Economic downturn sparks volunteer upturn

Albertans are eager to get back to contributing to their communities after massive job losses province-wide, recent volunteer statistics suggest.

Cynthia Roberts, a volunteer coordinator for the Calgary Drop-In Centre, said Calgary organizations saw a seven per cent increase in volunteer applications from October to January.

While most volunteer-driven organizations say they have seen a general upswing in numbers, the Calgary Drop-In Centre’s numbers have been steady.

“We’ve seen less of an increase and more of a differentiation,” said Roberts, who has been working with the centre for 10 years.

“We see more business-type people during the day as opposed to at night, like after they’d get off work.”

Approximately 200,000 people in Calgary volunteer their time each year in some capacity, and over 220,000 applications are reviewed annually, Roberts said.

“In October we had already begun to see an increase in applications,” said Gerry Neumen, a volunteer coordinator with Inn From the Cold, which helps shelter the homeless.

“Now, we almost have more applications and requests than we need.”

Tori Johnsen, a former communications representative for Cenovus, was laid off from his job in mid-October.

“It’s been really difficult for me to go from a nine-to-five job to all of sudden not having to set an alarm in the morning,” he said.

“I’m thankful that I own my home and have a sufficient amount of savings to support myself until another job opportunity comes along.”

Johnsen is now looking for a part-time volunteer opening.

“I’ve never done much volunteering, so I’m really just trying to find a good fit in a short-term position.”

However, not all volunteers are making use of their time just between jobs.

For Cathy Philipow, a Calgarian who recently applied to be an Alberta Health Services volunteer, volunteering is a way to “get out and make a difference.”

Philipow, a stay-at-home mom, didn’t lose her job due to the economic downturn, but said she has recently felt like she is isolated and needed to be at home less.

“My role has changed significantly now that my daughter is independent,” she said.

“I needed to find something just for me.”

Philipow, who volunteered for the flood relief initiative in 2013, said it was “incredible because you saw immediate results and gratitude.”

“I thought about going back to work, but I’m lucky enough to live in a home where I don’t need to work,” she said.

“I would feel guilty taking a good job away from someone who really needs the income.”

Philipow, who worked as a nurse’s aide for more than 20 years, said she chose to work in a hospital environment because she feels “at home” there.

She loves fast-paced environments in departments such as cardiology, surgery, respiratory therapy and emergency, she said.

The Calgary Drop-In Centre requires over 150 volunteers daily in different departments, whereas the Calgary Food Bank reports that it needs 130 volunteers daily to keep the operation running smoothly.

“The food banks in Calgary and Edmonton are two places that I’ve been considering,” Johnsen said.

“I used to live in Edmonton, so I know the city well and wouldn’t be opposed to moving back there.”

Johnsen hopes that if he decides to relocate to Edmonton, he will have better luck finding job openings, he said.

I just want to get out and make a difference. – Cathy Philipow

While Edmonton hasn’t seen as much of an increase as Calgary, the smaller population still has seen a significant rise in volunteer applications over a short period of time.

Roughly 140,000 Edmontonians volunteer in the city through the year, and from October to January, Edmonton saw a five per cent increase, Roberts said.

Alberta Health Services, the Calgary Food Bank and the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre say they are constantly accepting new volunteers.

About Elizabeth Harvie 3 Articles
As a writing and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Elizabeth Harvie worked as a reporter for The Press during the 2015-16 academic year.