Volunteer Ottawa: The Gift of Your Time

VO staff members, (left to right), Nik Mechanda, Glenda Marroquin, Vasilinka Tsar, Paula Coons, Ulyana Zanevych, Shelley Ann Morris, and Mark Hughes.

by Tammy Culhane

Go to any fundraiser or event in Ottawa and ask who’s in charge.  Ask somebody from a local non-profit organization about the people at the heart of the group. Then ask the senior down the street who helped him or her get the weekly groceries.  The answers shouldn’t come as a surprise: “Volunteers.” In this community, a multitude of events, organizations and individuals carry on and thrive thanks to volunteer power. 

When you think of volunteering, you may assume it’s just a matter of showing up and saying, “Hi. I’m here to help.”  But what do you do when you’re motivated to volunteer but you don’t know where or how to begin?  Fortunately for our city, there’s a go-to institution that assists both individuals wanting to give their time and organizations seeking people who’ll provide it.

It’s called Volunteer Ottawa and it’s a registered charity that helps connect volunteers and non-profit organizations. Established over 50 years ago as a community builder, this local body does everything from promoting volunteerism and making it easy to providing training, workshops and seminars for folks in the volunteer sector. 

When asked who the typical volunteer is, Mark Hughes, Volunteer Ottawa’s web and communications manager, has this to say: “The typical volunteer is anyone who is motivated to make a difference. We seem to see volunteers from all backgrounds and all different places.”   As Mark puts it, “With a wide range of member organizations, we can often find a good fit for volunteers. We know finding the right organization for the right volunteers is important, as it leads to stronger connections and often the development of life-long volunteers.”

In fact, Volunteer Ottawa has over 260 member organizations that could use some help. They range from small community groups to volunteer departments in larger institutions, such as hospitals. Environmental organizations, arts and cultural groups, sports associations, community centers, animal welfare causes and international agencies all have memberships. So do services for seniors, children and people with disabilities. That means you have a wide variety of opportunities and sectors from which to choose. 

Volunteer Ottawa can help you make the best match based on your skills, talents, experience, time availability and the part of town that’s convenient for you. Its comprehensive website, www.volunteerottawa.ca, includes volunteer links, an A-to-Y list of community organizations, a volunteer map, a volunteer pool signup page and even a virtual volunteer fair chat lounge where you can get to know the different member organizations. There’s a corporate volunteer program and also a community engagement program that focuses on engaging Ottawa’s diverse cultural populations, as well as involving youth, retirees, seniors and people with disabilities. 

Volunteer Ottawa’s Change The World youth group with Yasir Naqvi, MPP Ottawa-Centre.

Whether you’re a life-long volunteer or a first timer, the moment you begin this unique experience you’ll not only see the benefits within a particular organization, you’ll start to witness, firsthand, the impact volunteering has on the community.  Volunteer Ottawa’s membership ranks include large organizations such as CHEO, the City of Ottawa and the YMCA. However, it also deals with smaller organizations that support some interesting subsections of Ottawa. Examples of these include TROTT, The Therapeutic Riding Association of Ottawa-Carleton (a provider of therapeutic horseback riding lessons for people with varying disabilities), The Diefenbunker – Canada’s Cold War Museum and Ecology Ottawa (an entity that works to make Ottawa the green capital of Canada).   

Will you be up nominated for a VOscar? 

Every year, Volunteer Ottawa also hosts the VOscars. This special event honours individuals, businesses and organizations that make a difference by supporting, encouraging and exemplifying the spirit of volunteering. Specifically, the awards recognize folks who raise awareness of volunteering, who innovate in the realm of volunteering and who promote volunteerism in our community.  Mark Hughes shares the story of Mustafa Popalzai, who won an award recently for the best volunteer in a supportive role.  

“Mustafa Popalzai was born in Kabul, Afghanistan. He left the war-torn country at a very young age…. In the year 2000, Mustafa and his family migrated to the nation’s capital, Ottawa. Upon his arrival to Canada, a land he now proudly calls home, Mustafa seriously pursued his education and graduated with a master’s degree in legal studies from Carleton University.”

 At the same time, Mark notes, “He has been volunteering in the Ottawa region for various communities, legal and sports organizations from the time he arrived in Canada. He strongly believes that a community is as strong as the number of individuals who volunteer their time, energy and efforts for the greater good and betterment of the society.  Therefore, he is now working on his personal foundation which is meant to provide support and hope for young talented athletes who cannot afford to participate in the sports of their choice.”

Support … hope … possibilities for the future. Inspired to volunteer yet?  Get your experience started with Volunteer Ottawa. Mark sums it up by saying, “Volunteering allows you to connect with people in a meaningful way.  Volunteers get to directly connect with people who truly need their help and they get to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those around them.”  So, go out and make your difference now!

* Tammy Culhane is a long-time Ottawa volunteer. She has served on the board of The In Community and currently serves on the board at Parkway House, a group home for 12 physically challenged adults.  She has also started a new volunteer position with her hockey club, the Ottawa Power Wheelchair Hockey League. As a program facilitator, she coordinates all volunteers needed to run the program.


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