding experience. 

Volunteering gives us an opportunity to meet new friends, and can be a great way to get to know our longtime friends and neighbours even better.  While it is almost never the sole reason that someone volunteers, it remains true that most volunteers also learn a great deal about themselves and the world we live in while sharpening their professional skills and gaining experience that will be of assistance in their private lives. This is particularly true for younger volunteers of which there are many.  As if these weren’t good enough reasons to consider volunteering in our community you should know that the simple of giving your time and energy in this way is also known to alleviate depression, increase self-confidence, and can have other positive effects on one’s health and on those around you.

So National Volunteer Week is a time for which we can express our appreciation to those who have dedicated some or all of their personal time to the betterment and assistance of others and our community. I hope you will join me in giving thanks to any volunteers that you may come into contact with, and consider joining the 13 million plus Canadians that take the time to volunteer in communities just like ours.  I can assure you that you will find it to be a rewarding experience.

John Rafferty MP

Thunder Bay Rainy River

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John Rafferty is the current Member of Parliament for Thunder Bay – Rainy River and a member of the New Democratic Party caucus in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Ontario. John was first elected to serve as MP in the 2008 federal election and was subsequently re-elected on May 2, 2011 with 48.1% of the vote.