The municipality could be taking steps to encourage volunteerism.
At their Nov. 30 committee-of-the-whole meeting, councillors supported a motion requesting a staff report on what the municipality could do to engage, empower, and recognize the efforts of volunteers sitting on municipal committees.
The motion was put forward by councillor Bill Roberts who said there’s been a “revolving door” at Shire Hall lately when it comes to volunteer resignations and appointments to ward recreation committees. He said local friends groups and other community committees have also been bleeding members.
“We’re not having a Consecon Christmas parade this year because there are no volunteers and even our kids’ soccer is at risk because there are no volunteers,” he said. “It is kind of a house of cards here in the county in terms of the character and the quality of life that we prize.”
He said that quality of life is a big part of what attracts new residents to the county and much of that quality can be attributed to work being done by local volunteers. Citing the Rural Ontario Institute’s (ROI) 2017 Rural Ontario Foresight Papers, Roberts said the value of rural Ontario’s volunteerism amounts to close to $4 billion.
“I bet we get a good hunk of that free value here in the county,” he said.
Roberts said volunteers have shared many common concerns with him. Among them, he said, are perceptions that Shire Hall is often slow to respond to inquiries, calls or messages are sometimes not responded to, and vacations can mean there’s no alternate County contact to assist with setting up events.
“(There’s) a feeling amongst volunteers from our museums and boards that usually the opening of a conversation begins with ‘no’ or ‘that can’t happen’ or ‘it hasn’t been done that way before,’” he said.
He said there are things that can be done to curb that perception. He suggested those conversations could be reframed by starting with “yes” and working through potential consequences.
He said often young families have commitments and would like to participate, but can’t physically reach a location. Tools like video messaging could help, but the municipality’s rules currently don’t allow it, he said.
“It’s bringing us into 2017 that will help achieve things that will make the world better for our volunteers,” he said.
He said simple recognition for volunteers’ efforts could go a long way toward enriching their experience and encouraging others to participate.
Councillor Steve Ferguson said it’s an issue that’s been on his radar for years and one he too feels needs to be addressed.
“What councillor Roberts brings up really affects a much wider group than just the recreation committees,” he said. “We have a volunteer group at large that is aging, that is over-volunteered, that needs relief.”
He said he believes there must be some formalized way council can recognize volunteers. He seconded Roberts’ motion of a staff report, saying it’s time to take a serious look at the issue.
“The fabric of Prince Edward County and the small individual communities really will be impacted if these volunteer groups begin to fall apart or fall apart any more than they have,” he said.
Councillor Roy Pennell suggested that rather than hand more work to staff, council should take the lead on this issue.
“Every time we turn around we’re turning over to staff ‘do this, do that,’” he said. “I can think of no better group than the councillors that are here, that serve on the recreation boards, that know their communities best.
I would suggest council do their part and offer these ideas forward.”