A Cog in the Community Service Machine: A Filipina-Canadian’s Perspective on COVID-19

It is to be expected, that in a crisis like this, many people will be put in a difficult position (or a more difficult position) and are in need of help. One incredible thing about this pandemic is that there were lots of opportunities to help, and there are different roles to fill.

It’s pretty neat to take a break from being on the organizer role (I’m talking specifically about my job), since all our programs are cancelled. My job is the main way I do something that helps people in need in a direct way. My volunteer work as a member of a board of directors is also important, and I appreciate it, but a bit more removed, a bit more big-picture.

I was not surprised that social media pages and groups were set up to help people in an efficient way. Facebook groups specific to COVID-19 that enabled the average person to have a direct way to help with advice, positive commentary on social media, and buying items online to help those with emergent need. For a Facebook page that is just barely a month old, to have 20,000 members, is pretty darn impressive. I wanna buy a case of wine for each of the founders and moderators of the page. What an incredible labour of love.

Another way I have been helping is by being in “super seamstress mode”. Since last year I’ve been making fabric bags for Boomerang Bags Edmonton, and that has proven useful during this time. Hundreds of people throughout the province started making fabric laundry bags for healthcare workers, so they can separate their dirty (and most likely contaminated) work uniforms and toss them right away into the washing machine.

In my neighbourhood, with relief, I discovered ways to do a little something cheerful right by my front yard. Sidewalk chalk art. Staying connected with community leaders. Volunteering from home.

For my workplace, I realized that disseminating information, especially online, is really important. It’s part of my duties anyways. Handling marketing and communications for work and the clients we serve who need help is a part of my daily duties as I work from home.

These are the “doer” type of roles. The soldiers in the field. The cog in the machine. I know there are hundreds of volunteers doing seamstress work right now. I know (and it’s incredible) that there are thousands of people on the Facebook group, that almost every single time someone make a post asking for help, an offer is made within an hour or less. I am seeing dozens of photos drawing positive messages of pavement or fences, even if there’s a risk of snowfall or watery puddles the next day that would wash it away.

I’d like to take a moment to give a shoutout to all the administrators, organizers, facilitators of these on-the-ground initiatives to help others. Because it’s more stressful to do it at this time, but the relieve that these gestures of support is also of a greater impact.

My Financial Costs to Volunteering

The time and energy that it takes to volunteer in a meaningful way is something I anticipated and embraced. I mean, that’s the whole point. To receive little or no financial compensation for doing something that is interesting and helpful to the community at large. It gives opportunities to meet different types of people, learn information and perspectives that are not always available within one’s home or work environment, and have a fun time making a project or goal a reality.

However, there are two items that I didn’t quite expect, which turned into actual additional expenses. These are travel and food costs.

Overall, I’d say I have a decent grasp of my finances, where the dollars go, how much, and under which category. As I grow older and have reached a level of stability in my life, I’ve managed to aim a certain quality of life that I’m satisfied with, hit savings targets and enjoyed the process, and find ways to be savvy with expenses. That being said, as my list of volunteer activities grew, there are times that spending a bit more to travel around places or to have a quick bite is inevitable.

As a non-driver, public transit user, who attends meetings and activities outside of “regular” transit hours, the cost of ride hailing services do add up. I’d say 90% of my taxi, Tappcar and Uber trips are related to a volunteer or community service activity. Whenever possible, when heading to the location I try to take transit, and then only take a cab going back. However, traveling from downtown Edmonton where I work, to the very far edge of Edmonton farther west from Anthony Henday, it’s just not feasible. It’s a hefty car ride as well. Such trips would likely be $40 one way. I’ve done this a few times, and given my duties in this particular volunteer board, it’s not going to stop anytime soon.

Since I started using his budgeting software and system a while back, I do have the tools to answer this questions with actual numbers.

For another board I volunteer for, the main office is on the south side across the river, around the Scona area. When the weather is good and I can leave the office from downtown 45 minutes ahead of time, taking a bus and walking for 20 minutes (if the weather is good and the sidewalks are not slippery) is feasible. Otherwise, it’s a $20 cab ride to get to the meeting. And then, since the meeting ends pretty late, no way can I take transit going home. Fellow board members had kindly offered a ride sometimes, for which I’m grateful for. However, when that is not an option, that’s another $20 minimum for another trip. One volunteer meeting, $40 expense, but I get a nice dinner, so there’s upsides and downsides for sure.

