Shannon, Queen's Square | April 1, 2021
If 2020 taught us anything, it is that our lives, and the lives of those in our community, are connected. We’ve learned that our behaviour impacts our neighbours, that when forced into solitude, we miss the casual interactions that we normally take for granted. That we need each other in ways intangible, and often overlooked.
April is National Volunteer Month, the time that we salute those of our neighbours who choose to lend a portion of their most irreplaceable asset, their time, in support of the health and well being of our community. The events of 2020 have served to make those efforts even more poignant.
At Idea Exchange, when COVID-19 forced our doors closed, it would have been easy for our volunteer team to step away, to sink into a deep hibernation and wait until everything went ‘back to normal’. They did not. Daily I received emails from volunteers who just ‘wanted to do something, anything…’ to help. So we got creative. We went online, when possible we offered take-home projects, we adapted our VLS program, so that when conditions were right we could safely supply materials to those unable to get into the library.
For six months we collectively explored the confusion, the turbulence, the constant change and the challenges through our project AloneTogether: A Cambridge Quaranzine. Volunteers wrote articles, took pictures, drew comics and did book reviews of uplifting materials to share, all focused on helping us articulate and manage the stress, loneliness and time of change we collectively felt.
Then we launched into a series of special projects, like The Postcard Project and The Poster Project. These partner projects acknowledged those in health care doing the heavy-lifting of this pandemic and strove to encourage and support the most isolated in our community: seniors living in retirement communities during what has been referred to as an unparalleled mental health pandemic. In each case the message was the same. “You are seen. You are cared for. You are not forgotten or taken for granted.”
I am happy to report that volunteerism at Idea Exchange is alive and thriving despite all the challenges we have faced. In 2020 a total of 253 volunteers contributed 2,810 hours of volunteer time in support of these efforts – and that doesn’t count those community members who are not on our team, but chose to participate alongside in the Poster and Post Card projects. This April, as we celebrate the combined volunteer anniversaries of both 2020 and 2021, we will be thanking a grand total of 82 volunteers for service from two, to a whopping thirty years on our volunteer team. Just, well, wow! With 148 folks in our applicants file, wanting to join us, and a full team of over 400 volunteers, we have great stuff to do, an exciting road ahead and a real sense of love and community in our pockets.