Healthy Communities YMCA Volunteers

3 things I’ve learned from our volunteers

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By Faiza Venzant, General Manager, Volunteer Development

Happy National Volunteer Week! Thank you to every volunteer who chooses to volunteer with our YMCA. Unbeknownst to them, volunteers have been some of my greatest teachers; not only have they lent a hand in building healthy communities, they have also showed me the potential of community and the transformative force of volunteering.

Here are three things I have learned from volunteers:

1. Volunteering is good for your health

I will never forget meeting Bijan. He had a heart attack in his 20s, and in our first conversation, he said to me, “The Y saved my life.” While recovering from his heart attack, he started working out at the Y. At first he was walking the track. That led to running the track and then an exercise class. It wasn’t long before he was a volunteer instructor for CycleFit. Bijan says that it wasn’t just having a place to work out that saved him, it was having caring YMCA volunteers and staff who welcomed him, encouraged him, and then challenged him to be his best self that gave him confidence in his healing, as well as a sense of purpose.

2. Volunteering creates a sense of belonging

In 1972, my parents — newlywed, 25 years old, and with a newborn in tow — immigrated to Canada from Uganda. It was the dozens of volunteers they met while facing a new climate in a new country that helped to make their transition to life in Canada a smooth one. They always tell me and my two older brothers that being invited to become volunteers in a completely new continent was key to making Canada their home. Years later, they had a full-circle moment and were able to welcome newcomer families to Toronto from Central Asia in their volunteer role of newcomer hosts.

3. Volunteering is win-win-win

Maria, one of the amazing Employment Centre volunteers, once told me how she spent three hours with a young woman named Sangeeta, who was preparing for her first job interview. They talked about what Sangeeta could do to calm her nerves, how to research the company and the role, and what to wear to the interview. A few weeks later, Sangeeta came back to tell Maria that she got the job — and that her employer was so impressed that he wanted to ask if Maria knew of any other youth who were looking for a job. Maria called her time with Sangeeta a “win-win-win,” and rightly so: it made her feel good about giving her time; it made a positive impact on Sangeeta’s life and earning potential; and it helped fill a need for an employer in her community.

Thousands of volunteers gift our YMCA with their time and talent each year. They partner with us to enhance our programming and services, to offer strategic guidance, and to remind us how vital it is to include our community in our work every single day. Visit our website to get involved or find out more.