by Dorothee Birker • KCR Community Resources
You care about making an impact and giving back to the community you are raising your family in. However, life is super busy with work, family and home demands. Adding volunteering may seem like too much. But there is a growing trend to start volunteering as a family unit that offers many benefits to your family and to the organization you choose to volunteer with.
Maybe you are especially passionate about a specific cause that you want to stay engaged with and want to encourage your children to learn about? Yay for experiential, real-life learning outside the classroom.
Maybe you want to instill a sense of volunteerism to your kids and share with them the importance of community-building? Way to show them you are living your values.
Or maybe you want to spend meaningful time together as a family? Volunteerism builds connections and friendships and deepens those that are already connected.
There are so many reasons to volunteer and doing it as a family expands the impact both quantifiably and qualitatively.
The Friesen family, including parents Randal and Carla and kids Greta and Oliver, learned first-hand what a boon volunteering as a family is. They volunteered to be Settlement Mentors with KCR Community Resources, helping a family of newcomers get settled in Kelowna. They themselves had recently returned to the Okanagan from living overseas and the volunteer opportunity help them to re-adjust to being back here.
“My husband’s family had sponsored quite a few ESL students and we had lived overseas,” explains Carla. “As we adjusted to being back here, we missed being with people from other cultures and we wanted to connect and it just seemed like a natural way for us to give back to the community.”
For both Randal and Carla, they didn’t want their volunteer efforts to pull them away from their own children, they wanted to experience something together. They signed up to volunteer as a family team to connect with the Al Johmane family in 2018. Although the original volunteer commitment has long ended, they still keep in touch and when the pandemic and time allows, they get together as friends.
“I thought the experience would build empathy for the kids and give them an idea of what people are dealing with when they are hanging out with people who didn’t speak the same language,” explains Carla. They had experienced this themselves when they were overseas, but it was a good opportunity for them to support others in that situation.
When the families were first matched, teenagers Greta (then 15) and Oliver (then 13) were a perfect age for being older mentors to the younger newcomers: a girl, Imara (then six) and two boys Silmar (then four) and baby Mayar. The Al Johmane family, with parents Omran and Rajaa, has now expanded to also include new sibling Mira.
While Carla and her family had initially envisioned a casual relationship of outings and meals together, they learned that the mentorship guidelines were more formal but that was actually a benefit to begin the relationship.
“It gave us a better idea about how to support them,” explains Carla. “As time went on, it became more informal and a kind of friendship. We had them over one time when my whole extended family was also over. It was wonderful as it allowed them to meet even more people and it got my extended family to help as well.”
The opportunity to give back as a family was very enjoyable and eye-opening for the Friesens.
“It was easy because it was a family helping a family,” says Carla enthusiastically. “The kids would play together and the adults could talk more. It was fun for our kids to have younger kids to connect with as all of their cousins were a bit older. They learned about different foods, etiquette and cultures.”
“I think it is good to see our culture reflected through the lens of someone else,” continues Carla. “It allows us to examine how we take things for granted and to question how and why we do things the way we do.”
Carla notes that one thing that stood out for her was how what seems like easy, day-to-day things can be very confusing. Getting mail and newsletters from the school can be dealt with quickly and easily if you are familiar with the system, but it is more difficult when the system is completely new.
“We gained an appreciation for how easy some things in Canada are and how we have different government programs that we can all access when life is hard,” says Carla. “We know how to navigate that. Newcomers are educated and intelligent but it is difficult to navigate systems that are so different, especially when you speak a different language.”
As busy parents, Randal and Carla found volunteering as a family unit not only doable but desirable as it connected them more.
“I think it is more sustainable – if the whole family is interested, then you want to spend more time together,” says Carla. “There are so many things that pull us in different directions that it’s nice to have a common thing that pulls us in the same direction.”
“This is real education. They can learn about social studies without being in a classroom. If you can’t travel, this is one great way to gain insight into another culture,” she continues enthusiastically, wanting to encourage other families to volunteer as well. “You don’t need to really prepare or to worry about what you are going to talk about. Just using English and talking to them about basic conversation seems to come pretty naturally. The families that come here are so thankful for any contact. It seems like meaningful time spent with people.”
Talking with Carla, it is easy to see that the mentorship gave so much to both families. Volunteerism really is a mutually beneficial relationship. So when you think about giving back, think holistically and get everyone in the family involved. If you are interested in volunteering as Settlement Mentors or other volunteer opportunities, contact KCR Community Resources. We operate the Volunteer Centre of the Central Okanagan and can connect you to your best volunteer match through the Volunteer Connector platform. Give us a call at 250-763-8008 or check out the website at www.kcr.ca.
Dorothee Birker is the Communications and Development Coordinator at KCR Community Resources, a multi-service agency that fosters diversity, collaboration and resourcefulness by tailoring services to meet community, family and individual needs. They do this in four overarching areas: Family and Adoption Services, Employment Services, Immigrant Services and Community Services, which houses the Volunteer Centre of the Central Okanagan.