Brooke Venasse

Volunteers hard to come by in Terrace

Community groups say they are suffering from a decline in volunteerism in Terrace, B.C.

Terrace Youth Soccer Association director Blaine Kluss is being honest when he says the association has to “beg” for volunteers every year to help run its programs.

His comments were made in the wake of a recently released City of Terrace parks and recreation draft report that mentioned declining volunteerism as a community trend, and painted a picture of the sometimes difficult reality of getting people to lend a hand.

A decline in volunteerism isn’t just affecting sports and recreation either; many organizations in Terrace are expressing similar challenges.

Most groups said these days the best way to increase the number of people volunteering was by building relationships and directly asking for help when it is needed.

Kluss said that actively asking for help from volunteers was necessary every year in order to make the soccer association’s season a success.

He said the association sends out mass calls for volunteers near the start of the season and then filters down and starts asking people directly to fill positions when they are having trouble getting the right number of people. “You have more success asking them one-on-one,” Kluss said.

The soccer program has more than 700 youth enrolled, with coaches, assistant coaches, referees and association board of directors all being composed of volunteers.

Where the association generally falls short is getting head coaches for the teams, according to Kluss.

“If you get to the start of the season and you’re 10 coaches short… that’s 10 teams of kids that will be delayed or may not start,” he said. “We hear the same story from the vast majority of people who decline or will not come back. [They say] that it’s too much commitment, too much commitment, too much commitment.”

Tracey Davidson, acting executive director and community engagement coordinator for Volunteer Terrace, said there were many important events and programs in the community that wouldn’t happen without volunteers, including the seniors programs her organization handles.

But it’s not so easy to find the right person for the right volunteer job, she said.

“Now that our economy is getting better people are working more, they’re not looking for a volunteering opportunity, or they’re looking for a different type of volunteering,” Davidson said.

“What I see is that everybody’s working. So the availability of that day-time volunteer is not around anymore. That’s what makes it difficult for some of our seniors’ programs, because a lot of our seniors’ programs want volunteers during the day. The people who are available during the day are seniors, who are now rapidly becoming the people that need help. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword,” Davidson said.

Kelsey Wiebe, curator at the Heritage Park Museum, also said volunteerism tended to be generational and added that older adults were often more willing and available to volunteer.

However, Wiebe said that last year the museum recorded a rough total of 2,350 volunteer hours for special events and projects, and many of the volunteers that helped out were young people.

She said that asking a person directly to volunteer for an event or a project was usually the best way to get them involved because that way they felt like their contribution was more meaningful and appreciated.

“We have tons of high school students. If I go in to their classes and talk to them about it or talk to their teachers directly, then we can recruit them,” Wiebe said. “One thing that is tough is ongoing volunteerism. You do have to kind of cater to them and make them feel like they’ve contributed, like with thank-you cards or with photos on Facebook or a thank-you on there.”

While Wiebe said that she thought volunteerism as a whole in the community was probably declining, the museum manages to attract dedicated volunteers because people still ultimately want to contribute to their community, they just need to first form a relationship with that organization in order to really want to help.

“Volunteers need to feel valued and they need to feel like they’re contributing something. You need to make sure you’re clearly communicating that. And when we have volunteer declines I often think it’s that we’re not managing the volunteers properly,” Wiebe said.

According to a 2010 survey on volunteering from Statistics Canada, almost half the country volunteered in some form that year. However, while that might suggest an upward trend, the report also said the number of hours dedicated to volunteer work has been steadily levelling off.

Donna Slavik, who in 2014 founded Kimmunity Angels Society, a non-profit here dedicated to providing money and support to disadvantaged people requiring medical assistance, said that after a few years people are becoming more aware of her organization and are now offering more support.

She said, however, that her goal was to get more volunteers between the ages of 20 and 30.

Slavik said that asking for help directly, rather than firing off a mass email or making a general call out, was going to be her key to success.

“I’m actually actively pursuing a few people right now within that demographic,” Slavik said. “I’m actually walking right up to them and asking, ‘Hey, this is what we’re doing. I could use your knowledge and information, or whatever you can provide.’”

Slavik went on: “Just because you’re a non-profit don’t assume that people know you need volunteers – you have to actually actively ask them, ‘Hey, I need this, can you come and help?’ That was sort of a real eye opener for me… make the effort to go out there and actually ask people.”

In the soccer association, while there are still many people who diligently volunteer every year, Kluss said one of the issues is that demand for volunteers has increased in general for a whole host of things.

“When I was growing up – in this same town, by the way – there weren’t as many kids playing soccer… now it seems like there’s 20 other activities out there as well and they all require some volunteers.”

Kluss said he believes that society’s decline in volunteerism was a sign of the times, and that nowadays a decent level of responsibility from people simply isn’t there.

However, Kluss said he was thankful for the many volunteers the association does have, especially the school-aged volunteers, some of whom are actually coaching teams this year.

He praised a program at Caledonia Senior Secondary School where youth can get course credit for volunteering.

“We get quite a few young people coming. There’s probably about at least a dozen of them right now coaching teams for us,” Kluss said of the program.

“If we didn’t have them, we’d be in deep, deep trouble.”