For one board I am a member of, our sub-committee meetings usually take place in restaurants. Typically it would be a bar in downtown Edmonton. Sometimes there would be two of these meetings in a month, and that’s where the expense can add up.

I was worried about this when my husband helped me put things in perspective by asking a simple question. “Is it within the budget?” Regardless of what prompted the expense, there is comfort in knowing that the expense is anticipated and that I do have the resources to allocate money for it. Since I started using his budgeting software and system a while back, I do have the tools to answer this questions with actual numbers.

I’ve managed to find a workaround to make sure this doesn’t break the bank too much. As far as eating out is concerned, I have given up on my “solo restaurant dates” that I’d have once a month. So, that’s one less restaurant meal I spend on. Whenever there is a meeting in a bar, depending on how hungry I am, I started ordering appetizers half of the time, instead of choosing an entree right away. A board member started teasing me and say “looks like you have a thing for poutine!” when he noticed that for several meetings in a row, I’d get the same thing: iced tea and a poutine.

Regarding travel costs, it looks like I spent $1,500 on cab rides last year and $1,100 in 2018. That jump is definitely directly correlated to the additional activities I’ve been attending. But I have zero car expenses because I don’t drive. This expense is the additional one I have on top of my bus pass. Thinking about how much people spend on their cars, helped me put this in perspective.

I realize that having to spend a few dollars in addition to sharing one’s time and energy while unpaid is too much for some. But I hope that for some who have a bit of financial flexibility, that it would manageable to give just a little bit more. And seriously, the conversations I have outside the actual meetings, when at the restaurant chatting while waiting for everyone else, or during the carpools after a long board meeting, they are just as meaningful as the actual volunteer activity we just had.

If Money is not an Issue

Many years ago, while searching for jobs not too long after finishing university, I stumbled upon a few articles online that encouraged the reader to ask this question:

“If money is not an issue, what job would you like to have?”

At that time, I answered “volunteer”. And it seems like that indeed had led me to a role that suited my skills and interests, and is quite rewarding. As a Volunteer Coordinator of a nonprofit, I have learned to appreciate the value of having the structure that enables the volunteers to focus on what they do best at their designated role, and not to worry about small details that can delay or distract them.

Lately, I have been thinking of what the future holds given that I am still considered a young professional. After all, I’m a few years away before turning 30. Retirement feels like a long time away, despite the fact that my husband diligently prepares for it through our regular savings and keeping our accounts organized.

We have a lottery pool at work, where each staff member who wants to participate can pitch in $2, a staff person goes to buy a ticket, and hope that we are the next group of employees who win a few million dollars, like the ones we hear about in the news.

I remember a comment from a former colleague Sofia about lottery winnings that stuck with me. She said “imagine how much affordable housing you can build out of all that money.” I appreciate her viewpoint since it was the first time I hear from anybody about a way to spread the winnings to those in need. Another colleague had said, with a hint of worry “I wouldn’t know what to do with all the much money.” This is also a fair point, as I heard numerous stories of people’s lives turning for the worst after winning the lottery. The troubles that the winners have come in two ways, from being reckless about spending, and from being bombarded with inappropriate request for money from distant relatives to random strangers. I guess, with great wealth comes a great burden.

Right now, if money is not an issue because somehow I have large sums of it or an unlimited supply, I imagine that I will split the money into a few different categories:

  • Personal financial stability
  • Assisting relatives in need, both in this country and overseas
  • Local charitable donations
  • Large-scale impact on certain social causes

For example, I’ll pay off our home’s mortgage and set aside enough money for an investment fund where the interest is enough to cover current expenses and occasional luxuries. And then, I’d like to find a way to provide financial assistance to my relatives in need in a way that is sustainable and has a long-term benefit: whether it is funds to start a business, house and lot, or covering tuition payment for younger kids.

