The annual “Community Chest” benefit dinner held here Sunday evening once again was a success, raising $15,053 to continue to aid local families who need help to cover medical costs.
But none of it could have happened without the hard work of volunteers, which was the basis for guest speaker Diane Maxey’s speech for the evening.
“As I stand here looking around the room, I am reminded of how many special and dedicated people it takes to put together an evening such as this one,” said the 2009 Citizen of the Year, noting the annual benefit dinner is a co-operative effort of the Rendez-Vous staff, the local Legion Ladies Auxiliary, the Fort Frances Kiwanis Club and Fort Frances Lions Club, Knights of Columbus, and “Spirit of Christmas.”
Sponsors such as the Fort Frances Times, B93•FM, and several food suppliers also help out.
Volunteering is something you can do no matter who you are, Maxey stressed.
“As a volunteer, you can make a difference,” she remarked. “All we have in this world is each other.
“Life is meant to be shared.”
Maxey, who not only directs several local choirs and music programs but helps out with events such as the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship, Terry Fox Run, and community Christmas dinner, defined volunteers as those people who perform a service of one’s own freewill and takes many forms, whether it is helping out at a local church, soup kitchen, or sporting event or providing peer mentoring, entertainment, or fundraising.
“What would we do without these people?” she asked. “Working behind the scenes in our community so that we may be strong, connected, and vital.”
Maxey said volunteers give of themselves, expecting no remuneration, because they enjoy giving back to their community. But it also changes them.
“You become a better person. You feel better about yourself,” she noted.
Maxey said a grad student looking for their first job, or in fact anyone wanting to change careers, would do well to volunteer because it provides valuable experience.
“The challenge is finding the volunteer position that is right for you,” she explained. “There are a vast number of opportunities out there, so the key is to select the one that best meets your needs and interest.
“Never be afraid to ask questions before making a commitment to be a volunteer.”
Volunteering exposes them to different jobs and people, and helps them develop skills, such as communication, teamwork, time management, a positive attitude, and initiative.
“You meet new people, extend your network, and make valuable contacts, besides building self-confidence and being valued,” Maxey noted.
“Moreover, you will enjoy the satisfaction of making a difference.”
Maxey also said teenagers should volunteer—and not just to fulfill their requirement needed to graduate from high school.
“Teens are discovering they can make a difference in their community and beyond,” she noted, adding statistics show that from 1989-2005, volunteering among those aged 16-19 more than doubled.
These teens give their time because they are compassionate, want to do something for a cause that is important to them, and believe that by doing something for others, they may help you in return.
Maxey said teens learn about respect and kindness when they volunteer, and develop a better appreciation for the little things in life. And, once again, receive the personal satisfaction of knowing they have made a difference in someone’s life.
“Volunteer habits that begin at a young age typically continue into adulthood,” she continued. “The impact the activities have may take years to show up, but even so, the impact is there.
“Volunteering is a win-win situation for both the volunteer and the community,” she reiterated. “It helps you gain a sense of purpose and a whole new perspective on life.”
Maxey said businesses these days are focusing more and more on the bottom line, and this seems to be true for community service organizations, as well, which must remember to take “good intentions and kind hearts and move them into action.”
“Non-profits increase their limited resources by using volunteers and they can increase their power in the same way,” she explained. “The more power a leader gives the people around him or her, the more power there is.
“Do not be afraid to use your volunteer resources to their utmost potential, whatever they may be,” she stressed. “If most of your volunteers are stuck doing menial tasks, like stuffing envelopes, they won’t want to continue in that capacity and they won’t come back.”
Maxey also said organizations have to treat their volunteers well (and that goes for employers and employees, too) and must recognize their efforts, whether that means prominently displaying letters of appreciation, writing a letter to the local newspaper praising their successes, or taking them out for breakfast or even just coffee.
“Never forget you are a team. We all need each other to be successful,” she remarked.
“Please, everyone, remember to treat your volunteers like gold.”
The annual benefit dinner drew a nearly sold-out crowd of about 225 people: some from various community groups, some who have been aided by the “Community Chest” in the past, and others who just wanted to support the cause.
Larry Cousineau and Joelle Blanc were co-emcees for the evening. Lauren Gurski sang the national anthem while Fr. Francis Pudicherry said grace.
The event also featured door prizes, a silent auction, raffles, and a live auction with “local celebrities” taking turns playing the role of auctioneer.
They included local MPP Howard Hampton, Paul Noonan, Jacques Fiset, Gary Rogozinski, Terry Higgins, Bruce Armstrong, Jim Avis, Dale Fortes, and Pam Cain.
Suppliers whose donations helped offset the cost of the meal included Canada Safeway Ltd., the Jacob Gerber Farm, La Place Rendez-Vous, Lowey’s Greenhouse and Market Garden, Royal Canadian Legion Ladies Auxiliary Br. 29, Sysco Food Service Inc., Thompson Distributors, and Webbs Wholesale.
As well, the Rendez-Vous staff donated their time to work Sunday night, and this year they were assisted by the Muskie junior girls’ volleyball team.
The purpose of the “Community Chest” dinner is to raise funds to provide financial aid to local families who need help to cover medical costs.
In the past year, the “Community Chest” disbursed more than $72,400 to such families.