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Volunteers are the backbone
15 March 2007
by Linda Mondoux

Tanya Thompson, shown with her son Tyler, 8, was the 2006 Citizen of the Year. In addition to numerous other volunteering positions, she is manager for the Speeding Rockets Novice A hockey team in Nepean. (Julie Oliver, The Ottawa Citizen)Tanya Thompson, shown with her son Tyler, 8, was the 2006 Citizen of the Year. In addition to numerous other volunteering positions, she is manager for the Speeding Rockets Novice A hockey team in Nepean. (Julie Oliver, The Ottawa Citizen)
The statistics are staggering. According to the latest numbers, Canadians contribute almost two billion volunteer hours -- the equivalent of more than one million full-time jobs -- to the economy.

And this feat, according to the 2004 Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating, is accomplished by almost 12 million Canadians. That's 45 per cent of the Canadian population 15 years of age and over.

Imagine, one million full-time jobs.

That's volunteer firefighters. Palliative care workers. Minor hockey coaches. The people who deliver Meals-on-Wheels. Girl Guide leaders. The men and women who drive cancer patients to chemotherapy. Big Brothers. The kind voice on the end of the distress hotline. The accountant who prepares free of charge income tax forms for low-income seniors. The people who stock cans at the food bank. The thousands of Canadians who fund-raise to buy computers for after-school programs and wheelchairs for seniors.

Without a doubt, it's volunteers who keep our communities running. Imagine what could be accomplished if the other 55 per cent of the population that currently doesn't volunteer did so.

Tanya Thompson can imagine. What she sees is a kinder, gentler community in which everyone does his or her share, instead of the same handful of people giving and giving and giving until they're burned out, disillusioned, or both. A community in which neighbours look out for each other instead of looking the other way.

The key to making it happen, she says, is family and Ms. Thompson has made volunteering an integral part of her family.

The mother of three, whose concern for her community led her to run for a council seat in the new ward of Gloucester-South Nepean in last November's municipal election, is credited with saving the Southpointe Community Association from certain death five years ago, when, as a newcomer to the neighbourhood, she volunteered to serve as president. Since then, much of her time is spent organizing community events on behalf of the association, which represents the "new" Barrhaven.

Ms. Thompson's experience in sports fundraising (now a hockey team manager, she has coached softball and T-ball teams) has helped raise thousands of dollars for charity. For example, the association's fall fair event raised $6,000. And beyond the association, she recently was honoured with a $1,000 bursary for her service in co-ordinating Ross's Independent CHEO Day event. Her four-year-old son, Zachary, donated the bursary on her behalf to the eye unit at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

"To actually get in there and make a difference is something we like doing as a family," she says, pointing out that her husband, Shawn, who works with OC Transpo, spends many a cold night flooding the outdoor rink at Stonecrest Park when he's not volunteering as a coach. Zachary and his eight-year-old brother, Tyler, are often at the rink lending a hand. The youngsters were also put to work at the association's recent winter carnival. Their two-year-old sister, Abbey, will be following in their footsteps soon.

Ms. Thompson, who has served as a member of the parent-school council at St. Andrew's elementary, has also been instrumental in lobbying for new schools and for a youth centre in her growing part of town. But she is quick to point out that the community association's recent successes are the result of "a team effort."

However, she admits that were it not for the "five phenomenal women" who are the association's backbone, the group would be back on death's doorstep. Apathy is rampant. For example, while 3,500 people attended the association's last fall fair, no one signed up to help with the next event. And recent attempts to start a Neighbourhood Watch program failed. No one, it seems, can be bothered.