Outside of the family unit, here’s how I envision huge sums of money can make an impact. There are many charitable organizations that struggle to stay afloat, and as a result, searching for funding eats up precious time that could have been spent making a difference through their programs and services. Providing stability such as through an endowment fund or a financial boost for a few years would be a good thing, I think. And then, similar to those lottery winners who would donate millions of dollars towards a cause, I’d like to do the same thing as well. Instead of just dropping a cheque though, I’d like to help build something from the ground up. Maybe a new building to expand an organization’s service and operations, or even a brand new facility to fill an unmet need.

One can dream, right? But, since the chances of winning the lottery or having a massive multi-million dollar business empire is pretty small, the realistic, real-time version of myself had scaled back these lofty dreams into manageable, small things that can be done in present time. With the income from my paycheque, helping charities and relatives and building a sense of personal financial stability is achievable in small chunks. As far as making a large-scale impact, I’m hoping that running for public office one day can fulfill that.

Either on my own, or through in-person and online workshops, I have participated in exercises to help envision the future. It’s a good opportunity to evaluate one’s preferences and aspirations, and indulge in thinking about how outlandish scenarios might just come true. The plan is to ask again this question when I officially turn 30 and periodically in the future.

There was a catchy Filipino pop song that I remember in my teens, titled “Ambisyoso” which is the translation for ‘ambitious’. Some of the writer’s outlandish dreams are pretty funny, like a kissing scene with his favourite actress, but I really like the line that talked about “a wallet that never runs out of money”. That’s what prompted this thought exercise, and I’ll likely revisit it again.

A Decade in Review: 35% of My Life

For anyone under the age of 30, particularly adults, 10 years is a sizable amount of time. For me, it’s 35% of my life! The other interesting part is, as opposed to our childhood and teenage years, young adults are likely to remember most, it not all of events that would be considered as pretty major.

This is a short summary of how the age 19-28 has been for me, as in the year 2010-2019.

Dating: I took a chance to date my ex-boyfriend’s friend, with two important premises: that us dating will not jeopardize his friendship with said ex-boyfriend, and that we’ll take it slow in our early years. That seems to have paid off! We are got married in the fall of 2019, after I took the courage (as the woman) to propose, and pulled off a lovely intimate wedding with only two months of planning. This relationship has been the most transformative in my life, where I learned how to be happy and healthy, to love and be loved, and how finding your partner is an experience that pushes you to grow and keeps you stable and safe.

The two most important men in my life being goofballs while playing a game: my brother (left) and my husband (right). I tell you, raising a teenager is no easy feat, but I think we did OK overall.

Brother: The past decade started with making arrangements for my brother’s sponsorship and immigrating to Canada. He successfully arrived and I did my best (I hope) to support and guide him in adjusting and living a good life here. He just completed his diploma program at NAIT, while being relatively healthy, in a loving relationship, having a decent work ethic and also debt-free. It brings me the greatest joy that he and my husband get along really well. Being a mother/father/sister to him since we were orphans was no easy feat, but I’m satisfied with how he is doing and how my contributions played a role in its own way.

Home: Home is where the heart is, a place of rest, self-expression, recreation, stability, peace and vulnerability. It has not been straightforward, but the past decade has enabled me to have an active role in defining and shaping what this means for me and my love ones. It involved a few move-outs and move-ins, budgeting, repairing and organizing, getting comfortable making sure that the home fits my sense of self and my current needs. That is actually the toughest part, to give myself permission to tell myself “yes, this is MY home now, this is my home TOO.” Thankfully, I think I finally reached that stage.

Health: Physical activity and diet is something I haven’t paid any attention to until about 2012. It’s been a roller coaster on this one. I went through phases of having an extreme and unhealthy attitude towards tracking calories and physical activity that swung like a pendulum over several years. It is a relief to eventually reaching a more balanced approach.Slow and steady wins the race” is the most important lesson on this journey and the fact that it is a lifelong one. Some physical ailments and a few medical procedures also took place, and as someone who felt ‘undeserving’ to get checked over by medical professionals, both due to cost and lack of attention by my legal guardians, obtaining the procedures is another significantly positive milestone.

