The past few months have shuttered many important parts of our lives. This has been all too apparent when looking around Waterloo Region.
Quiet streets. Smaller crowds. Cancelled events. Workplaces, shops, restaurants: all adapting to a new reality.
Whoever you are and whatever your role is in the community, the COVID-19 pandemic has not discriminated in leaving us all feeling isolated, with many of the ways we’ve historically stayed connected being limited. The dangers of isolation are well documented from a mental health perspective. The impact on the Waterloo Region community as a collective cannot be overstated either, as our strength lies significantly in connection and collaboration.
The question becomes: how do we reduce our isolation and stay connected with the community during this challenging time?
Giving back through volunteering has always been an important way to stay engaged and has been especially vital during the pandemic, as vulnerable groups were hit disproportionately hard and charities around the Region were challenged in many ways by the evolving situation.
The Volunteer Action Centre (VAC) has been at the center of the volunteering story locally, working with the Region and municipalities to create a Pandemic Response Volunteer Program. Applicants to the program are vetted, given specific pandemic-related training, and matched with local organizations in need of assistance. They shared that the enthusiasm from community members has been overwhelmingly positive.
“The influx of volunteers ranges from those suddenly unemployed to others who are finding themselves with extra time and want to give back,” explained Dianne Boston-Nyp, Community Engagement Director at VAC. “They are highly skilled people. Community organizations are excited about connecting to folks who have energy, excitement and bring new experiences and skills.”
Many organizations are thinking creatively to adapt their volunteer roles to the new normal. Virtual volunteering is on the rise. While some traditional volunteer roles were suspended, new positions and programs have opened to address some of the community’s present challenges. A great example of a new volunteer program is ‘The Friendly Voice,’ a wellbeing phone-call check-in launched by Carizon Family and Community Services and Wellbeing Waterloo Region aimed at combatting loneliness and isolation.
Informal volunteering has also been on the rise, which provides an opportunity for anyone to make a positive impact while staying safe at home. Many individuals across the Region did their part during the early days of the pandemic, sewing masks and creating other forms of personal protective equipment to reduce supply shortages.
When it comes to finding your starting point, Dianne suggested that the initial steps can, and often should, be small. “Sometimes you need to be ready to receive before you give,” she shared. “We do a lot of diversion to participation, encouraging people to go to a workshop or a community centre. Just going out of the house and trying new things is a form of taking care of yourself.”
The end goal is to find a local issue or organization that fits your skills and passions. The benefits of finding that perfect match as a volunteer can be life-altering.
“When people have a purpose, a sense of ‘I can help this situation’, that really gives them the motivation and feeling that they are helping the community,” shared Sarah-Ruth McCracken, VAC Communications Coordinator. “It’s a sense of accomplishment. Whether it’s virtual or physical volunteering, you are meeting new people and connecting to be a part of something.”
Conversations around social issues both locally and globally have been changing and evolving in 2020. Organizations like Kitchener Waterloo Community Foundation (KWCF) are vital for providing an opportunity for community discussion, and a space for those with different perspectives and experiences to speak up. This spring, KWCF launched a series of webinars called ‘Do More Good Dialogues’, each spotlighting an issue of importance in Waterloo Region.
“They are all linked. From my perspective, the Do More Good Dialogues are a great way of showing that systemic changes need to happen and the ripple effect of seeing these are not all individual issues, but are interconnected in so many ways,” described Andrea Harding, KWCF Board Member and SVP Partner.
“When COVID hit, we recognized that people wanted to do more,” added Elizabeth Heald, President & CEO at Kitchener Waterloo Community Foundation. “The community came forward, and really had an interest in what was going on in across Waterloo Region, and they wanted to help. We did research with charitable partners when the pandemic hit in March to understand what their issues were, and some of the challenges they were up against.”
To date, focus areas for these dialogues have included anti-racism, affordable housing, gendered violence, and COVID-19 assistance to local charities. The Do More Good Dialogues have complimented the work that KWCF has done in distributing funds through the Emergency Community Support Fund and the COVID-19 Charitable Response Fund in partnership with United Way Waterloo Region Communities, the Cambridge & North Dumfries Community Foundation, and other funders including SVP Waterloo Region. The fund’s goal was to ensure support was provided locally, ensuring that charitable organizations are receiving funds they need to continue their work.
“For us to make a difference individually and collectively, we need to build an awareness of the issues that are going on in our community.” Elizabeth explained.
“If enough people line up behind a cause, we can make a huge difference. There are lots of ways to get involved, dependent on what issue resonates with you.”
Andrea also noted that there is a lot of momentum already being generated in Waterloo Region, with many individuals and businesses contributing towards positive change in their own way. An example of this can be seen at Words Worth Books in Uptown Waterloo. Although unable to reopen their store front until very recently due to COVID, the shop gives back by offering 15% off all books dealing with the subject of racism, and donates a percentage of their delivery fee to the Food Bank of Waterloo Region.
“I am watching all these people just step up that are already locally focused but are pushing that even more,” said Andrea. “If you pay close attention to what is happening here, you can feel better too.”
The community needs us now more than ever, and, perhaps, we need the community more than ever as well. Whatever that community connection looks like to you, there are organizations ready to help you make those first steps.
Post by Mac Turchan, Marketing & Events Coordinator.
Want to get involved?
Learn more about ‘The Friendly Voice’ program offered by Carizon Family and Community Services and Wellbeing Waterloo Region.
Register for upcoming ‘Do More Good Dialogues’ or watch those that have been recorded.
Donate to the COVID-19 Charitable Recovery Fund at KWCF. Applications will focus on helping local charitable organizations recover and rebuild from COVID-19.
How has SVP Waterloo Region been supporting our community?
SVP Waterloo Region has stayed active during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our Partners have been hard at work with our current investees on projects that will help those charities address ongoing challenges and emerge on the other side of the pandemic in a position of strength. Read our Summer Investee Updates for Carizon and Reception House to learn more.
We also collaborated with United Way Waterloo Region Communities, Kitchener Waterloo Community Foundation, and several other local funders to distribute over $800,000 in funds from the COVID-19 Community Response Fund to 43 local charities earlier this year.
Interested in getting involved with SVP? Contact our Executive Director, Rose Greensides.