Volunteering is a great way to deepen your connection to the local community and further build a sense of belonging, according to Antonia Beck, Executive Director of the Burnaby Neighbourhood House, a volunteer-driven, community-based organization.
“When you volunteer, your community belongs to you,” says Beck. “It makes your neighbourhood a better place and increases a sense of pride. You’re also able to meet people and develop your social network.”
One of the goals of the Burnaby Neighbourhood House is to ensure that all of its volunteers feel a sense of belonging. This is achieved by actively incorporating the skills and talents of its many volunteers into the programming offered and the overall operations.
“We utilize an asset-based community development approach,” Beck explains. “If you have a passion or skill and want to share it, the Neighbourhood House is the place to do that. We fit people in where their passions and interests lie. We want those who live or work in the community to have ownership over the Neighbourhood House.”
As a result, the Burnaby Neighbourhood House is home to an incredibly diverse range of programming for individuals of all ages and backgrounds and if you want to get involved by running your own workshop, you can do that, too.
“We dedicate resources to provide staff to support the volunteers in their initiatives and to provide training and on-the-job support,” says Beck.
With over 900 volunteers, the Neighbourhood House has been thriving since it incorporated in 1996. It opened a new location in Burnaby North in 2014. “The new Neighbourhood House location is all supported by volunteers who want to help out in their community,” Beck says. “The residents are really a key part of our new Neighbourhood House initiative.”
Volunteers at all Neighbourhood House locations can take on whichever tasks they want from answering phones to leading their own programs. Volunteer-led programs have included English language conversation groups, income tax support, and social groups, and have helped people develop employment skills.
The Neighbourhood House also promotes and has much success with youth engagement through its three levels of leadership training for Grades 7 to 12. By the time youth volunteers reach Grades 11 and 12, they choose the issues they’d like to address and create a community project around them.
“Once they’re that age, doors are opening for them for postsecondary and scholarship opportunities,” says Beck. “Our youth volunteers are very enthusiastic—and they grow with us within their community. Two of our board members started out as youth volunteers. It’s really great to see that connection.”
Local businesses are also encouraged to get involved at the Neighbourhood House through corporate donations and company-run volunteer programs.