Recognizing volunteers is a long-standing tradition in town, says Lord Mayor Betty Disero, and one that should be continued, “no matter who is on council.”
The Lord Mayor’s Volunteer Awards will be presented at a June council meeting, and to help choose whom to recognize, Disero is asking for nominations from the public.
For more than 20 years, volunteer awards were presented in a partnership between The Niagara Advance, the community newspaper which initiated the program, and the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Because of the newspaper’s closure in November 2017, and the municipal elections the following October, a recognition ceremony was not held in 2018. Disero and town staff have agreed it is important to acknowledge citizens who contribute to the community, and will involve all three weekly newspapers in town, she said.
“When the discussion came up, we decided even without The Niagara Advance, we should be doing this. This is such a great town for volunteers, and it’s important to recognize them.”
Disero said she makes a lot of speeches about sustainability, “which always goes back to budget and money. But if we didn’t have the number of volunteers and their civic pride, we wouldn’t have the town that we have. We could have all the money in the world, and it wouldn’t be the town we live in without our volunteers. Sustainability isn’t just about money, it’s about how people relate to the place they live and what they do for each other.”
Volunteerism, she said, “is contagious. People see others getting involved and they step forward. We have people in town who have been volunteering for years, decades even, and who will one day pass the torch. Awards can help encourage the next generation of volunteers,” said Disero. “That’s why volunteer recognition is so important.”
There are so many great volunteers in town, she added, “it will be tough to just pick a few.”
The Town also encourages volunteerism, as directed in the last term of council’s strategic plan, through its volunteer talent bank. The website allows those who want to offer their services to find an organization they would like to help. An organization can also reach out to volunteers by filling out a form describing its requirements, which is emailed to all those who have registered as volunteers.
Victoria Steele, the Town’s community engagement coordinator, said the talent bank has been successful in matching volunteers to organizations, and when it’s a one-time requirement, such as an event in need of volunteers, “we usually hear in about 10 minutes that the need has been filled. It works really quickly.”
The Town is also planning another volunteer fair, set up similarly to a job fair, said Disero. Representatives of organizations, events or committees requiring helpers will be invited to attend as exhibitors, and those interested in becoming more engaged in the community by providing their services will also be encouraged to attend.
For this year’s awards, outstanding volunteers will be chosen in several categories: working with seniors; working with youth/education; culture (arts, music, heritage, etc.); sports and recreation; a volunteer under 21; the environment; and community/civic engagement.
Nominations can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, or dropped off at the town hall, by 4:30 p.m. Monday, May 13.
The name, phone number and email address of the person submitting a nomination and the volunteer being put forward for recognition must be included, with a brief explanation (250 words or less) of why the person is being nominated.
Nominations will be reviewed by Disero, Deputy Lord Mayor Clare Cameron, and a representative from each of the three weekly newspapers. One volunteer will be selected for each category and the winner will be recognized at the June 10 council meeting. Volunteers must live in NOTL and be willing to have their photo published in the newspapers.