Working on the premise that recruiting a volunteer might be as simple as providing the opportunity, University of Lethbridge management student Jody Roetman had an idea. Some 10 months later, that idea spawned what promises to be an ongoing relationship between University students and volunteer agencies throughout southern Alberta.
The inaugural U of L Volunteer Fair, held Sept. 17 in the Atrium, proved to be a rousing success as students attended in droves, proving that activism is more than just an ideal on campus.
"The students really seemed to respond well. They were engaged and genuinely interested in how they could become involved," Roetman says. "I know the faculty at the University were incredibly supportive and really pushing students to attend.
"I had always thought that students would like to get out and volunteer and this was just an outlet for them."
The 22-year-old Edmonton native is in her fifth year at the U of L, completing a BA in history and BMgt in marketing. Interested in volunteering in the community, she found it difficult to get started. Were it not for her diligence, a local agency would have lost an opportunity to engage a young volunteer. Roetman decided to try and do something to take away the hurdles she encountered.
"I wanted to get involved but I wasn't quite sure how. I didn't know what groups were out there, I didn't know how to get in touch with them, what questions to ask or even the types of things that I would be doing for a specific agency," she says.
"I wanted to bring all the organizations to students so we could remove that lack of information barrier. There are so many wonderful agencies in Lethbridge and so many opportunities to get
involved. I think it's a shame students don't participate more, and one of the big reasons is they don't know what's out there."
Her instincts were bang on, although it took a little wrangling to get local agencies to buy into the concept.
"One of the bigger challenges was encouraging the agencies to believe that we could help them," she says. "I think they may have had the perception that students talk about putting on something like this and getting involved but maybe they don't see the action behind the words."
A total of 30-plus agencies eventually took part in the fair and given the contacts they made, it's a sure bet as many or more will be back next year.
"We already work quite closely with students who are history majors, for example, but I was able to connect with students in management, education, and arts courses who had not thought of us as an opportunity to acquire skills and give back to the community," Galt Museum & Archives Special Events and Volunteer Coordinator Lori Harasem says.
"We had a total of 38 students sign up for more information, and about two dozen more take information home to think about. We also had interest from some faculty members and staff who are soon to retire. It was a wonderful opportunity and we did as much PR in one day as we would normally get in about six months without the fair."
Roetman pushed the concept that volunteering is not a one-way benefit; that students can help while also enhancing their studies and experience.
"The job market is highly-competitive. Employers are looking for people who are committed. I think that community involvement shows a sense of commitment. Even if it's being a big brother or big sister, walking dogs for the Humane Society, there's some form of commitment there and I think employers see the value in that," Roetman says.
Her best example is the volunteer marketing work she does for Big Brothers & Big Sisters of Lethbridge.
"I wanted to show
students you can volunteer in such a way that you can gain real-life experience and professional skills."
When Roetman graduates, the University's Registrar's Office is expected take over the event.
With the success of the inaugural Fair still resonating, the bond created between students and local volunteer agencies should only strengthen over time.