Overcoming Trauma: I learned how to say the word ‘emotional baggage‘ without sarcasm or shame, as well as the word ‘triggered‘ in an honest and kind way. Thanks to the #MeToo movement and the other goals I was working on, I realize that I cannot move forward without addressing these. I sought out therapy for sexual assault around 2017 and I feel that I learned and transformed internally so much. I’m working on being more aware of the concept of Survivor’s Guilt, and how that can push people like me to overwork, overcompensate and be a perfectionist. I experienced burnout at work at least once and felt victorious after feeling vulnerable and courageous enough to seek therapy and actually use my work benefits. Mental and emotional health, as it turns out, is really important, in order to live an enriching life and be a positive impact to the world.

My office participating in a city parade to promote the programs we do to serve those people in need of help.

Career: In the beginning of the past decade, I was midway through my university degree, and after just a few years, I completed my degree, gained skills and discovered the current career sector that fits well at the moment. The biggest lesson for me is that in this day and age, there is no need to pick a career that I’m stuck with for the rest of my life, and this fluidity was both comforting and empowering. Also, I had a few young professional milestones such as quitting a toxic work environment, job promotions, raises, plus typical office changes like moving locations and growth in staff.

Creativity: Because of never receiving recognition in school about my artwork, as a child I though I was not artistic at all. My handwriting is nowhere as pretty as my parents, particularly my mother, who was the creative one in the family. But in the past decade, I eventually discovered the enjoyment of artistic expression in my own way, from words such as blogs and articles, upcycling, mending or re-making clothing and abstract art. Now, the decorations in my home and my personal office is 90% artwork I made. Many of our practical items are also DIY, from blankets, quits, pillows and some clothing as well. I appreciate how my husband describes them, as items “made with love”. I plan to continue to integrate this in my life for as long as I can.

This activity hit three birds in one stone: it was a neightbourhood-wide volunteer activity and at least 30 wall panels were painted, it was a celebration of Canada 150, and it was an artistic expression that was also kinda romantic.

Re-Connecting to my Cultural Heritage After Immigrating: Having the chance to visit the Philippines twice after immigrating was wonderful, both instances with my spouse who is not Filipino. Those were useful opportunities to sort important legal and financial matters, and retrieve a few things I didn’t get a chance to bring when I moved the first time. It also prompted within me an ongoing thought exercise on how I ought to fit or maintain, the Filipino side of my identity as I continue my life in Canada. I think that’s part of what prompted this blog in the first place. Discovering local Philippine-focused nonprofit organizations here in Edmonton is a huge help as well and I’m positive that my involvement will only grow in the future. Sharing my ‘coming to Canada’ story to the broader community was a great experience as well.

Self Love and Acceptance: Self-compassion is something I fortunately gained from a healthy workplace and a healthy romantic relationship, and with the explosion of educational tools and advocacy I discovered on social media. While the real change has to be internal and IRL (in real life), as a millenial, social media plays a huge role in making awkward conversations more comfortable. When used positively, the anonymity or the distance created from social media accounts can help people explore painful topics and also offer help. I’d say the past five years was when this exponentially increased in my life, and I was able to curate online communities to help me with this challenging and important journey. Now, I hope to maintain what I have achieved and pay it forward to others who are still starting their journey.

Loved being the ‘mayor of the hour’ during this educational workshop that teaches local residents how land planning and development works. Maybe I’ll have the actual job title one day!

Contributing to the Community At Large: Volunteering in many capacities just enriched my like in a multitude of ways. My goal is to have an optimal combination of activities where my role ranges from being a leader, an equal member, a contributor, or a participant. I think, that is what I have right now. The increase in stability in my home, work and paycheque was also empowering, as I was able to share not only my time, but also my money to those who are in need. The new decade will start with getting more politically active, and diving in deep by possibly running for public office and making an impact. Even as a child, being a trailblazer held a particularly strong appeal. I hope that the past decade helped me gain the skills and gumption to pursue these ambitious goals, and that this decade will be game time, to make attempts at these goals. One thing I’m very sure of, is the comforting truth in the saying ‘when one door closes, another one opens’.

