The idea that one person can make a difference may form the backbone of most volunteer drives, but for the Okanagan Volunteer Opportunities Fair it was really one thought that moved an entire community to get involved.
This is how MP Ron Cannan, the first chairperson for the event, recalls those humble beginnings. “It was 1997 and I was at City Park with then-mayor Walter Gray and Dean Cooper, who ran the radio station (CKOV). Dean was talking about this career fair he had been to at OKM (secondary school) and how well it worked.
“So we were talking, and he was like wouldn’t that be a great idea to do for volunteers.”
That was it. Simple.
The thought that spawned one of the most successful non-profit volunteerism showcases in the province was to organize a one-stop-shop for community members to see what types of volunteer jobs are out there, similar to a high school career fair.
Run by Kelowna Community Resources, the Okanagan Volunteer Opportunities Fair is now held in Parkinson Recreation Centre every September. This Saturday, 80 booths staged by different non-profit organizations who need volunteer support to do their work in the community, will be set up in the city’s recreation centre.
From the Canadian Red Cross to the Fat Cat Children’s Festival, and even the Okanagan Small Dog Rescue Society, there are now so many different facets of volunteerism to feature that the event fills the meeting rooms and gymnasium space, often with interested organizations squeezing into extra spaces found in the corridors.
It’s quite the feat for an event that started with just a few keen volunteers pulling together anyone from the non-profit sector willing to listen to their ideas.
Whether in Memorial Arena, at the Kelowna Curling Club, in Orchard Park Mall or its now permanent home in Parkinson Recreation Centre, the one common theme over the years has been that the event never seems to stop growing.
City councillor Michele Rule joined the organizing committee eight years ago after connecting with it through her position as director of the Kelowna Philharmonic Society, and she was soon asked to be the honorary chairperson for the fair.
“Everybody knew it was a good idea we just had to keep putting in the effort,” said Rule, who noted her position wasn’t exactly honorary in those first years, though it is now starting to take care of itself.
With a dozen people on the organizing committee, the issue is no longer getting the word out about the fair so much as finding space for all the organizations which want a place to pitch prospective volunteers their organization’s mandate and volunteer opportunities—there are usually 80 organizations.
And the fair has now added a year-round resource guide to help the organizations which participate keep their name in the public eye, even during the long winter months and the uber-busy summer.
Composed by Laurel D’Andrea, of Beyond 50 Magazine, the magazine format volunteer guide includes a small snippet from each organization describing the jobs that helpful, volunteer hands are needed to fill. It sits in doctors’ offices, gets mailed out by Canada Post to the business community, and might even be kicking around at local restaurants for prospective volunteers to peruse year-round.
“Originally there was a digest-style guide in a newsprint format, so last year we decided to fine-tune it to make it more of a year-round resource,” said D’Andrea, who has volunteered on the fair’s organizing committee for five years.
The book offers local businesses a space to showcase their own corporate social responsibility roles as well, telling the rest of the community about the volunteerism done by their employees that year, and it helps keep the non-profit sector in the public eye.
“I know Chanine Carr (101.5 EZ Rock radio host) and Phil Johnson (AM 1150 radio host) both looked at it and said ‘I’m going to take this in the studio with me,’” said Dawn Wilkinson, Kelowna Community Resources coordinator for the Community Information & Volunteer Centre.
As the latest paid employee to assume responsibility for the fair, Wilkinson said she’s come to realize the fair offers the non-profit sector another less obvious benefit as well—a chance to intermingle and share ideas.
To check out all of the excitement head to Parkinson Recreation Centre, 1800 Parkinson Way, this Saturday, Sept. 10 for the 14th annual Okanagan Volunteer Opportunities Fair.
The event runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., is free of charge and open to the public.