Igniting the spirit of volunteering

Can you record a Christmas story for kids? Can you sew aprons for a women’s shelter kitchen? Can you build a snowman?

These tasks are part of a call-out from yegSpark, a new micro-volunteering project that hopes to match individuals and groups with a desire to help with those in need via various charities, non-profit organizations and health, education and social service agencies in Edmonton.

A collaborative effort of Catholic agencies and the Edmonton archdiocese, yegSpark is designed to bring Edmontonians in service together and to grow a sense of community. Covenant Health is a partner in the endeavour.

Recently, Covenant Health’s CEO Patrick Dumelie, who is a yegSpark volunteer, read a story that was recorded on video for Catholic Social Services.

This summer, yegSpark members worked virtually to beautify the visiting area outside the Edmonton General Continuing Care Centre. They decorated the chain-link fence with colourful painted hearts and a custom banner of a koi pond to cheer residents and their families.

“There’s a desire to serve. So let’s feed that and do good for the community,” says Kerry Powell, who shepherded yegSpark’s website launch in the midst of the social restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s exactly the right time to do this … the normal paths for volunteering have been cut off for a lot of people, but that urge to help, that desire to help, that desire to fill your time with something worthwhile is now kind of left unfulfilled. YegSpark is a way you can activate that.”

Anyone can become a member of yegSpark to access volunteer opportunities involving a variety of disciplines, including art, crafts, writing, music, design, carpentry, coding or photography. Nearly 200 people have already signed up.

Other previous projects include painting rocks with positive messages to add to a gratitude garden at the Edmonton General, writing cards and letters to those in COVID-19 isolation and crocheting button bands for face masks.

Kerry says yegSpark augments existing volunteer programs by focusing on short-term creative opportunities, updated as needs arise and flexible enough to fit in any schedule, from an hour to a few days. Current service opportunities include recording read-aloud stories for Catholic Social Services, building snowmen outside St. Joseph’s Auxiliary Hospital or sewing aprons for the La Salle women’s shelter.

The new project fosters connection and supports people in their own calling to create and give back through service opportunities. 

Rielle Gagnon

Volunteering is open to anyone, and organizers hope the range and flexibility of choices will attract young people in particular. Rielle Gagnon, a second-year law student at the University of Alberta, is part of a committee that has been helping prepare for the launch of yegSpark since May. 

“There are a lot of very keen, generous and big-hearted students who really, really want to give back to their community, and I think they sometimes struggle with knowing where to start or how to get their foot in the door,” says Rielle, who lived in residence at St. Joseph’s College as an undergraduate and serves as the student representative on its board of governors.

Rielle says it can be intimidating for a student to approach an organization directly about volunteering, so yegSpark’s design makes it easy for them to give their time.

“Its purpose is connecting volunteers with those organizations, and the other thing is that it puts everything in one place.”

Through yegSpark, young people can participate on their own at home, even during the social distancing restrictions of the pandemic. 

“I think a lot of people have realized that they are very blessed and have a lot of privilege in their lives. I think that has made people realize there are a lot of people who need our help and that has been magnified during the pandemic.

“The idea behind yegSpark was to imagine how much good could be done if they all joined forces into some project that would have an even wider reach because of their united resources.”

Organizers also hope to recruit students who need to fulfill service-hour requirements for school, leadership classes, Guides, Scouts or other groups.

Kerry says one of the challenges is to get organizations to imagine what they could do with an army of willing volunteers.

“I’m hopeful that as we do some opportunities and we demonstrate what we can achieve, organizations and people who serve others will see that potential. The doing is going to create the example and the inspiration and, if you’ll allow me, the spark that will activate other opportunities.”

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