When I started my job at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) in 2009 I was introduced to five women who volunteered as our receptionists, each taking on that role one day a week. They would answer the phone, greet guests who came to visit the museum, and help anyone who wanted to make a purchase in the gift shop. This was a valuable and essential service to MHV, and still is today.
Over time, these five women have chosen to gradually reduce their involvement in this role for a variety of reasons, none of which involves less love for MHV. We are grateful that several new volunteers have stepped up to serve MHV and our community in this capacity. However, we currently do not have enough volunteers to keep the reception desk staffed during all open hours. To fill this need we’ve turned some of the reception work over to paid staff. Our paid staff are talented people and good to have on our team. At the same time, having to replace volunteers with paid staff places a financial burden on our organization.
As the overall workload at MHV continues to grow and some of our long-serving volunteers in many areas are moving into well-deserved retirement, we wonder why we’re not finding enough new volunteers to fill their roles. Maybe it’s been caused by gradual changes in our western society. During the time that I lived in my parent’s home in my childhood and youth, my mother was a full-time “employee” of our farm, and her job was to manage the home. Apart from two weeks of substitute teaching in our one-room country school when the regular teacher was ill, she never had a job outside of our home after she became a mother. And that’s how it was in many homes at that time.
The picture can look quite different in today’s households. My wife and I have two adult married offspring. They and their partners all have careers. In many such households, parents are working all week, spending their evenings feeding the children, putting them to bed, and getting lunches ready for the next morning. That leaves laundry, yard work, taking the kids to lessons, cleaning the house and shopping for the weekend. Finding time for community volunteering as well is just not easy in that scenario.
It seems today’s society also places higher value on leisure activities than in earlier times, and no doubt this is important, given the busy schedule of many families. Once an investment has been made in a cottage, a boat, a pair of skis, or a full set of hockey equipment, it’s important to utilize that investment for the purpose for which it’s intended. If there is any remaining time for volunteering, that time is limited.
We in Steinbach are blessed to live in a community that has so many good volunteer opportunities. From churches to recreational sports to arts and cultural activities, there is no end of opportunities. In fact, it feels at times that the demand for volunteers is increasing while the supply is dwindling.
My intent is certainly not to make anyone feel guilty for not volunteering or for not spending more time volunteering, or for leaving a long-held volunteer post. There are still large numbers of active volunteers in this community, and we appreciate each one. My purpose is simply to raise this subject for thought and consideration, and maybe to suggest an alternate solution.
When I was a child, my parents often used the phrase “We have more time than money,” usually to punctuate the need for hard work. Considering our lifestyles today, many of us would be more likely to say that we have more money than time. How many of us hire someone to clean our house or paint our house or complete a landscaping project on our yard? How many of us spend $10 on the way to work to wash our vehicle because we didn’t have time to do it ourselves on the driveway the night before?
So here is my suggestion: For those of us who have more money than time and who don’t have time to volunteer, how about paying for a volunteer? A volunteer who puts in one day per week will work about 400 hours per year. Place whatever value you feel is appropriate on the work of that volunteer and make donations in that amount to the charity of your choice. This will not create more volunteers but will help to pay for some of the staff who must be hired to replace departing volunteers.
Right now MHV is recruiting volunteers for various responsibilities at Pioneer Days on the August long-weekend. We look forward to finding people who will take one or more shifts during this weekend, when many people will be coming to enjoy our museum and our community. If we miss calling to invite your participation, please call us at 204-326-9661.
Calendar of Events
August 4-7: Pioneer Days - 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. daily
August 14-18: Pioneer Day Camps for children ages 8-10
August 16: Heritage Classic Golf Tournament at Quarry Oaks