In our community, volunteers are the driving force behind many of our most beloved institutions. From our houses of worship and community league halls to Arts on the Ave and The Carrot, the spirit of volunteerism runs strong.

I sat down with two long-term volunteers in our community, John and Margaret Larsen. They’ve lived in Alberta Avenue for 16 years, and seem to be very busy in retirement.

Between the two of them, extensive volunteer work has been done. Deep Freeze, Kaleido, Alberta Avenue Community League, St. Faith’s Church, and the Rat Creek Press have all benefited from their time and energy over the years.  

Margaret said she volunteers because, “It helps me meet all kinds of wonderful people, the festivals especially. I find it makes magic come to the community along with all the people from all over the city. I think we live in a wonderful community, so I like to promote it.”

John also likes the human aspect of volunteer work and the surprises our community brings.

“I like meeting people, and I meet a lot of people and I like to be part of the community. By working with events within the community, you connect with a whole bunch of people. When we bought the house here, we had no idea it was going to turn out like this.”

He continued, “It really is fun. It’s as good as anything you want to do in life. And you know, you get feedback. In the Buddhist philosophy, they say you earn merit when you give away, and that means the energy you give out comes back.”

The work of volunteers brings clear benefits to a community. Not only do many hands make for light work, it also builds community resilience.

Margaret agreed. “It certainly strengthens the community because people wind up having a common purpose for a lot of things, and I think the area is going through a lot of changes going in positive directions, so the more people who become involved, the more positive it will be.”

Margaret is also involved in practical development projects in Central America. Later this month, she is travelling to Guatemala with a group called Hearts and Hands to help improve housing conditions.

“We will be installing stoves in people’s dwellings where they were cooking over open wood fires,” she said, explaining the fires create a lot of smoke. “The stove is of very simple construction of concrete parts and cast iron top and then a stovepipe at the back that takes all the smoke out of the dwelling.”  

These stoves significantly improve health outcomes for people living in homes where food is prepared over open fire, and their simple construction makes them durable and easily repaired. It’s a practical improvement with tangible results to both quality of everyday life and long-term health.

The work of the Larsens has contributed to some big changes in our community. It’s time for attitudes about our community to shift as well.  

“A lot of people still have this idea that this neighbourhood is a little bit unsavory, or it’s not safe or something. We’ve been here 15 years, 16 years now, and we’ve had no trouble whatsoever.”

John and Margaret are a great example of civic-minded people committed to their community. When we connect with our neighbours, we build community resiliency and make our lives better. By helping our neighbours, we help ourselves.

Feature image: John and Margaret Larsen are avid volunteers. | Adam Millie