COCHRANE— Running April 18 to 24 communities are celebrating National Volunteer Week.
Alberta stands tall in Canada boasting one of the highest rates of volunteerism in the country. The province sees about 50 per cent of adults volunteer, surpassing the Canadian average of 44 per cent.
Cochrane knows well the power of volunteering and the impact the acts of kindness can have on those in need.
“Volunteers are literally what makes up a community. I honestly think they are what set a community apart and it defies the spirit of a community,” said Helping Hands Society of Cochrane and Area program manager Melia Hayes. “Cochrane and specifically Helping Hands has some of the best volunteers.”
Volunteers are driven by their selfless spirit and a determination to give back to the community, Hayes said, adding they love people, the community and are willing to give their time, services and energy.
Volunteering has been different COVID-19 and she has been impressed with the way people have still been eager to volunteer and help the community.
“They still want to be a support to everybody in the community,” Hayes said. “If we didn’t have volunteers, it would be absolutely tragic for our community ...Volunteers are really what helps our community to thrive."
Hayes said a volunteer who embodies the spirit of going above and beyond to help others with anything and everything is Vita Hopkins.
Hopkins is a prolific and enthusiastic volunteer in the Cochrane area working with Helping Hands, The Cochrane and Area Humane Society and the Cochrane Food Bank.
The retired teacher comes from a farming background. Hopkins said, from an early age, the spirit of looking after one's neighbour was instilled in her.
When she moved to Cochrane one of the first things, she did was explore volunteer opportunities. She was immediately struck at the number of options in town— It indicated Cochrane was a community that looks after those in need.
“In a smaller place like Cochrane you really do have that much more of a sense of community,” Hopkins said. “With my volunteer work, it's amazing the situations and people that you see.”
Volunteering during COVID-19 has been different, she said, but, she is grateful she still has the opportunty to work with the community. During the pandemic Hopkins has been bringing people groceries, driving people to appointments and helping out whenever possible.
As a volunteer with Helping Hands Hopkins will work with some clients for two or three months and can build true friendships while helping out those who may need a hand up.
“There’s a lot of phone conversations now,” Hopkins said. “I have met the most amazing people who are down and out whatever the reasons maybe.”
Hopkins encourages other people to become a volunteer to share in the experience of connecting with the community and helping others.
“Cochrane is a great place and they’re a lot of people that just need that helping hand,” Hopkins said.
Cochrane is known for legendary events and many of them are made possible by volunteers with the Cochrane and Area Events Society (CAES).
CAES is a group of volunteers that organizes events for the Town of Cochrane, said secretary Marina Chabbert. Their signature family celebrations are Canada Day, Labour Day, New Year's Eve and Stuff a Bus at Christmas.
“When I was growing up, I went and attended events with my kids. Now that my kids are grown and I have a little bit more time on my hands I can give back and help to organize events for young families to enjoy,” Chabbert said.
CAES has pivoted during COVID-19 to bring different form of entertainment to the community be it online or in-person.
Canada Day was a melding of virtual and in-person celebrations that took many hours and hard work from volunteers. The day included a community parade that worked its way across Cochrane, while different online events took place.
“People were happy and that’s what matters, to provide and try to bring that entertainment in whatever forms would be acceptable or safe,” Chabbert said.
CAES volunteers are no strangers to the adversity— Over the year and have hosted events in the rain, shine and even snow. Chabbert said they have a gift for making the best of a day, even when they get rained out like during the past two Labour Day Parades.
"It's so appreciatde how they are determined to help no matter what," Chabbert said.
Their work is deeply appreciated, Chabbert said, because they are often giving up their valuable time to help make the community better.
“It enriches our town and makes it a better place to live in if we put on fun events for the kids and adults,” Chabbert said.
Volunteer Maureen Vink has been an active volunteer in the community, including at Bethany Cochrane and the Cochrane Legion.
As chair for the Bethany Family Council Vink has been volunteering with Bethany Care for eight years diligently working to help make life better for residents who call the centre home.
“If we see anything that is needed or anything that is going on we bring it to administration to see what we can do about it,” Vink said. “We didn’t just want to be an organization that complained … This is the home of the residents, so if there’s something they could use that would make life a little bit happier for them then we step up and have been fundraising.”
It has been a frustrating experience being a volunteer during the pandemic because they are unable to go into the facility due to the current COVID-19 public health measures. She praised the hard work of staff who are tired and worn out by the past year and would love to be able to offer physical support as a volunteer.
“It’s been a really tough year for all of the organizations that rely on volunteers because a lot of them can’t be there,” Vink said. “For the residents, it’s just devastating, they haven’t had that connection— It’s been a heartbreaking situation for everyone, but it’s also shown the strength of the staff and our health care workers.”
It has been inspiring to see the different ways the community is connecting with residents, she said, citing children’s parades like the Pumpkin Walk, cruises, Christmas cards and other events.
