The volunteer team Christmas spirit abounds this year at the site of Adopt-A-Family (AAF) on Huron Street in Guelph.
Claire is a volunteer editor and she works in the office ensuring that every detail of the donor and recipient paperwork for AAF is accurate and complete. Claire loves her position and states that "what keeps me here is the people", meaning all the other volunteers as well as the donors and recipients. Her exclamation that "you make friends here and they stay your friends" suggests that Claire has found a place where she belongs helping others in need experience a better Christmas. Claire has 'corralled' a bunch of her friends into helping out with AAF. Some of these friends are from other communities so the help that these volunteers contribute is from a far.
Linda has been a volunteer for six years with AAF and found out about the program through a friend when she first moved to Guelph. She loves Christmas and this is her way of giving back to the community. Linda shared the fact that AAF started with 1 volunteer about 25+ years ago and now recruits over 40 volunteers in order to be able to fill all of the needs of the program. Among the volunteers are Linda's husband and some of her friends. Linda explains that many of the needs that recipients ask for aren't what you'd expect at Christmas time, as requests such as food and sanitary products far outweigh asking for a 'treat' gift. Linda loves volunteering as the rewards of helping families in need is enormous and she is overwhelmed with the "thank you notes" the program receives from the family recipients. As a mother and a grandmother, Linda says that her volunteer work generates respect from her entire family. Linda's gift to her family this year is adopting a family on their behalf the gift that keeps on giving.
Pat has been volunteering for three years, doing filing and other administrative support tasks. The Women in Crisis referrals are special to Pat; sometimes the Christmas wishes might be as simple as a Christmas tree. When asked what she likes about volunteering for AAF, Pat responded that the volunteer team has good leadership, you get to know the people, build relationships, and for a lot of the retired people, this has taken the place of the working relationships they once had.
Joanne is retired, and has been a volunteer and donor for five years. She was looking for some way to give back to the community in a way that is exemplified by the philosophy of AAF. Joanne can see the impact of the Christmas spirit in every aspect of AAF including the volunteer team, donors and recipients. She is so happy to help everyone experience the joy of Christmas, supported by the look of happiness "that you can see on everyone's faces". Joanne is spurred on by the other volunteers as their excitement is 'contagious'. Joanne credits much of the success of AAF to how much the donors love giving to the program as that's 'key'. Some of the donors are friends of Joanne's from the Toronto and Brampton area as she has spread the word far and wide. She noted that there are also donors who were former recipients of the program who are now in a financial position to 'pay it forward'.
Joanne says it's all about the engagement, we feed off each other as volunteers. We all just want to be part of the excitement. What makes this program unique is that the volunteers help with the organization of the program therefore they really get to feel a sense of ownership. Right from the beginning they take the time to work through the whole process with you, volunteers even help with the interviewing and training of new volunteers. Joanne recalls that for years the program was run solely by volunteers, and it has only been in the past few years that there has been a dedicated staff person involved full-time.
Cindy is a volunteer that has been with the program for 11 years. When she moved from Toronto to Guelph she was interested in meeting new people. She saw an Adopt-A-Family volunteer ad and responded to the call for help, as she too was looking for a meaningful way of being involved in the community. Cindy speaks of the warm fuzzy feeling and the reward of seeing the outcome of her and the team's hard work. Cindy has adult kids who are proud of what she does, which includes sewing of fabric gift bags, shopping year round for Adopt-A-Family, and donating space in her home to store all the items and cloth bags prior to moving into the temporary AAF home every year.
As a whole, the volunteers talk about the wonderful leadership they have benefited from, and the teamwork that happens when things get busy. One of the greatest wishes of the Adopt-A-Family team is that they may one day find a permanent home. As the need grows and the workload increases, the volunteers tire after a busy season. Setting up and tearing down would be one less job to do at the end of an already busy season if they have their own home.
They are collectively so proud that the program has grown, from helping just a small number of families when it first began to now helping over 1,100 families, and they are all so humbled by the fact that there are so many families who just can't make Christmas happen. Many of the volunteers speak of a wonderful Christmas they have had the privilege of enjoying with their families and they want similar experiences for all children.
Truth be told, the Adopt-A-Family volunteer team is one that has been years in the making. In a recent interview with some of the volunteers who have served the longest they tell a story of friendship, inspiration and community. They describe the program as a Win-Win-Win-Win. The donors win by contributing to something so special; the social workers win by being able to ensure families they are working with get the help they need at Christmas (not to mention getting to deliver the presents, just like a real-life Santa Claus!); and the families win by receiving not only the generous gifts from their 'adoptive' donors but also by receiving the gift of hope. And finally, the volunteers win, knowing they are the glue that holds it all together and that through their tireless efforts as Adopt-A-Family elves, so many children will be helped. It's a wonderful Christmas for everyone involved.