Volunteer shortage plagues Pontiac community groups
“Everyone is just too busy in their own lives”
Pontiac Oct. 23, 2023
It’s mid-October and Mona Woodstock and other volunteers from the Pontiac Legion in Campbell’s Bay are preparing for Remembrance Day.
Spending a rainy Saturday counting poppies and organizing donation trays to be dispersed throughout the region, the group knows their work will be worth the effort in the money it raises to support local veterans and their families.
And yet, many of them are concerned.
The number of volunteers offering to lend a hand with Remembrance Day fundraising and the various social events the Legion holds over the span of a month has been in decline in recent years.
The trend has some members, like Woodstock, concerned for the future of the Legion and for the fabric of community within the Pontiac. Woodstock has been with the Legion for nearly 8 years.
“When we first joined, it was really good. We had lots of participation,” she said.
“But as people get older in the Legion, there’s less and less they can do. And then they pass away. I mean, in one year, we had like five, six members die, and they were all members that were always willing to help out.”
Woodstock said these days there are only three, sometimes four people who do everything at the Campbell’s Bay Legion. While she says this core group of volunteers is dedicated, they recognize the long hours they put in are not sustainable in the long-term.
“We have such a limited amount of people working. After a while it just doesn’t get to be fun anymore,” Woodstock said.
She attributes a declining engagement with the Legion in part to an aging population and a lack of education on veterans’ issues in schools.
“Kids are not taught anything about the wars anymore. They don’t know what it’s like to be a veteran. They don’t know what these veterans did when they came back from the war and what they went through,” Woodstock said.
“Some kids don’t even know what a poppy is. I think everybody’s lacking in education on that part,” she added.
A lack of volunteers, as Woodstock describes, is an all too familiar dilemma affecting community groups and organizations throughout the Pontiac.
This is a region where volunteer-run fundraising initiatives and social events like church suppers, barn dances, theater performances and car rallies play an invaluable role in fostering its sense of community, but it is struggling to recruit the very volunteers that make these events possible.
For the people who are indispensable in putting these events on - the unsung and often underappreciated volunteers who work tirelessly to make them happen - it’s a worrying trend.
“When I was a kid, we had a recreation committee,” said Woodstock, who grew up in Danford Lake.
“The kids and the parents put on everything. We had an outdoor rink we made when it snowed. We cleaned the ice weekly and kept it usable. We did everything.”
“And now even in our small municipality, we have an outdoor rink, and the municipality pays someone to clean the rink,” she said, adding she does not think it would happen if left up to volunteers.
“I think people volunteering for things is just something that is going and gone and will never come back because everyone is just too busy in their own lives.”
Trouble in Quyon
Further east, in Quyon, Joan Belsher of the Quyon Lionettes describes an all too similar problem.
Belsher, who has volunteered with the Lionettes for 20 years, says she first got involved with the organization after witnessing first-hand the important community work the Lionettes were doing.
“At the time, my father was in long-term care, and they needed some comfortable chairs for their sunroom,” Belsher recalled.
“I was on the user committee at the care facility he was living at and so I approached the Quyon Lionettes for assistance, and they purchased the chair right away,” she said, the appreciation still discernible in her voice. “So, I thought to myself, ‘as soon as I was able to, I was going to see about joining that organization to work for the community’ because I was very impressed that they helped me when I was in need.”
She joined soon thereafter.
That was 20 years ago. At the time, Belsher says the Lionettes were made up of around 25 invested members.
As the years passed, however, some members began to age to a point where the volunteer work was too demanding, and membership began to decline. They currently have six members and most are seniors.
The Lionettes attempted to supplement their numbers by recruiting younger volunteers, but after seeing the hour demands, many resigned.
Belsher is understanding of their choice and recognizes that today’s challenging economic climate makes the time commitment of volunteering difficult for someone trying to raise a family. “At one point, a lot of women didn’t work outside the home, so they could devote more of their daytime to volunteering,” said Belsher.
“Now, I mean, it’s almost impossible for a mother not to be working outside the home. The first priority is the family, which is understandable.”
Nevertheless, Belsher knows better than most the impact the volunteer work organizations like the Quyon Lionettes have on the social fabric of Pontiac.
“We just had our car rally, we did a 50/50 draft to raise money to buy a new microwave for the community center, and we will do the free hotdogs and hot chocolate for kids during the Santa Claus parade in December,” Belsher said, describing recent and upcoming initiatives being undertaken by the group.
“We’re just so thankful that we were able to do that as an organization, and don’t like to see it dissolve,” she said, confiding that the Lionettes were close to disbanding this year.
“It’ll be a sad day if we have to make that decision.”
“We’re just hoping we can keep going”
Volunteer shortfalls in the region are not confined to community organizations like the Pontiac Legion and the Quyon Lionettes.
In August, THE EQUITY reported that TransporAction Pontiac – a public and paratransit service that connects residents in need of transportation with volunteers – needed more drivers. The service, funded by MRC Pontiac and Quebec’s ministry of transportation, is primarily used by residents needing a ride to medical appointments.
While some drivers have taken up the call, TransporAction Pontiac Executive Director Sylvie Bertrand said she hopes more will get involved, as the demand for the services has grown beyond what their current list of volunteers can reasonably handle.
“Sometimes when people call, we have to tell them, ‘I’m sorry we can’t take you at that time.’ We never used to have to tell people that,” explained Bertrand.
“For most of our clients, they need to get to an appointment. Sometimes it takes a while to get an appointment from a doctor, so to ask somebody to reschedule it because you can’t get them a ride is a hard thing to do,” Bertrand said. TransporAction continues to do what it can to provide residents with a means of affordable transportation, including double and triple-loading vehicles with passengers.
But Bertrand said the fact remains that if TransporAction is to continue facilitating the service to Pontiac residents, it will need more volunteers.
“I think the price of gas is a factor and that, at the moment, COVID is making a resurgence, so some people are worried about getting sick,” Bertrand said. “But we’re just hoping we can keep going.”
According to Bertrand, retirees make up the lion’s share of TransporAction drivers. While she said she would be thrilled to see younger people getting involved, she thinks the economic circumstances of the day make that unlikely.
“They’re looking for a steady job,” said Bertrand of the demographic. “They want 35 hours and they’re looking for a salary every week, and that’s not something we offer.”
Despite TransporAction’s own struggles recruiting volunteers, Bertrand recognizes that the issue goes far deeper in the region.
“For our volunteers, they get money to do it,” Bertrand said, explaining that drivers get paid for the mileage they travel. “So, imagine if it’s an organization where it’s really just volunteer work, you know? It would be much harder to find people.”
FREE ACCESS FOR EQUITY SUBSCRIBERS
This article is available free to all subscribers to The Equity. If you are a subscriber, please enter your email address and password below.
SET UP YOUR ONLINE ACCOUNT
If you are a subscriber but have not yet set up your online account, please contact Liz Draper at firstname.lastname@example.org to do so.
HOW TO BECOME A SUBSCRIBER