How Romance and Community Service Intertwine

By: Giselle General

My significant other is born-and-raised in this city we call home. He hasn’t experienced living anywhere else, not counting the times he had to go out of town for work, his travels, or when he came with me to visit and tour the Philippines. Staying in those places are temporary and that was very clear, and at the end of that short timeframe, it will lead to going home again to Edmonton.

While in my case, I grew up in a small mining village in the Philippines, and even continued to live there after my parents and sister passed away. It was unexpected circumstances that prompted me to move to the nearby city to finish high school, and then I was told I’m moving to another part of the world. When I came to Canada, I thought that I will be able to build relationships and set roots in St. Catharines, Ontario, when an abrupt move to Edmonton changed things again.

We had conversations about our future. and it is established that we will be in Edmonton for the rest of our lives. This is not something I wasn’t “over the moon” about exactly, but I’m not actively opposed to it either. It is a good city to live in, with decent opportunities and ways to have an enjoyable life, and I get the benefit of being with people who have lived here for much longer than me. I know that for some couples, location and mobility are key factors in their relationship, and I’m more than happy to be swayed by his desire to build roots here, or in his case, keep and grow the ones he already had.

I guess it is good to do things from a place of love. Because I associate my spouse as being part of this city, I feel more inclined to actively love and care for this place as well.

I told him, if we are going to live here forever, might as well do something to make improvements or keep the good things as they are. In my younger years, getting involved in clubs is something I always enjoy. It is pretty rewarding to be part of a group, with a positive and productive goal, even if it sucks up part of one’s spare time. Turns out, finding ways to do community service here is very easy, given that there are lots of choices. In fact, it can be too easy to get overwhelmed!

That is what inspired me to volunteer for the community league. It is pretty neat that there is a formal organization, that has a structure, funding mechanisms and established processes, for people whose affiliation is just one thing: that they live near each other and want to do good things for their neighbours. It has been three years since I started volunteering, and my spouse and I have a specific tasks that we diligently fulfill.

That is what motivated me to find my happy medium of getting involved in my cultural community, and with the city at large. He knew that writing and journalism is an interest of mine, and he cheered me on when I started writing columns for a provincial cultural newspaper for the Filipino community. He has even helped me with topics or phrasing, when the annoying ‘Writer’s Block’ hits me at unexpected times.

Being conscious of how your significant other navigates your city can encourage you to speak out in ways you haven’t anticipated before. For example, my spouse was very concerned about the changes in the transit system because of how it will affect me, as someone who does not drive. While a typical person who drives might not care as much, he was inspired to answer the online surveys, come with me to the in-person engagement sessions, and half-jokingly asks me whether we should sell the house so I get the same frequent bus access that I currently have.

The River Valley System of Edmonton is a huge part of our relationship. A few of our first dates consisted of walking through these beautiful natural trails. A longer hike is an annual tradition for us. Naturally, when we discovered that there is a formal organization that focuses on preservation of the River Valley, I considered participating. Oh, if only I have more hours in the day! Or maybe, there will be an opportunity or schedule when this will work better in the future. For now, when we are wanting a more casual date, we’ll continue to use this network of trails and doing our best to be responsible users of this incredible natural resource. We are subscribed to the newsletter of this conservation society, and we try to keep up to date on relevant news and research.

I guess it is good to do things from a place of love. Because I associate my spouse as being part of this city, I feel more inclined to actively love and care for this place as well. I hope that more people feel the same way about where they are living right now.

On Being Politically Involved: Reflections To Date

By: Giselle General

Since I got my citizenship in 2012, I enthusiastically voted in every single election, simply because if feels right. After attending a few leadership workshops and campaign schools since 2015, I warmed up to the idea of being more politically active. I started in 2017 during the municipal election, when I helped a candidate with Get Out The Vote on election day and cleaning up her campaign office afterwards.

And then this year, I volunteered for a partisan election, helping a candidate in the weeks before the election. The I agonized for months on which candidate and which party to volunteer for, and then decided to volunteer for my riding’s candidate for the Alberta Party. She knocked on my door during the very, very painfully cold weekend in mid-February 2019, when it was about -30 degrees. I must say, kudos to her for braving the cold, she was definitely shivering as I make conversation with her while not cracking the door too widely.

