Volunteers know their efforts make the world a better place


(En anglais seulement)

In The War Room, the 1993 documentary about Bill Clinton's first campaign for the presidency, Democratic strategist James Carville thanks volunteer workers for their efforts: "The greatest gift you can give, other than your love, is your labour freely given."

It's a long time since I saw the movie and that's probably a paraphrase. But the essence of it is a message that resonates:

The most generous and caring people are those who work with no expectation of any reward beyond the satisfaction of knowing their efforts make their communities, their country and the world better places.

It's Volunteer Week in Canada. Suggested slogan: "Those who can, do. Those who can do more, volunteer."

Latest data from a continuing Statistics Canada study of charitable giving and volunteerism indicate 12.5 million of us - 46 per cent of the over-15 population - are volunteers. Our annual efforts amount to 2.1 billion hours of work every year, an average of 166 hours per volunteer.

Some other findings:

  • Although just under half of Canadians volunteer, a small minority of volunteers account for most of hours. The top 10 per cent contribute 52 per cent of total hours.
  • Saskatchewan has the highest rate of volunteerism: 59 per cent of its 15-plus population. Quebec is the lowest: 37 per cent. No other province or territory has a rate below 40.
  • The top 25 per cent of volunteers - who average 171 hours or more - were widely distributed throughout the population. But Canadians who attend religious services on a weekly basis, those who have university degrees and parents with school-age children are much more likely to be top volunteers.
  • Religious organizations received the largest percentage of volunteer hours, 18 per cent, followed by sports and recreation, 17 per cent; social services, 16 per cent, and education and research organizations, 11 per cent.
  • The most frequent types of volunteer activities are organizing or supervising events, fundraising, sitting on committees or boards and teaching, educating or mentoring.

And then there's paperwork.

Each year, the Montreal Children's Hospital benefits from almost 24,000 hours of work by its 460 volunteers. Anna Nack is one of them.

Twice a week for the last four years, on Tuesday and Wednesday, she drives to the Children's from her home in St. Bruno. Nack does clerical work in the adolescent clinic and helps disseminate information, publications and brochures from the hospital's public relations and communications department.

She is 84 years old.

"I like to be busy," Nack says. "There has to be some purpose in my life.

"Just to hang around and read or something, that's nice, too, but I have the time and inclination to do something more."

This recalls the old joke about the plan to put a clock in the leaning tower of Pisa, because what good is the inclination if you don't have the time? The StatsCan survey reports both volunteers and non-volunteers cite time as the factor that prevents more of us from volunteering.

Unsurprisingly, seniors contribute a disproportionate number of hours to volunteer work. And Nack is a special senior.

She grew up near Frankfurt and emigrated to Canada with her husband in 1952. Nack did office work at Prudential, Siemens and, for 20 years until her retirement in 1988, Pratt & Whitney.

After a year of being bored, Nack went back to school. She studied literature and social sciences at CEGEP Marie-Victorin and got a Concordia B.A. in 2004.

Nack, childless and a widow for 13 years, still lives in the St. Bruno house she and her husband bought in 1958. She's adjusted her schedule at the Children's to make the commute easier for an octogenarian driver dealing with expressways and bridges.

"I told them at the beginning I would not be there at 9 o'clock," she said. She leaves home at 9, arrives just before 10 and punches out between 3 and 3:30 p.m.

"I had more responsibility during my working career," Nack says. "I try to do a good job now, but when I leave the hospital it's nice not to worry about things like deadlines."

By mboone [at] thegazette [dot] canwest [dot] com (MIKE BOONE), The GazetteApril 19, 2010
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