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100 years of volunteering

December 01, 2023 by Christine Aguilar

First picture: Talena Jackson (Thunder Bay ceremony). Second picture (L-R): Debashis (Dev) Sarkar, Dan Barclay, Susanna Zagar and Dr. Pat O’Campo. Not pictured: Joanne Amos 

Six award-winning United Way volunteers share what inspires them to serve their communities

Volunteering is an act of generosity, and one that is rewarding on so many levels. It brings us closer to our communities, is a tangible way to support our neighbours and helps organizations succeed. The Ontario government recognizes Ontarians who embody this generosity with an Ontario Volunteer Service Award, an annual award honouring the exceptional contributions of individuals providing dedicated service to a single organization.  

United Way Greater Toronto celebrated the contributions of six of our own volunteers: Joanne Amos, Dan Barclay, Dr. Pat O’Campo, Debashis (Dev) Sarkar, Talena Jackson and Susanna Zagar. Together, these incredible United Way volunteers represent more than 100 years of continuous service in their community!

We asked these seasoned volunteers about their participation and what advice they can offer to those who are interested in volunteering but not sure where to start. Their answers are sure to inspire you to find a cause you are passionate about in your community.  

What inspires you to volunteer, and what keeps you motivated to continue? 

Susanna Zagar: I define myself as an agent of change: an advocate, an ally and an activist. The inspiration to volunteer comes from the fundamental belief that I have the ability AND the obligation to use my privilege to make a difference in the lives of others. Year after year, my ability and my obligation become greater; and so too does my commitment to volunteerism, locally, regionally and nationally.  

Debashis (Dev) Sarkar: Volunteering at United Way is a unique way of learning, connecting and giving back to the community. With every assignment, there is an opportunity to learn and make new connections. And with the time that one spends, there is a contribution being made to the community and that always feels really good.  

Dr. Pat O’Campo: Volunteering enables me to advance my vision for a better world. This is particularly true for my work with United Way Greater Toronto! (I get) to work with others to create that better world. 

Talena Jackson: United Way has been a significant part of my life since I was four years old. My young parents struggled to make ends meet. Somehow, they connected with a United Way member agency, The Neighbourhood Group. Through this organization, I saw Santa for the first time and received tutoring in math by a volunteer. These early life experiences inspired me to volunteer for United Way and see first-hand how volunteering deeply engages communities through active collaboration, innovative consensus building and increasing quality of life for communities.  

Dan Barclay: My life has been incredibly privileged, and I feel an obligation to give back to those who have not had the same opportunities.  

What would you say to someone who’d like to volunteer but isn’t sure how to start?  

Susanna: There is no playbook for becoming a volunteer. Everyone needs to find their own “why”—but a good place to start is in your local neighbourhood or community. Find organizations that share your interests, beliefs and values and ask if they need help. Challenge yourself to give one hour a week. Soon you will realize the exponential value that your investment of time and effort has on the lives of others. In return, the reward of volunteering is the greatest gift you will ever receive.  

Dev: Volunteering is one of those activities where one needs to jump in and make a start without asking too many questions about what one will get out of it and whether the time is worth it. The satisfaction and benefits from volunteering are very experiential and once you start doing it, you almost have a new discovery about yourself and realize how much you can offer to a cause 

Pat: Everyone has something to offer when it comes to volunteering. Focusing on your personal passions will make volunteer activities—whether small or big—more personally rewarding. The sooner you start, the more you’ll accumulate valuable volunteer experience and help shape how you’ll ultimately want to engage to work for change.   

Talena: Thinking about volunteering is incredibly exciting, but it can sometimes be overwhelming if you’re not sure where to start. Ask yourself what your passions are, what excites you and what skills you have that you feel will be an asset. Research potential organizations you’re interested in and review their mission and/or value statement to get a sense of the culture. You can also contact an organization to see if you can have a 30-minute informational interview to learn a bit more about them. 

Dan: Think about a part of society you want to see improved and find an organization that is tackling the issue. 

How to find your own volunteer opportunity 

There are many local organizations that can benefit from your skills, time and effort! You can sit on a board, help a frontline agency deliver services, mentor youth starting out their careers or volunteer for a specific event.  
Check out United Way-funded Volunteer Toronto, a great resource to find opportunities in Toronto. They also have a service where you can book a 30 minute consultation with an advisor to help you match your skills and interests to a role. In Peel, United Way-funded Volunteer MBC (Mississauga, Brampton, Caledon) is another resource to access opportunities.  

Another way you can give back? Get involved with United Way through your workplace. You can run an employee giving campaign, become a sponsored employee, or host a fundraising event. We’ve got plenty of resources to help you get started. 

*answers may have been edited for length and clarity 

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