I could never relate when friends in Ottawa would tell me that “volunteering is something they’ve always grown up with,” that they were “following in their parent’s footsteps.” Growing up in Montreal, volunteer work was something I did on occasion, but it was definitely not a focus in my family.
I have a vague recollection of being 12 years old and going door-to-door trying to sell oranges for B’nai Brith. These memories are not all that positive. In fact, I had always associated volunteering with something that cut into my personal time, which was precious to me, particularly when I was working full time and raising two children.
When my husband Lawrence and I moved to Ottawa in the early 1980s, I watched as Lawrence got involved with the Jewish Community Centre, our synagogue and other organizations. Still, his commitment didn’t inspire any interest on my part. Volunteering was not on my agenda. I did eventually dabble in some volunteer work at my children’s school, but somehow the experiences did not motivate me to want to get involved on a long-term basis. Perhaps that sounds selfish. But, if you listen to anyone who really gets involved in a cause, they will always tell you they do it not only because of the difference they are making, but also because of the personal satisfaction they get back.
That all changed one day in the fall of 2012, when I received a call from my dear friend Sandra Zagon – a dedicated community leader. Sandra asked if I would like to chair Choices, an annual event of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa Women’s Campaign. I was flattered. I had never been chair of anything. She promised she’d help and, the next thing I knew, I was, indeed, the new chair of Choices.
That phone call was a turning point for me. Becoming chair of Choices gave me the opportunity to work with and meet so many amazing women from so many diverse backgrounds. I have met women who have so much to offer, not only professionally, but also personally. Women who have their own set of skills and abilities based on their unique experiences in life.
I have been attending Choices since its inception nine years ago. I attend to reconnect with friends, have a great night out and hear inspiring speakers share their personal stories about choices they had made that changed the course of their lives. Truthfully, attending makes me feel like I am part of something special – so many women in one room who made a choice to support the work our invaluable community agencies do on behalf of our community. Regardless of whether the speaker is better from one year to the next, or whether the food or décor are as good or better than the year before, I always love seeing old friends, and reminding myself of the importance of staying connected.
Chairing Choices has given me more clarity on volunteering and has taught me that everyone has something to offer. It really is about “choice.” You can choose to be involved in a one-time opportunity where you get your feet wet by volunteering with one the 25 Jewish agencies serving those in need. Or, you can choose to get involved on an annual basis with one event that may appeal to your interest. Fortunately, Choices has fostered opportunities for me and in many ways has become a stepping stone to future involvement. In fact, I’ve already made my next move by participating in committee work with the Soloway Jewish Community Centre, a place that is near and dear to me.
I still don’t think of myself as a volunteer. I just think of what I do as something I thoroughly enjoy and that gives me tremendous satisfaction. The fact that I am helping to strengthen our great Ottawa community is just icing on the cake.