Angie Lohr is an extreme volunteer with an extremely difficult mission.
On average, the home-based publishing and direct mail consultant spends the equivalent of two work days worth of time each week organizing a small army of volunteers to help the women addicted to drugs and working as prostitutes on Kelowna’s streets.
The H.O.P.E. Outreach volunteers help women find the basic necessities they need to keep going in life—toothbrushes, soap, a friendly ear to listen on a particularly rough night, or a place to report the clients who have made that night so rough.
“My husband keeps looking at me and saying, ‘Are you OK with these two full-time jobs?” says Lohr.
More often than not the answer is yes, just as it is for the millions of volunteers who give of their time and energy across the country.
April 10 to 16 is National Volunteer Week, a chance to recognize the important role volunteers play in our day-to-day life.
Canada has the second-largest volunteer force in the world, second only to the Netherlands.
According to the facts and figures assembled by Kelowna’s Volunteer Resource Centre at Kelowna Community Resources, volunteers contribute 2.1 billion hours of time, or the equivalent of 1.1 million full-time jobs in donated hours, to Canadian society.
The contribution made in the Central Okanagan is astounding.
“If we really paid volunteers for all the work that they contribute to our community we would be paying an extra $95 million,” said Dawn Wilkinson, KCR Community Information and Volunteer Centre coordinator.
Wilkinson has actually crunched the numbers, adding up all of the volunteers who sit on boards of directors in the Central Okanagan and all the hours of work the non-profit sector sees from those willing to come out and man events, coach teams, walk dogs and teach any number of skills.
Estimating the board members’ worth at $33 an hour for professional services, and regular volunteers at $16/hour for regular man-hours (based on an average of 19 base-level jobs), Wilkinson’s work pegs the economic worth of local volunteerism at that $95 million mark.
“People are giving out of the goodness of their hearts, from their passion, their time and skills to provide services that otherwise wouldn’t exist,” she said, pointing out it’s a huge cost savings we probably would never be able to cover as a community.
Just over half of the non-profit and charitable organizations in this country operate entirely off volunteers, without paid staff.
It’s the ideas, like H.O.P.E. Outreach, that start as a vision and operate off the sides of peoples’ desks in the hours left to spare at the end of the day.
H.O.P.E. Outreach started when two former street workers went to a newspaper and said they wanted to help women still walking this difficult path in life.
Lohr saw the article, decided to help, and today is spearheading the organization, which is just now getting its charitable status, two years into its existence.
Along the way, she’s seen a lot of help. Kelowna Women’s Resource Centre took responsibility for helping with financial organization. Evangel Church and Trinity Baptist Church provided some money.
Lohr worked with UBCO’s social work program to get a student intern and set up a liaison with Kelowna RCMP.
But far and away the most important piece of this puzzle is the 40 dedicated volunteers who meet, two at a time, at the Safeway parking lot each evening and make the hour-long trip around the downtown core to ensure everyone who needs help has it.
“It’s just an amazing group of women,” said Lohr. “There are social workers and social work students, psych nurses, registered nurses, retired doctors, church volunteers.”
Volunteerism in Kelowna has hundreds of faces. At the Kelowna Art Gallery, more than 100 volunteers do everything from man special events, like the opening receptions, to sit on the board of directors and assist with various fundraising initiatives.
“Speaking from public a programming perspective, they’re extremely important,” said Renée Burgess, head of public programming for the art gallery. “They’re really responsible for the school tour program and I couldn’t run the program without them.
“We see about 8,000 kids come through a year and we couldn’t pay someone to do all of that.”
There are plenty of ways to get involved in any number of volunteer activities.
Information on volunteering in Kelowna can be found on the KCR website at www.kcr.ca or by calling 250-763-8008 to access the Volunteer Centre.