Here are some of my thoughts about this eye-opening experience. Since I plan to run in just a few years’ time, I really appreciate every single moment throughout this experience.

I have to embrace the concept of being imperfect. It took internal convincing and a lot of reflection for me to accept that there is no perfect party, no perfect candidate, no perfect platform, and supporting one is still okay. Not gonna lie, the violent and evil portrayal of politics definitely played a role. If you think about it, why be a part of something that seems to be inherently “bad”? I talked to a campaign manager who said he supports most of the policies – not all – and still has dedicated the past six months supporting two candidates. This is what encouraged me to just give it a try. The amount of passion, anger – yes, but also the enthusiasm of making a dent, a bump, a way to push forward the change that they believe in, it is quite infectious.

Discovering my own style is still a work in progress. This is something that I realized, no one else will teach me. Sure, there is the script for door-knocking and making calls, but I have to work on my conflict-averse tendencies, my fear of getting yelled at. Terror is the right word for me to describe how I feel sometimes, and I try to apply the stuff I learned during therapy to be compassionate and understanding towards the most important person in this experience – myself. I would love to walk long distances to knock on doors and talk to people, but my left leg and foot has been giving me trouble for a while, and after about two hours, I just have to listen and get off my feet. I feel awkward about not remembering everyone’s names, but volunteer frequently enough and you’ll see them again and again, and they become more memorable.

I felt out of place sometimes from being a newcomer. I’m not really well versed in our province and city’s political history, but I took it as an opportunity to learn. From learning what Stephen Mandel has done when he was a councilor and Mayor, to hearing people talk about Peter Lougheed or Ralph Klein quite often. It’s fascinating to read between the lines, the anger, enthusiasm or the faraway looks of these people when they share these stories, the first-hand experiences they had. In each crowd, I still can’t help but do a demographic scan on who is in the room, based on age, livelihood, ethnicity, immigration status. Until it happened, I didn’t quite appreciate how thrilled I felt upon meeting a few Filipinos in Edmonton who are quite politically active for many years and decades.

It is much safer than I thought. When my partner and I went to the Philippines last Christmas, we drove by a funeral for a mayor who is recently murdered in La Union. I then realized that the election is six months away and remembered that election season – which always include deaths – has officially started. I knew it would be different here, but I was still blown away. You can stop supporting a political party, announce it on social media, and stay alive. Despite the occasional sassy people at the doors, anger on social media, and the election signs that get vandalized, there has been zero deaths among the candidates. During the campaign schools, I have met former politicians with jobs in various industries, and they seem happy, engaged and overall okay. This is mind-blowing for me, and I will try to never take for granted.

It is a great way to meet people that can be connections to do other good things. In my campaign team, at least two of the volunteers are lawyers, and one is a law student. Because my day job involves pro bono work and helping those who cannot afford lawyers, it became an opportunity for possible new volunteers. This is quite unexpected but I’ more than thrilled to accept. I met neighbours and when I tell them that I also help with our community league, I hear their opinions and comments about how things are. I’m glad to learn – and pass along to my partner – that some of these lovely people appreciate the community newsletter, the primary way that we give back to help out.

It is much easier than I thought. 99% of the time when door knocking, either people are polite, or do  not answer the door. I’m blown away with all the different ways that voting is made convenient for most people. Maybe one day, if the flaws of technology are managed, that online voting becomes a possibility. I’m saddened and confused why the voter turnout around here is not close to something like 95%, but 70% is record-breaking and that’s good!

Finally, making an impact does not end on election day. I know of many people who are not thrilled about the elections results, and it’s great that many of them are organizing and mobilizing to address the concerns that they have. I appreciate being able to call or send a letter to our elected representative. It’s easy to call them out on social media. There are lots of advocacy groups and volunteer initiatives to be a part of to fight for what you believe in, until the next election day. As far as the provincial election is concerned, I’d like to explore ways on advocating for certain social issues and appeal to the elected representatives – not the party leader – to see if they can bring those perspectives when passing legislation.

