How Volunteering Brought Workplace Camaraderie, Balance and Movement Back into My Life

In high school, I volunteered as a youth lawyer to help kids clear their driving records by assigning community service. It was amazing to help people in real and meaningful ways, but as I got older volunteering lost its lustre. I began to feel that volunteer work was reserved for the well-off to feel less guilty about their well-offness. Now as Stage two of my nine-month Canadian Conservation Corps program comes to a close, I’ve learned that volunteering can change your relationship with work and re-route your path back to something that provides meaning in your life.

One year ago, I was living in Toronto and balancing a taxing nine to five, with a daily four-hour commute, topped off with a seemingly endless stint of university. I was burning out and sinking under the weight of being the perfect ‘grown-up.’ I needed change, but I was locked into an endless cycle of work and recovery. It took three resignation emails to quit my job, but when I did, I finally found the space to rediscover myself and my passions.

When a Canadian Conservation Corps (CCC) ad popped on my Facebook feed, I saw the opportunity to enact the change I needed. No experience necessary, just a desire to learn and help. The program is run by the Canadian Wildlife Federation with a goal of introducing young people to environmental work. There are three stages: adventure skills learning, immersive learning at a not-for-profit, and ‘Outreach, Service, and Community Impact Development.’ 

For the first stage, I went backpacking in the Rocky Mountains. The experience was both gruelling and empowering. The child in me marvelled at all the beauty hidden in the Kananaskis backcountry. I witnessed my resilience in the face of complex physical and emotional challenges and gave myself the space to receive exactly what I needed from this program. The expedition opened up a sense of self-compassion 
that removed expectations for success and instead cherished my courage to show up. It was during this stage that I met Alyx Madill, with whom I would embark on the next stage.

The second stage is a three-month volunteer work placement with a not-for-profit organization. Of all places across Canada, Alyx and I chose to volunteer with the Elk River Alliance in Fernie because of the passion displayed by Chad Hughes, the charity’s Executive Director. When we arrived, neither of us knew much about invertebrate sampling, water monitoring, tree planting, or conservation but we were embraced for our potential to help and succeed not just as volunteers but students at the ERA. The confidence our team placed in us strengthened our desire to show up with a willingness to learn and a desire to go beyond our limits. The more time I spent with Alyx and my other co-workers at the Elk River Alliance, the more I realized it was possible to have healthy, impactful, and enlightening workplace friendships. 

Now at the end of my time with the ERA, my view of volunteering has been reinvigorated. Volunteering doesn’t have to be temporary, feel-good stints in under-served communities. It can become a resource for community connection and innovation. Volunteering empowers reconnection with the inner student as someone who brings meaningful contributions to the world through a simple desire to help and a willingness to learn.

Embracing the potential for passion over societal expectations of ‘adulting’ was perhaps the best choice I could have ever made. And you don’t need to go far from home to do it either! Try something new and volunteer with a local charity near you like the Elk River Alliance. And if you’re between the ages of 18-30 and looking to go on an unforgettable adventure, consider joining the Canadian Conservation Corps. It will change your life in the most wonderful ways!

Learn more about the CCC program at cwf-fcf.org/en/explore/conservation-corps/ and the ERA at elkriveralliance.ca.

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