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Volunteer pool aims to makes a splash in Jasper

While her email jokes that there is ‘no water required’, her commitment and tenacity are evident as the interview ends with a quirky “I don’t know if I’ve got Amy on the list?”

For Garrah, that’s how she’s doing it – one by one, signing up Jasperites to volunteer their time, skills and energy, but with a few key factors to ensure people will continue to volunteer and that organizations continue to prosper off the back of volunteerism.

“Right now, I’m just stopping everybody that I know and saying ‘Can I put your name on the list, we’ll phone you,” she explained.

Heeding the advice of what she calls a successful volunteer-based organization – Hinton On-Stage – Garrah thinks people are willing to volunteer, but have a few small requests.

“I asked them (Hinton On-Stage), how they deal with volunteers and what made them successful? And they said, we have discovered that volunteers do not want to go to meetings, that they want a specific time to do something and they want to be told what to do before they get there.”

Scott Crabbe, artistic director for the Jasper Heritage Folk and Blues society – an organization reliant on volunteers, said Garrah is right on the mark. “I think her approach is great,” he said.

“They basically want to say… I don’t want to be a part of meetings, I don’t want to be a part of organizing, but when you need hands on deck for execution of events, then let me know.”

Citing complaints about turning up to an event and getting stuck there, unable to leave for one reason another, or not being suited for the position, Garrah wants people to know what they’re getting, before they sign up.

“We had someone volunteer for something a couple weeks ago and they went in thinking they were going to be there for three or four hours – they were there for eight hours because they had a specialized skill. They couldn’t leave… and that volunteer will never go back there again.”

While Sue Cesco, general manager of Friends of Jasper National Park (FJNP) admits that some people want to get involved in an organization on a deeper level – maybe an ongoing commitment of a few years – she also said that volunteers want to know exactly what they’re getting themselves into.

“Generally speaking, they like to know that this is going to be a two-year project or this is going to be a one-year project and I’m going to volunteer ten hours a month. People do want to know what they’re getting themselves into, for sure.”

Noting that Jasper has hundreds of volunteers already and that there are more out there that have just “never been asked,” Garrah thinks that this is a solution to volunteer burn out.

“I think this could be a solution to volunteer burn out because there are hundreds of volunteers and there (are) lots of people who don’t volunteer because they’ve never been asked,” said Garrah noting that “I’m marking down, Bob said he can work Canada Day for two hours, so I won’t hit on him again in July.”

In theory, the volunteer pool also offers a solution for STP syndrome, which refers to the same-ten-people that turn up at every event and consequently results in volunteer burn out. 

“I won’t phone you every time there’s an event, because that’s what happens – you can’t do that,” she said.

“The list of volunteers is huge and it can be bigger,” she added. “It’s just a matter of connecting.”

According to Crabbe, the STP syndrome is prevalent in Jasper and this approach will hopefully fix that. 

“I think especially right now, that over the last few years you see a lot of the same faces and same people volunteering for all kinds of different events be it cultural or sporting or anything that might fall in-between,” he said.

Hoping to foster the relationship between a non-profit organization and the volunteer, Garrah said it’s important to realize peoples’ limits and abilities.

“If you’ve got something specific that you’d like to do – let us know… maybe you’re really good at electrical things, maybe you’d like to be the lighting person,” she said. 

Volunteerism is regularly heralded as an effective way to get people new to the community or country, involved in local events, organizations and connected with local people.

According to Crabbe, “there is a lot more fresh faces that are establishing into the community and I think that a lot of those people do want to be involved in a lot of these different community run committees.”

Consequently, by getting the new Jasperites involved in community organizations, they will inevitably become connected with other local people. 

“If you’re standing at an event for two hours, you’re going to find out more about the person beside you,” Garrah explained, “You’re going to yak, you’re going to find out that this young man works in the strangest position over at Jasper concrete, he’s got this neatest job or ‘oh my God this lady makes pottery in her garage.’”

Cesco commented that FJNP’s hiking clubs in 2008 also helped to get new staff in town involved in other volunteer opportunities within the organization. 

“We had a number of the people that participated in the hiking clubs last year that were some of the seasonal staff in town come out for the volunteer days,” she said. “We definitely saw a link to that and they had a connection and definitely came through with volunteering for friends,” she said. 

In the future, Garrah hopes to use volunteering as a currency getting local organizations on board to trade services or goods with time-raiser-dollars. 

“Volunteering is a currency, if it works and people sustain their events and they build bigger events and organizations get stronger, it’s a currency,” she said.

Simplified, volunteers’ time – which will be tracked by Garrah – slowly accrue dollars for every hour which can then be traded throughout the community to buy tickets to events or products.

“We’re also going to monitor (hours). Bob has done 18 volunteer hours this year, well that’s a value of 18 – so if he wants to see a Canada Day band it’s going to cost him $12 to get in, well he’s already get 18 time-raiser hours.”

Garrah continues to grow this list, day by day, she said, hoping to get at least one person a day. If that person could be you, contact her at 780-852-0359 or

Those hesitant about sharing their information should be assured that Garrah said she won’t be giving out your details to anybody, unless you’ve agreed to volunteer for them previously.

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