Debb Ritchie accepts her Volunteer Impact Award at the ceremony last year. • PHOTO COURTESY VOLUNTEER ACTION CENTRE

Debb Ritchie accepts her Volunteer Impact Award at the ceremony last year. • PHOTO COURTESY VOLUNTEER ACTION CENTRE

2014 Volunteer Impact awards highlight the selfless

Justin Smirlies

The Kitchener-Waterloo Volunteer Action Centre went back to their roots on April 3 for their 30th anniversary and 9th annual Volunteer Impact Awards at the Victoria Park Pavilion in Kitchener.

It was around this time in 1984 when the Volunteer Action Centre set up in the basement of the pavilion to help organizations in the area with their volunteering programs.

Since then, the centre’s organizers have seen their involvement within the community grow considerably. They now support 170 organizations with their volunteering needs in the Kitchener-Waterloo area — almost double to what it was in 2002.

“Of course, the focus will be on the volunteers,” said Jane Hennig, the current executive director at the Volunteer Action Centre. “We’re always findings ways to connect with the community, something that piques their interest, raises their curiosity and makes of them more aware of who they are.”

At the gala on April 3, various volunteers in the area were recognized for their efforts as volunteers and volunteer managers. Some awards included the Award of Merit, which was given to longtime contributor and former executive director, Reva Cooper, and the Stellar Volunteer Award, which was given to the May Court Club of Kitchener-Waterloo.

“We are thrilled to be celebrating our 30th anniversary. I’m really proud of where this centre has been and where it’s going,” explained Hennig. “And volunteerism is something ingrained not only in my personal make up but also of our community. So I’m thrilled be part of that.”

Furthermore, according to Hennig, the centre has made milestones in the way they offer opportunities to volunteers in the K-W area, a model that is now being replicated in other communities in Canada. From an office that was once full of binders, Hennig said that they provide all their opportunities through databases online with the help of some faculty at the University of Waterloo.

In addition to their online reach, the centre has also been noted for being the first to bring volunteer fairs to communities and volunteer councils.

“I’m proud of the fact that Waterloo Region is such a strong community for volunteer involvement and also getting behind the coordination and support of volunteer resources from voluntary organization,” said Cooper, who was the executive director from 1984 to 1997. “I think technology has made volunteering a lot more accessible to people.”

But the centre doesn’t come without its own set of challenges, which increase as funding models change. While the three big municipalities of Waterloo Region and the United Way primarily support the centre, there is always the need for more resources.
However, these setbacks sometimes enable the organization to be more innovative with their approach to volunteering, said Hennig.

“If the challenge is more need for the services, that’s great. If we can help more people connected to community organizations, all the better,” explained Hennig. “The truth is that community charities are very innovative, creative and resilient.”

These challenges won’t stop the centre for doing what it does best. Hennig hopes that the centre will continue to thrive in the next 10, 15 or even 30 years — as long as there is a need of volunteering.

“In my opinion, volunteerism in this community is strong, vibrant and essential of the whole economic make up of the community,” she said.

“As the community changes, we change with it. So I don’t see us ever stagnating.”