On Wednesday April 18th, the Kawartha Chamber gathered at Burleigh Falls Inn to celebrate the hard work and dedication of our wonderful volunteers during volunteer appreciation week. Our volunteer committees put in countless hours and do some truly amazing work. From all of us at the Kawartha Chamber, we would like to thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
The Inn staff provided a beautiful venue and a delicious breakfast buffet for the attendees, catered by their in-house chefs and servers. Students from Oxford College’s massage therapy program were also on hand to provide free massages to anyone who needed some tension released!
After everyone was served, a keynote presentation was given by Sarah Burke, Chief Executive Director for Peterborough and Kawartha Region Habitat for Humanity, on how to get the most out of volunteers and the volunteering experience.
Sarah began volunteering in her 20’s to build her resume and make connections to further her career. She was very successful in her work, but was feeling that there was something missing. After having children, Sarah was inspired to join the Youth Emergency Shelter (Y.E.S.) in Peterborough as their fundraising chair. She was able to use the skills she gained from her work to help the shelter’s fundraising activities and for the first time, she felt connected to a cause.
In the following years Sarah was still not satisfied in her working life. She then heard about the Executive Director job at the Habitat for Humanity. The more she learned about the position and the organization, the more she loved it. She was offered the job, and after some hesitation around leaving a much better paying job, accepted the position in 2008. It was the best decision she ever made.
Using her business know-how and passion for the cause, Sarah turned a small organization of a handful of hardworking, but burned-out volunteers into the most successful Habitat for Humanity operation in Canada! The Peterborough Habitat for Humanity now builds up to 6 homes a year, with close to 1000 volunteers, and the ReStore brings in around 1.3 million dollars to the cause annually.
Sarah attributes this success to building a core staff for the organization, and building programs that engaged and inspired volunteers to make a difference in their community. She encouraged community members with no experience in construction to come out and help with the builds, where they were given guidance by more experienced builders, and the “hand-up not a hand-out” model meant that the family that would be living in and paying the mortgage on the house put in 500 “sweat equity” hours into building. This strategy helped bolster volunteer numbers and build relationships between community members that kept volunteers coming back to help on subsequent projects.
The Women’s Build program helped encourage women to get involved in Habitat’s building process, and has helped to create a supportive community of empowered female volunteers with the organization. The Youth Build program, aimed at attracting students in need of volunteer hours or just something to do, has given many disengaged youth a sense of purpose, accomplishment, and connection to their community and has created one of the most robust volunteer teams in Canada. Those that are unable to perform construction work can help as well, they are welcomed by the ReStore team.
Sarah noted near the end of her presentation, that it is in no way cheaper to use volunteers for this kind of work. However, the connections that meaningful volunteer work creates in a community, the support for the organization’s work that is fostered, and the experiences it provides for the volunteers makes this organizational model invaluable. This coming summer, there are build projects in the works for Curve Lake First Nation, as well as a Lakefield plan to build a set of 10-12 town homes, the biggest and most ambitious project yet! For more information on Habitat for Humanity Programs and builds, go to http://www.habitatpeterborough.ca/.