Volunteer intersectionality – grassroots vs. big image

Image Credit: wili_hybrid

Well, I’ve been a bit AWOL for the past few weeks – busy @work, crazy sick with lots of vomiting, final MBA papers due, and a recent death in the family. Let’s just say I’m glad to be moving forward from here.

So a few weeks ago a young woman set up an interview with me to help her with a paper she was writing about volunteers and why they volunteer where they volunteer. She wondered what made some people work with small organizations, and others work with large organizations, like for the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver. It sounded like someone else that she interviewed thought that those volunteering with smaller organizations were more interested in social and environmental justice, whereas those volunteering with large organizations and events like the Olympics are interested in getting the name on the resume, checking off the experience on list of things to do.

Why not both?

I do both.

I’ll be volunteering with the Opening and Closing Ceremonies in February. I’m incredibly thrilled and am so wrapped up in the spirit that’s been demonstrated along the torch relay in communities across the country. I’m proud to represent my country as a volunteer (because I am never going to be a world-class athlete) and be a part of something bigger.

I also currently volunteer with the Take a Hike Youth at Risk Foundation which does great work supporting youth in grades 10-12 who face a multitude of barriers, providing a mix of adventure-based learning, academics, therapy, and community service with great results. I volunteer with Volunteer Vancouver (recently rebranded as Vantage Point, which I’m not sure I get, but I digress) on a steering committee for a young professionals network and have done curriculum development and delivery for them in the past.

Maybe these last two aren’t social or environmental justicey enough to cut it for the hard cores out there. Sure, I don’t happen to currently volunteer at my local farmers markets, but I shop there and think they do great work. No, I don’t happen to currently volunteer with Pivot Legal Society, but I buy the Hope in Shadows calendar, and think Pivot does great work. Maybe I will in the future, but I’m a little tapped out at the moment.

Are volunteering for brand name organizations and small grassroots groups mutually exclusive? I hope not.

Volunteer Intersectionality

I often perceive that certain causes and passions are not visually marriageable. I guess what I mean by that is that they don’t fit together by first glance. And if you are involved with one, you must be against the other. For example, if you support homeless rights, you must be anti-Olympics and vice versa. People make assumptions about you based on one characteristic. By voicing that viewpoint,  you risk excluding potential supporters (i.e. me). Why define the boundaries of supporters? Maybe it’s just my introvert self perceiving and overthinking something that’s not reality, but I don’t think so.

I’m lucky to have great friends that share this awareness. They may personally disagree with Olympics, but they ask me how my training is going and don’t chastise me for my involvement. They’ll tell you I’m not uneducated or unaware. I’m just a passion-diverse person. And if you want my support, you’re going to have to accept that.

2 comments:

  1. I find both in my work and volunteer worlds that it is the what that I volunteer for before the who.

    If I volunteer my design skills with a local community theatre company it’s because I want to use my particular skills and talents to enhance community vs. the “it’ll look good on the resume”

    If I volunteer by connecting with a woman who has recently moved out of homelessness its because she needs to feel special and part of the community, not because she was referred by a particular agency.

    If I serve as a board member for a particular organization it is because I believe in what they do rather than the networking opportunities which might come out of it.

    I like diversity in my volunteer opportunities as well – and I like to see my talents utilized to enhance community so the subject of how big and organzation is or whether the volunteer opportunity has sufficient social justice to it just doesn’t matter…

    Cheers,
    Sharon in Calgary

    1. Thanks for sharing Sharon. I do believe that it’s important to respect that people have diverse identities that motivate them in different ways. I guess what I hope people would do would be to check assumptions before they make up a story about a person because of one action they take.

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