What’s next for this year since there is one more coming up? Similar to the provincial election, I would have to agonize on which party to volunteer or donate for. I wonder if it is socially acceptable to volunteer or attend events hosted by multiple parties before making a decision on who to actually endorse. In terms of community involvement, 2019 would be the most unique for me to date.

Getting Involved: Casino Volunteering

By: Giselle General

What does it entail? Are you expected to hustle and use your skill at poker to win a jackpot? Are you required to be lucky or know how to place your bets wisely on the roulette table, and the funds go towards the charity of your choice?

That’s not the case at all.

The simplest way for me to describe it is:

  • A charitable organization is provided two days to provide volunteers.
  • These volunteers are essentially “free labour” doing various tasks such as cashier, transporting gambling chips to the gaming tables, data entry, and counting money at the end of the day.
  • The charitable organization receives funds from Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission.
  • Many organizations do this, from nonprofit service agencies, community leagues, children’s dance groups, sports teams, etc.

Why should you do it?

It’s an easy way to volunteer that gives that organization a sizeable amount of money. Last I heard, about $70,000 – 8$0,000 is what the organization receives. Add a few grant applications and that can go a really long way to keeping that organization running and fulfilling their purpose.

Organizations do this only once every two years. If you are too busy with other day-to-day activities, this is a great way to contribute in an impactful way. Essentially about 38 spots need to be filled, divide that by $80,000, you are providing help with an estimated value of $2,000. Some organizations make the volunteer shifts shorter which means more people at needed.

It’s a great way to do other tasks, especially if you are doing a quiet role like the chip runner. Did you know drafted a huge chunk of my first mini e-book while volunteering for a casino? As the chip runner, you basically only do the task for ten minutes at a time, while you spend almost an hour in between waiting to be called. I spent a lot of that time writing and thinking.

Many organizations really need help to fill the roles. Casinos run practically all day, so there are volunteer shifts that are all-nighters. We’re talking about 6 PM – 3 AM or 11 PM – 3 AM. There are also times when the casino happens during a work week. For any students, retired people, those with flexible hours, or just anyone who don’t mind staying up late once in a while, this is a great way to help out. As compensation, you also get one free meal from the restaurant, and casino restaurants usually have decent food!

It requires very little training, the tasks and the rules are pretty simple. For each charitable organization that send a group of volunteers to fulfill their casino volunteering requirements, there is a Casino Manager assigned who will be there along the way. When I volunteered as a cashier, I had to remind myself to lay out the cash one bill at a time so it is seen by the overhead camera properly. As a chip runner, I just need to follow the security staff while holding a container of casino gambling chips. Volunteering as a group in the countroom is quite social while organizing stacks of cash which was the casino earnings from that day.

To learn more about how Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission runs the program, go to the following links:

So next time you hear about “casino volunteering” from your community league, not-for-profit preschool, children’s sports or dance groups or social agencies, consider signing up and helping out!

Can’t Pour From an Empty Cup – My Challenge with Giving Donations

By: Giselle General

Whether it is from being more connected through social media, or with just being more connected in the community where I live now, I feel that I have been receiving so many more requests for help, specifically financial help. And all of these calls for financial help are for a good cause, from shelters for refugees in a land with no infrastructure, to programming to help with Indigenous awareness and culture preservation, to keeping abused animals safe, to keeping abuse children safe. Some programs are meant to help in an immediate, tangible matter such as meals or clothing, some are for advocacy work to help change policy which impacts people on a massive scale. There’s just so much.

With all of these requests, I frequently feel compelled to give and help. Unfortunately, I have the very human condition of having limitations and uncertainties. Here are some of the challenges I face and my ongoing attempts to deal with them.

For social enterprises or fundraisers, it can conflict with my minimalist/ anticonsumerist perspective I am trying to adapt. I am not a big spender to begin with when it comes to the day-to-day items I need. So I struggle when there is a social enterprise with a sales model where you buy one item, you give the same item to someone in need. This can be shoes, bags, dolls, socks, etc. Same thing with food fundraisers. My grocery habits are quite fixed, so buying extra meat, veggies, cookies, soaps for fundraisers will cause waste in my home. At this rate, I generally avoid participating for this very reason. I try to find other means to help.