“It’s amazing what they’re thinking of,” Vink said. “For the residents, it just means the world.”
Vink said she encourages others to volunteer because it is such a fulfilling experience.
“You get way more in return than you ever can give,” Vink said. “There’s so much satisfaction, peace and enjoyment— It’s just endless what you get when you give.”
Like other volunteer groups, COVID-19 has forced the Cochrane Activettes to pivot and adapt the ways they support the community, said president Marcia Gilbertson, and volunteers have risen to the occasion.
“A lot of them are compromised or in an age group where they didn’t feel comfortable being out in the public, so a lot of them just took a pause,” Gilbertson said. “There are certain activities we have had to modify, but by and large what we do hasn’t really changed that much— It’s how we do it."
Gilbertson has been with the Activettes for 15 years. It has been a great experience volunteering and experiencing camaraderie and connection with a group of volunteers motivated to help make Cochrane a little better.
“It’s just ingrained in us that you get out and help,” Gilbertson said.
The Activettes are interesting, she said, because most of their new members are new to Cochrane and the organization serves as a way to build friendships while helping others.
One of the greatest experiences of volunteering is the collaboration that occurs within Cochrane.
Gilbertson highlighted the community parades that took place in December 2020 when first responders gathered donations for the Food Bank.
“It was amazing to see how many people wanted to help and how many people helped financially and with donating food,” Gilbertson said.
Volunteers have been innovative during the pandemic, and it has been impressive to see how resourceful people have become.
Gilbertson encouraged the community to support the Activettes through donations by visiting their website for more details.
She added are also looking to recruit volunteers for the Helping Hands food drive later this year. Community members can also donate to The Clothesline, the gently used clothing store that helps raise funds for the non-profit.
Rotary Club president Anna-Marie Joubert said volunteers are often the lifeblood of the community and step up when there are people are in need.
“People want to give back to the community,” Joubert said.
Rotary Club is dedicated to “service above self,” and works quietly behind the scenes supporting different organizations through fundraising projects.
Rotary International is the world's first service club organization, with more than 1.2 million Rotarians in 35,000 Rotary Clubs worldwide.
Projects the Cochrane Club has supported include donations to Urgent Care, Meals for Wheels the Glenbow Ranch Park Foundation, STARS Air Ambulance and others.
Joubert said serving as a Rotary member has been a fulfilling experience and has allowed her to connect with the Cochrane community.
Volunteering has been able to expand members' horizons and experiences in the town, Joubert said, and has been meaningful because of the impact they have had in the community.
“People are all keen to serve,” Joubert said. “We sort of try and make a difference that has an impact.”
Serving the community during COVID-19 has been a daunting experience, but the pandemic has inspired members to double down on what Rotary does best— Helping the community.
“We’ve kept the ship afloat— It reinforced our bases and we are planning for the future and cannot wait for this to be over,” Joubert said. “We will be ready to go.”
Serving the youth in the community, the Kiwanis Club of Cochrane works tirelessly to ensure their needs are met, said president-elect Jackie Depper.
“I think it’s wonderful that volunteers are appreciated in Cochrane. Volunteers are always willing to help the community in whatever way they can and not necessarily expecting anything in return,” Depper said. “To be able to recognize it is wonderful.”
Kiwanis has been supporting children and youth in communities around the world for more than 100 years.
More than 650,000 adult and youth volunteers in more than 80 countries and areas across the globe make up the international organization, and they raise upwards of $100 million every year.
As a long-time resident of the Cochrane area and was amazing to help build an organization like Kiwanis in Cochrane, Depper said.
“I really enjoy this. it’s a lot of fun, the people are great and when we do our projects the kids, you can see their faces glow,” Depper said.
The past year has been testing for the club as they have been forced to cancel many events they have been looking forward to.
“It’s been quite a challenge from a volunteer perspective to get things organized. We’ve had to cancel quite a few things or cut them short,” Depper said.
The club has been working to pivot and adapt, and while it can often take more work in the end it is worth it.
Depper said they are hopeful they will be able to host a bike safety day in June. Depper noted the event will be based on the public health measures at the time.
The club has partnered with the Bike Cochrane Society to bring a Bicycle Safety Day to the community on June 5. The goal is to see 100 children participate in the event where they will be able to have their bike and helmet safety inspected, trade their bike, learn about bike maintenance, road and trail safety and ride in the LaunchPad flow park.
“We’re really hoping that safety day goes because it’s really going to be good for the kids,” Depper said.
The Kiwanis Club is always looking for donations to help support events in the community, but also encouraged people to volunteer with the Club.
“Volunteering makes you feel good about yourself. It helps you feel good about your community and it makes you feel like you’re contributing,” Depper said.
A SELECTION OF VOLUNTEER ORGANIZATIONS IN COCHRANE