August 08, 2018

The Well-Tempered Volunteer (with apologies to Johann Sebastian Bach*)

Karen Dar Woon, Volunteer at SFU Public Square

The views and opinions expressed in SFU Public Square's blogs are those of the authors, and they do not necessarily reflect the official position of Simon Fraser University or SFU Public Square, or any other affiliated institutions in any way.

TEMPER (n)
2 a : characteristic tone : trend • the temper of the times
b : high quality of mind or spirit : courage
c archaic : a suitable proportion or balance of qualities : a middle state between extremes : mean, medium • virtue is … a just temper between propensities—T. B. Macaulay
d archaic : character, quality • the temper of the land you design to sow—John Mortimer

TEMPER (v)
4: to bring to a suitable state by mixing in or adding…
(para. Merriam-Webster.com)

 

Raised in a family of lifelong volunteers, community volunteerism is literally in my DNA. My mother volunteered in the library of our elementary school, returning when her granddaughter attended the same school. My father became the highest-ranking Canadian on the Board of Directors of an international sports organization. Through their large and small daily activities, we learned that much of the social safety-net we enjoy in Canada is due to the contribution of ordinary citizens who freely give their time. It seems that my children have also received the volunteer gene. One mentors youth and young adults in service, as a Scouting leader in her VIC, Australia community. The other contributes to children’s sports and literacy programs, community, events and fraternal organizations, wherever she lives. When I travel, I take my volunteer energy with me, and often look for itinerant opportunities.

Volunteering in a range of organizations, and in a variety of roles, I am introduced to musicians, artists, professors, authors and other inspirational speakers. Sometimes, volunteering in one organization leads to new opportunities in another (including income earning!) Often, event volunteering places me in an enriched learning environment, and inspires me to take personal action on civic issues.

One of my longest volunteer tenures has been with Coastal Jazz & Blues Society (CJBS) which produces the jazz festival in Vancouver. Spending over 25 years with one organization, I have become more resilient in the face of change, learning to focus on mission, purpose and task, rather than on the leader of the day. My experiences build skills in organizational behaviour, communication, understanding governance, event planning.

Other current roles include supporting events and programs at SFU Public Square, especially City Conversations. What I originally chose as a social experiment (wanting to learn to work with younger adults) has lead to learning more about social media, communications, and productivity technologies. And my roles with Les Dames d’Escoffier BC have included committee co-chair, Board Secretary, and more recently, Chapter Co-President. Being part of an international organization is very much a “small fish in a big pond” experience, but has also encouraged me to travel more, and to consider how policy is applied in regional contexts.

When I am on a Board, I learn from other Directors, staff, and membership to broaden my scope and become a more strategic big-picture thinker. When I volunteer in a soup kitchen, I am reminded of the precarity of our food system, and the disparity of wealth in my hometown. And when I speak at schools, about career opportunities, I am inspired by the enthusiasm of youth. Encouraged to learn the stories of my co-volunteers, I have become a better listener.

Skills that I develop through volunteering may have little or no direct relation to my current vocation. I have learned to: draft collaborative, effective spreadsheets; trellis peas; take better photographs; set up conference calls; plan meetings; respond thoughtfully to difficult questions. But more than simply learning a new skill, each adds to my ability to exist in a positive way in the world. I have gathered a richness of experiences that travels well with me, to the tables of my clients, to the notebooks of my students, and in my carry-on bag on my way to being a well-tempered volunteer.

*The Well-Tempered Clavier, BWV 846–893, composed approx 1722–1742

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