I moved to Prince George in the fall of 2013 to start my graduate studies at the University of Northern British Columbia. I had been living in Vancouver for the previous four years and didn’t know a single person in Prince George. I had anticipated meeting people through my grad program, but since most students in my program were completing their studies by distance, this proved to be a challenge. I quickly realized that if I was going to meet people in this new place I was going to have to get outside of the university and explore the city.
This is where volunteering comes in. Being a grad student looking at women’s health in Northern BC, I wanted to learn more about the area and issues affecting residents. While living in Vancouver I had volunteered a few times, mainly through my undergraduate degree in Recreation Therapy and usually for course credit. Other volunteer opportunities I had looked into in the lower mainland required a large time commitment and extensive application process, both of which were too onerous for me as a full time student with a busy schedule. I was pleasantly surprised to find out just how easy it is to get involved with organizations in Prince George.
My first volunteer experience
My first volunteer experience in Prince George was facilitated by my graduate supervisor, who is very involved in local causes. She asked me to help with registration at the Walk for Alzheimer’s. This annual event takes place at the Northern Sports Centre and attracts people of all ages. Although I was kept busy with registration duties it was great to see families and co-workers coming together to support those living with this devastating disease.
Finding my volunteering niche
After dipping my toes into the volunteerism pool I decided to contact an organization that does work similar to that that I’m exploring in my research. It wasn’t long after arriving in Prince George that I heard about AWAC and the important work they do. AWAC- An Association Advocating for Women and Children, provides housing and outreach for marginalized women and female youth. After calling to inquire about volunteering I met with the executive director to discuss how my skills and interests could best help work towards the goals of the organization.
Following these initial experiences, I continued to keep my ears open for other volunteer opportunities. This led to becoming involved with the Elizabeth Fry Society, the local Raise-a-reader campaign, the Homeless Count and most recently the Girls Rock Camp North. This is a volunteer-run, week-long summer program for self-identified girls and gender creative youth aged 9-17, operating out of Prince George, BC from August 21-25, 2017. Camp founders describe the camp as:
“…a grass-roots organization that cultivates self-empowerment and positive self- image in self-identified girls and gender creative youth through music creation and performance, skills sharing and building, and peer collaboration.”
The cost of attending the camp is on a sliding scale basis depending on each camper’s financial situation. Organizers explain that this feature acknowledges differences in wealth, income, costs, and privilege and works to actively address the economic disparities in the Prince George community and society.
Building a network through volunteering
Not only did these volunteering experiences give me a deeper sense of Prince George and its residents, but it introduced me to a fantastic network of people who really care about the community. If you’ve lived in Prince George for any length of time I’m sure you’ve realized that residents often wear many hats and fill various roles. Through volunteering, I’ve not only meet new people but also saw new sides of people I had already met.
A few months ago I got an email from a colleague asking if I was interested in being a board member for Prince George New Hope Society. New Hope is a drop-in centre for sex trade workers and offers several forms of support from clothing to medical services. This incredible organization serves hundreds of women a month and operates on a very limited budget. After meeting with the executive director I knew I wanted to be involved on a more formal level than I had in my previous volunteering efforts. The board oversees the operation of the society and is accountable to both funders and clients. Being a board member is a big responsibility, but our organizations and non-profit societies can’t function without them. If you are passionate about a certain cause or organization I encourage you to contact them and see how you can help out.
If you live in Prince George, it’s easy to become a volunteer
While my initial motivation for volunteering in Prince George was somewhat selfish, I can honestly say that I can’t imagine my life without volunteering, on some level. Not every organization or event is a fit for every person but I guarantee that there is a volunteer opportunity out there for everyone, whatever your skills, interests and schedule may be. You’ll not only walk away with the warm fuzzy feeling of making a difference, but a clearer sense of the community, your own skills and attributes, and some new friends.