It began with a simple offering of a few homemade quilts and before she knew it, Jane Barbeau was a board member, selling gift baskets, helping with the Share Christmas program and leading the fundraising committee at the Birchmount Bluffs Neighbourhood Centre (BBNC).
That was only a year and half ago.
It seemed like a really worthwhile endeavor and I wanted to support it.
Barbeau moved to Scarborough from East York after she retired from teaching. She became involved in the BBNC’s Share Christmas program right away and has been volunteering with the organization ever since.
“I liked what I saw around here. I like what they were doing. I thought it seemed like a really worthwhile endeavor and I wanted to support it,” Barbeau said.
The BBNC Share Christmas program has run every year since its inception in 1992. Volunteer coordinator Linda Curley describes it as a hamper program where families in need are sponsored by the community and receive the basic necessities to survive the winter months.
“With the Share Christmas program, it’s an opportunity for us as a neighbourhood centre to truly connect and engage with our community at large,” Curley said. “It is a huge program. This year the program served 408 families and we had 407 volunteers involved.”
Barbeau remembers her third day of volunteering, unloading boxes for the Share Christmas program. She said she had ordered a man to go and get some more boxes and realized later he was a CEO of a company who was also volunteering. She says the BBNC creates an environment of equality where anyone can join in.
“It’s a very inclusive organization and that’s one of the things I really liked about it when I first came,” Barbeau said. “People with severe physical disabilities or mental disabilities or they’ve just had a really tough life and people like myself who have had a fairly nice life just all working together. It makes no difference what colour or shape or size or age you are, just everybody pitches in.”
Curley says the BBNC has over 500 volunteers who contribute to the Scarborough community in a variety of ways through a number of programs the centre offers. The centre provides a Bridges 2 Communities program which helps recent immigrants learn employability skills to help them find jobs in Canada.
“With our Bridges 2 Communities program we have things like how to work a cash register, customer service skills, food handler certifications, all those kinds of training opportunities for individuals who live in our community,” said Curley.
Volunteering has always been in Barbeau’s blood. Ever since she was a teenager moving around from city to city with her family, Barbeau turned to volunteering to meet new people and become involved.
“I went to nine different schools and each time we moved I found that one of the best ways to become comfortable in the community was to just join in. I often went to a community centre or a church and just said, ‘Hi, what can I do?’” Barbeau said.
Now she has retired, Barbeau said she feels she is still too young to sit at home and knit or sew all day. She still has high hopes for the future of her new community and says she will continue to volunteer to do her part.
“I see a lot of contrasts in this community. There are some very, very wealthy people and then there are some very, very poor people. I would like to see those sort of even out a bit more,” Barbeau said.
The BBNC holds a celebration every year to thank their volunteers for all the hard work they do for the community. Curley said that often people only volunteer for altruistic reasons when they first join the centre.
“I think what happens is that initially with anyone who ever considers volunteering, they consider volunteering for altruistic reasons like, ‘I’m going to give back to my community,’” Curley said. “Why they stay is because it becomes intrinsic to who they are as individuals. The values and our vision and mission as an organization speaks to them as human beings.”