Setting a limit – as in financially – is so essential and so hard. Thanks to my significant other, I have found a system where I budget for every type of expense I incur, and track them in a convenient and systematic way. So yes, I am aware of how much I have been spending towards charitable donations. Not all of them even qualify for a tax receipt, particularly if it is directly assisting a person through the MyYEGStrong Twitter Account or initiatives through GoFundMe. I’m not simply after tax benefits, not at all, but I need to be mindful of the total monthly and annual costs

Unfortunately, I have the very human condition of having limitations and uncertainties.

I’m trying to master the delicate art of gracefully saying no, without shame. For people who feel compelled to give, there is a heavy feeling of guilt that can arise from being unable to give what is being asked. When I have to say no, I try to provide an explanation, saying that perhaps I can help in the future, and wishing them well in their fundraising endeavours. One thing that I avoid doing is “ghosting”, or essentially ignoring the message completely. I’m not perfect at it, but I know that having an answer is better than none at all.

A few sayings are starting to become more popular these days, such as “you can’t pour from an empty cup” and “you need to put your own oxygen mask first before assisting others“. Another idea that I’m starting to internalize is “everyone is trying to do the best they can with what they have“. This is what has helped me with both being kind with my limitations, and being proud of what I am able to do.

Giving in non-material or non-financial ways are plentiful, and I’m realizing that they are very much appreciated as well. There are other ways to help out such as time, organizational skills, knowledge and feedback, and spreading awareness. I had a friend tell me that she ended up volunteering for a youth-related initiative because of a social media post that I shared. I wasn’t able to donate or attend that event, but it looks like it inspired someone else to do so. I have started volunteering for casinos for charitable organizations, which is a huge thing around these parts. Filling out government surveys or sending a thoughtful response to a government official about a certain topic can help cause a positive change in the law. There are a lot of options, great ones, that will always be available when one is ready and able to give again.

Getting Involved: A Review of the Insight Community Surveys

By: Giselle General

In this day and age, thanks to technology and social media, it seems to be very easy to share one’s thoughts and opinions.

This is a quick review of one of the ways I try to get involved in the community, through the power of technology, and why it is worth considering.

I would describe the Insight Community (weblink is https://www.edmonton.ca/programs_services/public_engagement/edmonton-insight-community.aspx) as an online questionnaire program run by the City of Edmonton. Every month, if you have subscribed, you will receive an email with a link to a survey, that answers questions on different topics that the City works on.

How Does it Work?

It’s an easy process. Anyone interested can go to the link and create an account which asks demographics related questions. And then once a month, an email arrives in your mailbox with the survey for the month, what topics it covers, and the deadline.

Email for the January 2019 survey, That’s quite a range of topics. The Opt-in is an opportunity to answer additional in-depth surveys on specific topics.

Why do I do this?

It’s relatively straightforward and easy. I also sometimes feel like I only find out about city issues or changes in programs, bylaws and procedures after the fact. When the shovels are on the ground for that infrastructure change, or the brochures and set and the staff has been hired for a program, it can be more difficult to tweak things around. Since the Insight Community Surveys are part of the public engagement process that city staff need to do, I feel like I am getting an advanced preview of what they are working on. It is also a great opportunity to learn about what is going on outside of my immediate neighbourhood, since sometimes there are also questions about upcoming city-wide infrastructure projects.

Some concerns I hear about the survey is the allegation that it is deliberately self-affirming. Another concern is that allegation that people who may not necessarily know about a topic are giving their opinions on it.

That being said, I personally try not to stress about these parts since it is something I cannot control, and I feel like there are adequate opportunities in the questions to provide written answers. If there is something that I really feel passionate about that is either not covered by a the current survey or that the survey cannot convey my opinions about it, I know that I can contact my elected representative though an email, letter, or phone call. Some lucky constituents may even have an elected representative who is also active on social media, and in that case they can be contacted that way as well.

So, go subscribe and spend a few minutes every month learning about the city and sharing your input! At least for me, these few minutes feel so productive, a time away from browsing for too long on social media, haha!