Grandma & Grandpa's Farm

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Step Back to Volunteer

Organizations of all sorts today probably have one major hurdle in common - finding enough volunteers to function. It is probably harder to find volunteers than to find funding for the various activities and operations they administer.

I am not sure that charitable organizations have it much easier than non-profit organizations or not-for-profit ones. I volunteer and am on the board of directors for a small privately operated community museum. (The Port Moody Station Museum) A lot of people assume the city owns and runs us, but we are a non-profit society running and operating it.

We can get grants and funding and that truly is not a simple thing and is always a struggle, but greater is the struggle to maintain membership levels and active volunteers to maintain the museum and to put on the events that the public appreciate, expect, and in fact are a part of the mandate of a vibrant, vital, entertaining, educational institute.

It isn't just groups such as our small museum that are having problems, I hear that charitable groups which take care of the disabled and poor have problems finding enough volunteers to function. I can only imagine how much more difficult it makes their jobs. Sometimes I feel guilty if we might be drawing from the seemingly ever smaller pool over volunteers for our museum that also are the source for groups that feed the hungry or clothe the poor.

Of course education is important and we are not just entertainment, and I must remind myself of that even though the events we put on do have to have that entertainment aspect to bring in interested participants. Sometimes I think we have to try just a bit harder to bring people in to the museum because people do not realize just what can be offered in the way of education for their children and for the community in keeping an active and vital community museum.

Through the time offered by volunteers we can offer the school tours to students of the community to learn more about our community's heritage and how we fit into the provincial and national identity. Many students do not realize that we were the western terminus of the first transcontinental railroad across Canada or what that even means. They get an idea of that when they come to the museum and why it was so important at the time.

They can learn much of what we can show them from textbooks in school and from their teachers, but at the museum they can see some of the actual bits and pieces and listen to people who have a different direction of interest perhaps than their teachers who have a broader necessary scope of education. Sometimes, it is also good to hear things from different voices from the one you hear throughout the year.

The thing is that a small museum, or even larger ones, require volunteers to function otherwise they are too expensive to run. We are lucky to have a full time curator, but when a class of 30 or more come in, it requires more than just one person to properly guide them through the displays and activities and keep it interesting. We'd like to have at least three people involved in a tour of 30. It makes for an enjoyable, educational experience.

On special weekends like Mothers' Day we also like to hold teas which bring in more of the community into the museum. They are a part of keeping the museum a part of the community and remind people that the museum is there. It encourages folks to take a tour as well and to see what is new. ("What is New at the Museum" has often been an interesting catch phrase since most people think of museums being places for old things.) We have a nice passenger rail car set up for teas and dining which is very suitable for such things. It is a 1920 vintiage rail car and a pleasant setting.

Our teas happen Mother's Day and Sundays in the Christmas Season as well as a few other occasions. We might have more of them, but we need volunteers to do the teas and we do not want to "burn out" the volunteers we have.

I know some places nearly have "Job Applications" for volunteer positions and turn people away. But a lot don't and are happy for the people they can get. A lot of volunteer work includes some things that might be dirty or call for a bit of sweat. Often there are things to clean or carry - but there are also opportunities to help put on teas or hide Easter Eggs for kids as well. True, there are some things that do require skilled volunteers with credentials. But, some things just require someone who is willing to commit to be there.

At our museum, just saying, "Hey, I'll buy a membership and help out with a few things." is very useful. There really aren't many privileges to memberships other than supporting the museum, but it is so very important to the museum and we figure the community. I figure if I can say this about our museum, others would be able to say that about other organizations. That includes especially those charitable organizations, that includes schools and hospitals too. (There is no need to wait for a disaster to become community minded.

Do you consider doing volunteer work? Would you volunteer for a local non-profit organization? Do you think - I'd rather donate time to a charitable organization? Do you?

~ Darrell

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