Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Making Money Is Easy - Making Change Is Hard

Typically in this blog I write about community events or people. I go to an event, I learn about it, and then I come back here and give my perspective to you. Last week I attended the Heart of Wood Buffalo Awards, and I am not going to write about the event. My friend and fellow blogger Russell Thomas did a pretty comprehensive post about the awards themselves on his blog, and I suggest you read that for coverage of the event. Instead of writing about the event I am going to write about why the awards exist - and the nature of volunteerism in our community.

The title of this post is a quip I made to my friend Wally at the Leading the North conference in January. Wally and I were discussing what it means to contribute, and I tossed out the one liner in the title. Wally loved it (and said he was going to steal it, too, and knowing Wally he probably did!). You see, we were discussing the fact that pretty much anyone in this region can choose to make money - but not everyone chooses to make change. And while money is great I think change is even better.

We are widely known as a philanthropic community, and I am very proud of that fact. We are the per capita topper for United Way donations, for instance. We raise ridiculous amounts of money for charities at galas. And we open up our wallets regularly for good causes, from our Keyano College Foundation to local kids doing Jump Rope for Heart at their school. While that philanthropic spirit is amazing and is often celebrated what isn't celebrated as often is our volunteer spirit - and it should be. Philanthropy isn't all about money, people. A good friend reminded me of that recently, and he is right. I too am guilty of  the "write the cheque because I am too busy" tactic. I know something important, though. I know what really runs this community. And it isn't money.

You see, this community is run by volunteers. I don't say that lightly, people. Community is not based on the size of the buildings, or the size of the industry. Community is not based on commerce. Community is not based on the type of cars on our streets or the square footage of our houses. Community is based on people. Community is the concept that what you put into it is what you'll get out of it. Put nothing in and there is no community. Give it something - anything - and you build something powerful. You build a community. You build what we have going on here, which is nothing short of astonishing.

The Heart of Wood Buffalo Awards celebrate volunteers and non-profits, and it's a wonderful thing to witness. I am always humbled by those who choose to work in our non-profit organizations - and it is a choice. Many of those who work there could easily take their skills and abilities and talents and go work for industry - and make a helluva lot more money doing so. So, why do they stay in non-profits? Because it is in their heart. Because they are making a difference. Because they are making change - and they know that while making money is easy, making change is hard, and yet they do it anyhow. So, my respect for those who run places like the Food Bank and the SPCA and the Centre of Hope and all our other non-profits? Total, mad respect.

Now, those non-profits often rely on another thing to function - volunteers. They can't afford to pay people to work at every event they host. They need people, but they need them for free - and that is where the volunteers come in. And come in they do, often swooping in at the last minute when word goes out that an event is under-staffed or in dire need of more volunteers. They don't ride in on white horses, and they don't act like heroes - although they are. If I could get them all a super-hero cape I would, because that is exactly what they are - community super heroes.

The crazy thing is that often volunteers don't even see what they do as special. I know this first hand, people. I don't think what I do with this blog is any big thing, really. On the weekend I spent over 12 hours at Relay for Life, and then spent 4 hours writing about it. Over 16 hours spent, and with zero pay - but to me it wasn't a big deal, it was just the right thing to do. I didn't raise a dime for cancer research, but maybe I raised some awareness of the event, and maybe I provided some entertainment to those who did the money raising and walked that track. To me, though, those unpaid 16 plus hours was no big deal - and that is what I find with every volunteer, no matter if they serve on boards or are simply spending a couple of hours at a festival. It's just no big deal. It's just what they do. It's just this volunteer thing, nothing special. And that, perhaps, is exactly what makes it special. And that, quite likely, is why I am so madly passionate about the volunteers in this community. Because they all contribute. They all know making money is easy - but making change is hard, and they do it anyhow because it's just the right thing to do. Perhaps it's because in the end it pays in ways you can't take to the bank but that you take with you every day in your heart instead.

So, to every person in this community who is or has been a volunteer - thank you. If you serve on a board, a school council, volunteer at festivals, or paint faces for free - thank you. If you participate in community clean-ups - hell, even if you are just out at a park and notice some garbage on the ground and toss it in the dumpster unpaid, unasked, and unthanked - thank you. If you do ANYTHING to make this community a better place - thank you. I can't give all of you an award, people. I probably don't even know 95% of you that serve as volunteers. But I can give you this: my sincere gratitude for making change. I can give you my promise that I too will continue to make change in this community, and that together we will make it into the most amazing place this country - perhaps this world - has ever seen.

Making money is easy, people. Making change is hard. And yet every single days thousands in this community are making change - and it's a beautiful thing to witness, Fort McMurray. It's a beautiful, beautiful thing. And it gives me hope every single day - hope for us, and for the future - and for our community.

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