Volunteer burnout feared

Terrace council should be cautious when making Co-op plans that rely on volunteers.

What Terrace council should do with the Co-op property once the clean-up is complete has been discussed since the monster Hitachi machine moved in to demolish the building. Discussion heated up as nominations for civic elections closed.

Suggestions for future use have ranged from dividing the large lot into smaller parcels for sale to small businesses, to setting aside much of it for free recreational use perhaps as a water park or ice rink.

All suggestions have merit, some more than  others, depending upon a taxpayer’s age, viewpoint and priorities. What concerns me with some ideas is an apparent over reliance on volunteer labour.

Unless prospective volunteers have been canvassed one by one and freely expressed their willing commitment to the proposal being considered, it would be presumptuous, even folly, to put forward a plan for council’s vote  based on the uncertain prospect of sufficient unpaid help when the time comes to wield hoes and rakes.

My doubts would evaporate if plans were approached the way a city in the news recently did building a neighbourhood children’s playground. Neighbours decided a central playground for their families would be ideal, and set about planning where it would go, and how they would fund it. They let their kids select the playground equipment they wanted to have, painted in the kids’ choice of colours.

Everyone was committed from the start and hung in until the project was done.

Any plan should have at its heart a sensible budget for the labour costs likely to be incurred and the reasoned likelihood of qualified labour being available when the time comes to hire staff. Volunteers should not be factored in equivalent to paid staff. Volunteers are icing, not cake.

Why, you may ask, does relying on volunteer help concern me? I have never volunteered for anything in my life. I don’t now and  never have belonged to any service group, church, sport, or seniors affiliation where I might be encouraged or expected to volunteer. And as a Thornhill resident, my tax dollars are not involved in the disposition of this chunk of real estate.

So what’s it to me? I worry about volunteer burnout.

Volunteers draw no salaries or benefits; letting them be idle for a day or two costs nothing. There is no need to line up duties to keep them busy full tilt to maximize an employer’s profit.

Over the years Terrace has enjoyed the  benefits of many volunteers who have generously contributed long, regular hours to beautify and add optional services to the city. Serving in several capacities at the same time is commonplace for a lot of these stalwarts.

Thanks to volunteers we have the attractive Millennium Trail and the reclaimed Lakelse/Emerson corner.  Meals on Wheels feeds shut-ins. The hospital auxiliary buys expensive state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment. Volunteers pulled off a successful Hockeyville; Kraft donated precious dollars to the new arena. And the list goes on.

From time to time I read reports of volunteers being in short supply  (not necessarily in Terrace, I hasten to add) due mainly to changing demographics — population aging, fewer young people staying in the community, more couples working to pay household bills having less spare time to support community projects.

Fortunately, to work on an outdoor project such as landscaping, new volunteers do not need to undergo background checks. They need only be willing, a team player, follow orders from whoever is in charge, and bring their own tools.

Much as I miss the Co-op, I welcome the brighter atmosphere and hope council’s future plans  won’t be too lofty.