Wellington North examines best way to recognize community volunteers

KENILWORTH – Wellington North council’s recent open forum session looked at how to best recognize volunteers who make up the heart of local communities.

Mayor Andy Lennox explained “I thought it would be good to have a chat about what our role should be in volunteer recognition.”

“Volunteers are so important to many things which happen in our community.”

Councillor Steve McCabe said the base of the volunteer community is aging “and we are losing a lot.”

McCabe would like to see a shaking of the tree to recruit new volunteers to replace them.

“How do we attract younger people to fill these spots. I’m not sure what the answer is.”

Lennox stated “recognition is part of that.”

Councillor Dan Yake said perhaps that is one area where the township can a better role in asking people to come out and stressing the importance of volunteering.

“There are so many things people can volunteer for – whether they are municipally driven or not.”

He suggested there could be promotion through the municipal website.

“Volunteering is an important part of our community.”

On the matter of recognition, Yake said “we always need to recognize our volunteers.”

Yake said there are various ways which could be looked at.

He said one approach could be inviting volunteers to a function and telling audience members what each person has done.

“It doesn’t need to be fancy,” he added.

“Thank you are very powerful words,” Yake said.

Lennox said he’s seen other municipalities publicly recognize volunteers.

“The one thing which always worried me, is possibly passing over people who are doing good work, but do so from the shadows.”

Councillor Lisa Hern said she had done considerable research on the matter.

She said “there is a lot of good work being done.”

Hern commented that Waterloo has a process of recognition, recruitment and certification of its volunteers.

She said part of that included ways in which to recruit younger volunteers.

Hern said there was a study from 2017 which indicated the demographics of volunteers is changing.

“Maybe the way were are recognizing volunteers should change with the times too.”

“I’m not saying that we should not recognize volunteers personally, but sometimes they are more enthused with the recognition of the project or accomplishments.”

She added that for younger people to be able to include those accomplishments on a resume is a big thing.

Lennox asked if recognition is a role the municipality should take on.

McCabe believed that council should.

“It is our communities which benefit from our volunteers.”

Lennox noted that as Wellington North continues to grow, some of its residents will be new to the community.

“How do we welcome them into volunteering?”

Lennox said he struggled in determining what the first steps should be.

Yake said perhaps existing volunteers could work with the municipality to provide input on how to recognize and recruit volunteers.

He said “I always remember when Jean Weber started the archives in Mount Forest and was looking for volunteers. You didn’t say ‘no’.”

He said people like Weber tend to pull people out of the woodwork.

Yake agreed there may be people new to the community who do not know all the volunteer opportunities which exist.

“We need to take a lead role, but also make use of local people to help.”

Hern said a similar question was held at the cultural roundtable on developing a list of volunteer organizations within the municipality.

Economic development officer Dale Small said the issue was about recognition and how to individually recognize them – such as volunteer of the year.

Small said “there is the discussion about needing more volunteers and we definitely do.”

However he said people might be surprised at the number of volunteer hours being generated within the community.

He said it would be easy to hold a Mayor’s Breakfast in order to recognize volunteers.

Though there are comments about an aging volunteer base Small agreed that in some instances, such as in traditional service groups, that might be true.

“I think we might also be surprised at how many younger people and young adults are volunteering, but they are volunteering in different ways.”

Hern said “its nice to feel appreciated.”

Lennox then asked council if financial resources need to be considered.

Yake said “if we are doing this, we need to do it right.”

McCabe agreed.

“We need to invest in our volunteers, because they’ve invested in their communities.”

Lennox agreed that recognizing and investing its volunteers is of value to the community as a whole.

CAO Mike Givens said “based on the conversation, staff can be directed to consider approaches to volunteer recognition and even developing a roster of volunteers.”

He said “with council’s indulgence I can earmark some staff to look at this and a report would come back to council with approximate costings to establish a program so that council can continue this conversation.”

He said there are some things which can be done, but we will have to work a bit further looking into a recruitment process.

“There a lot of things to consider,” Givens said.