You get what you give

Volunteering is awesome. Maybe it’s my non-profit background talking, but I think everyone wins when you join a committee, sit on a board, or commit to a weekly shift.

A group of people sits around a table

I snapped this photo at the last 2014 Festival du Loup Committee meeting.

I volunteer to support organizations that do work I find valuable. But when I sign up, I know I’ll also get to meet great people, gain valuable experience, learn new things, watch my impact over time, and (big picture) build up my community. Plus there’s that “I’m awesome!” high-fivesque feeling you get at the end of a great event, meeting or project.

There are downsides, of course. My mom taught me that committing to something means giving it your all. Pile a few volunteer roles together (I can’t help myself!) and the result is a packed schedule. When I’m tired, I’d just rather sit on my couch and eat Cheetos.

But in the end, the pros always outweigh the cons, orange puffed cornmeal snacks and all. Especially now that I’m giving back to my community – the place that shaped me before unleashing me on Toronto in my late teens. My recent causes include:

Le Festival du Loup: I’m Franco-Ontarian, and this event brings frenchies like me together for a weekend of live music, beer, dancing and gossip. The tunes are toe-tappingly good – sometimes square-dancingly good. This year’s festival is on July 18, 19 and 20 in Lafontaine. We’re currently looking for sponsors, recruiting artisans, and figuring out how to sell tickets online.

The Midland Cultural Centre: North Simcoe is a secret hub of artistic greatness. We’ve bred authors, painters, musicians and everything in between. The MCC means all those talented people finally have a place to hang out, and an outlet to share their work. If you haven’t been to Saturday Open Mic or visited Quest Gallery, you should. Or better yet, sign up to become a regular box office or event volunteer.

The Georgian’s Got Talent (or not) Benefit Concert: What better way for me to give back to my employer than to help with its annual talent show/benefit concert? I’ll be singing and playing – which, frankly, is terrifying. All proceeds support Georgian College students who need a financial boost to get through school. Performances are on March 20 and 21 and you can buy tickets through Bear Essentials.

There are so many great organizations to get involved with around here, it was really difficult to decide where to direct my occasionally flailing enthusiasm. Some of my other local favourites include La Clé, Shelter Now, Chigamik, Community Reach, Waypoint and United Way of Greater Simcoe County.

Wherever you are, you’ve no doubt got similarly awesome local non-profits just waiting for someone with your skills and talents. If you’ve got time, consider diving in and helping out – you won’t regret it.

Unlearning what I have learned

Tonight, mom and I went to Hope Lives Here, a fundraiser for the Georgian Bay Cancer Support Centre. The big room was filled with people celebrating cancer patients and survivors – bound together by shared experience.

I was moved by stories of courage, loss and, most of all, hope. I was also a bit overwhelmed by faces from my past.

If you aren’t from a small town, here’s what it’s like: there’s no use hiding in the bathroom when you’re guaranteed to know the woman peeing next to you.

If you were a total misfit and weirdo most of your youth (ahem), this lack of anonymity can be trying. But most of the time, it’s nice to feel connected to those around you. I think that’s what most mean when they use the word community: people who share a common story.

When I first moved to Toronto, I made eye contact with everyone I passed on the sidewalk, talked to anyone I rode more than two floors with in an elevator, and always made friends with seatmates on the subway, whether they smelled like garbage or not.

Fast-forward to now. The chatty salesperson trying to recommend a product makes me want to claw my eyes out. The old lady asking me where I got my coat gives me tappy-foot syndrome.  The waitress who can’t stop talking about the weather is deeply irritating.

My ability to remain disconnected from (or inability to connect with?) people I bump into every day is sad. In the words of Yoda, I must unlearn what I have learned.

This event was a good start. A reminder of the importance of community – in helping people heal, giving us purpose, and bringing our days meaning. I’m going to carry that lesson in my back pocket these next few weeks and see where it takes me.