Can you record a Christmas story for kids? Can you sew aprons for a women’s shelter kitchen? Can you build a snowman?
These may seem like simple tasks, but yegSpark – a new micro-volunteering (quick volunteering) recruitment project hopes to match individuals and groups who have a desire to help with those who need help, via various charities, non-profit organizations and health, education and social service agencies in Edmonton.
“There’s a desire to serve, so let’s feed that and do good for the community,” said Kerry Powell, who shepherded yegSpark’s website launch even 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.”
YegSpark’s recruitment tool is online: its website and facebook page. Anyone can sign up to be a member to access volunteer opportunities involving a variety of disciplines including art, crafts, decoration, music, design, carpentry, coding or photography. Free membership in yegSpark is a way to connect with “an army” of volunteers. Roughly 160 people have already signed up.
Previous volunteer opportunities included adding rocks painted with positive messages to a ‘gratitude garden’ at the Edmonton General Hospital; writing cards and letters to those in COVID-19 isolation; crocheting button bands for COVID face masks; and creating outdoor beautification projects at a long-term care centre.
Unlike other volunteering sites, yegSpark focuses on short-term creative opportunities, updated as the needs arises and flexible enough to fit in any schedule – from an hour to a few days. Powell says current opportunities include story reading for Catholic Social Services; building a snowman for St. Joseph’s Auxiliary Hospital; or sewing aprons for the LaSalle women’s shelter.
“YegSpark is a collaborative effort of Catholic agencies and the Archdiocese to bring together Edmontonians in service and to grow a sense of community among those who want to help others.”
In this time of the COVID pandemic and beyond, yegSpark fosters connection and supports people in their own calling to create and give back through service opportunities.
Volunteering is open to anyone, and organizers hope the range and flexibility of choices will attract young people in particular.
“If you have an hour break at home between two classes and you’re really not getting any schoolwork done anyway, you can use that to participate in one of our volunteer activities,” said Rielle Gagnon, a second-year law student at the University of Alberta.
Gagnon was part of the committee that has helped prepare for the launch of yegSpark since May. Since then, she approached the students’ association at St. Joseph’s College, which loved the project.
“There are lot of very keen and generous, 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.”
“They said ‘That is so easy, and so good for a student. We’ve been trying to connect people with volunteer opportunities, and it’s harder than it looks,’” said Gagnon who lived in residence at St. Joseph’s College as an undergraduate and serves as the student representative on its board of governors.
Gagnon said it can be intimidating for a student to approach an organization directly about volunteering, so yegSpark is welcome.
“Its purpose is connecting volunteers with those organizations, and the other thing is it puts everything in one place. You’re not limited to this one type of volunteer activity that you may realize is not the best fit for you … it’s extremely flexible.”
Through yegSpark, young people can participate on their own, in their own home, even during the social distancing restrictions of the pandemic. Gagnon said it may be exactly what many socially conscious young people are looking for.
“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.”
As an organizer from the beginning, Gagnon said: “The idea behind yegSpark was: 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 hope to also recruit students who have to fulfill service-hour recruitments for school or for sacramental preparation, leadership classes, youth groups, Girl Guides and other groups.
Powell said one of the challenging parts is to have organizations think about what they can do with an army of willing volunteers.
“I’m hopeful that as we do some opportunities, and we demonstrate what we can achieve, that organizations, 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.”
“The challenge is that when they do service, when they volunteer, they tend to enjoy it,” she said. “How do we extend that, to provide ways that they can continue that enjoyment?”
yegSpark was developed using funding from a Catholic sisters’ legacy fund through Catholic Health of Alberta and the goal is to sustain it through funding from the Edmonton Catholic Agencies Network. ECAN members include the Archdiocese of Edmonton, Covenant Health, Catholic Social Services, Edmonton Catholic schools, St. Joseph’s College, Newman Theological College, and the Ukrainian Eparchy of Edmonton.