Volunteering during your Non-Profit Co-op is Valuable

Volunteering during your Non-Profit Co-op is Valuable

By: Rachael Allen
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Dream Job Bliss

Here I was – I had landed my dream job during my first co-op term – the chance to work at a non-profit organization reaching out to those struggling with poverty, homelessness and addiction on the Downtown Eastside. I was enthralled that I had the chance to be a part of such a passionate team who had a compelling vision and phenomenal resources to extend hope to this community that had captured my heart. The more I learned about Union Gospel Mission (UGM) and the longer I was there, the more I fell in love with the organization and the position. The first month could be described as bliss.


Never did I think that this dream job could ever be described as dull or that I could feel bored or drag my feet as I commuted to work. And don’t get me wrong – none of these things happened exactly. Yet the inevitable 9 to 5 daily grind got to me. I thought I could escape it, but lo and behold I was not that special. Working all the way up on the sixth floor and gazing out at the Lions and the high-rises littering the Vancouver skyline definitely disconnected me from the cold reality of the streets down beneath me. Calling donors every single day, many of whom were not exactly excited to hear from me and writing one thank-you note after another on tax receipts caused me to slip into workplace monotony. Some days I wondered why exactly I had agreed to an office job when I could easily see myself as one of the Outreach Workers building relationships directly with our guests.


Now, there’s something that I forgot to mention. While working at UGM, staff who aren’t working directly in Programs get an opportunity to volunteer in another area of UGM. I jumped at the chance, as I was much more comfortable with volunteering and interacting directly with guests than doing office work. I chose to volunteer twice a month with Streetlight – a group that goes out onto the dark night streets of the Downtown Eastside to shine a light – handing out hot chocolate, extending a warm smile and a personal connection to UGM. It was a bit of a shock at first, a stark contrast from my office, although I already had previous experience volunteering in that neighbourhood. I think I had just forgotten exactly who I had been working for – I had forgotten about the individuals who were directly impacted by the work I was doing day in and day out.

Reality Check

As I walked down those forgotten streets and met friendly faces and fell in love with the community once again, I realized how valuable it was for me just to put myself in a position of humility and service as opposed to entitlement and privilege. I felt so honoured to be able to get the opportunity to meet such wonderful people and walk through this neighbourhood to make these meaningful connections. Even though it was heartbreaking to see brokenness and despair out on the streets, I was able to have hope that UGM’s Outreach Workers would be able to connect with them and lead them to life-changing resources. This truly made me come alive and gave me back that spark of passion that I had lost in the daily grind of work.

The Connection

Volunteering with Streetlight put a face to the notes I had been writing and calls I had been making. I couldn’t get those faces and their stories out of my mind. When I returned to work the next morning, I felt I was able to speak genuinely and passionately to donors about the friends I had met the previous night and how they were a part of reaching out to our guests. Streetlight reminded me of why UGM exists and the integral importance of each and every one of our donors. They really are feeding hope and changing lives through each gift they make. It’s my privilege to help donors understand that vital connection and purpose they have in our community. This is why my work up in the sixth floor office matters.

Jump on the Chance to Volunteer

Volunteering with your non-profit during your co-op term can give you incredible insight and a first-hand perspective on the work that you are doing. It reminds you why you are working for that organization, why you care about their cause, and it will ultimately bring faces and stories to your mind as motivation while you work. You will start to have a deeper sense of passion, urgency, and purpose in your work because you will see it as a significant piece of the wider mission of your non-profit. Yes, volunteering is extra work – it can be messy and uncomfortable and may even push you out of the comfort zone of your regular co-op job. Yet, it’s incredibly worthwhile and infinitely valuable, not only in your work but also in your life after – to cultivate a humble spirit and an attitude of giving back.

Union Gospel Mission's Streetlight teamAbove image from Union Gospel Mission's Facebook page.

Beyond the Article

Posted on March 03, 2017