When Rena Wang told her friends she had been nominated for a volunteer award, their first question was “What are you wearing?”
She laughed as she remembered asking, “Don’t you want to know what award I got?” but her friends were more interested in her fashion choices.
Not that the Grade 11 student really minded, because she said her reason for volunteering was not to get an award, but to help where she is needed.
She was nominated by the Scarborough branch of the Hong Fook Mental Health Association, where she helps at events and mentors other youth.
She received the youth award March 31 at the 2009 Ontario Volunteer Service Awards night in Scarborough.
“I don’t think it affects me,” she said. “It’s a little boost on the way but, no matter what, I’ll always be volunteering because it’s what I enjoy doing.”
The Ontario Volunteer Service Awards are an initiative of the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration to recognize and award individuals who are long-time volunteers to a single organization. Youth recipients are under-24 year olds who have volunteered for at least two consecutive years.
“The volunteer service awards are the cornerstone of the government’s recognition programs,” said Colleen Moran, MC for the Scarborough ceremony, as well as others happening around Ontario between March 25 and June 30. She said that organizations are invited to nominate six outstanding volunteers from within the organization, or up to seven if there is at least one youth.
Moran was particularly impressed at the number of youth volunteers awarded.
“Community is all about giving back,” she said, “and the Scarborough area has a tremendous contingent of youth that were recognized. The province created this program to recognize their commitment and the positive impact that they are making in their communities.”
The awards ceremony was attended by Scarborough MPPs Khalil Ramal (London-Fanshawe), Gerry Phillips (Scarborough-Agincourt), Dr. Helena Jaczek (Oak Ridges-Markham), and Wayne Arthurs (Pickering-Scarborough East). They all spoke about the importance of volunteering and community, before leaving the floor open to Mervis White, the guest speaker of the night.
“Us volunteers, we make a major economic and social contribution to society,” White said. “Let us imagine the future where volunteer efforts are harnessed in all communities, and yes we can, we’re changing the communities and doing so, changing the world.”
Sybil Mitchell says that volunteering at the Victorian Order of Nurses (VON), who nominated her, is just her way of giving back to the organization that helped her ailing mother in her time of need.
“My mother…had a VON worker when she was terminally ill and I liked what she was doing for my mum. So I just joined up with the same organization.” She didn’t expect the award recognizing her 10 years of service, but said it felt good to be recognized by both VON and the province.
Delfina Laranang was also drawn into volunteering through a family member.
“I have a nephew, he’s mentally challenged. Some people volunteered with my nephew – I wanted to return back the good things they do for my nephew.” Laranang says she also volunteered with children when she lived in the Philippines, but has worked with developmentally-challenged adults at Mary Centre of the Archdiocese of Toronto for the past 12 years.
Among the other recipients, reasons for their selfless service ranged from sheer enjoyment of volunteering, like Wang, to continuing a family tradition like Chris MacDonald and his wife Dena Rogers, who received 20 and 25 year volunteer awards respectively, for their service to East Scarborough Scouting.
“Feels good to me,” MacDonald said. “That’s why I’m still there.”
“It’s nice to be recognized outside of scouting,” Rogers said.
For Clarita Ariz and Erlinda Jimenez, nominated by Living Waters Residence Inc, their volunteering is driven by their faith.
“For me, it’s really I’m following the Lord’s command to help, love one another,” Ariz said.
“I think it’s not so much an accomplishment, more of a fulfillment,” said Jimenez. “If we can be of service it’s good to help.”