Neighbourhood Network matches local charities with passionate volunteers.
There are so many reasons people choose to volunteer. For some, it provides an opportunity to give back to the community they live in, and to make a meaningful difference in the lives of the people around them. For others, it offers a chance to cultivate new skills, develop a network, and build upon existing knowledge and experience.
No matter your motive, Neighbourhood Network wants to help you give back. A non-profit division of Magna International, Neighbourhood Network was founded by Belinda Stronach in efforts to create a life-changing movement by customizing the volunteer experience and encouraging others to help their neighbour and build a better community together.
When Belinda Stronach was the MP for Newmarket and Aurora, she welcomed many residents into her constituency office. In doing so, she found 80 to 90 percent of those individuals expressed very real and urgent needs, which often fell outside of the scope of what she, as a politician, was capable of resolving. “That didn’t sit well with her,” says Erin Cerenzia, Coordinator at Neighbourhood Network. “She knew the community and that there were people willing to help. But they didn’t know those needs existed.”
And so Neighbourhood Network was born – a platform designed to connect partnered charities and agencies with volunteers and community resources. “We exist as an organization solely to support the community – anything we can do to support a charity, to support a family in need or crisis, or to support a senior who’s struggling,” says Cerenzia. “Those needs come to us, and if we can’t meet them ourselves, we find someone to help. It’s about keeping your neighbour alive.”
For example, throughout the winter season, Neighbourhood Network runs a snow removal program, an initiative established to match a low-income senior resident or person with a disability to a volunteer who lives within 10 walking minutes of their home. “It helps individuals who would otherwise remain trapped in their home during those winter months,” says Cerenzia. “If it’s very snowy, our volunteers are busy, and it gives that freedom back to those people in need.”
Starting in November, Neighbourhood Network is also hosting its annual holiday gift drive. This is a chance for community members to purchase a special gift and donate to a neighbour who needs it most. “We reach out to the 373 partners we work with and ask them to send us their most urgent gift requests and needs,” explains Cerenzia. “Then we post all of those needs online on our website.”
While it’s always a great time to volunteer, the fall and winter months present even more opportunity to give back, as dropping temperatures and the upcoming holidays inspire community members to help make the season warm and memorable for their neighbours. “If you can take an hour out of your day to clear someone’s snow from their sidewalks, or to help wrap presents, or to go shopping with your 20-dollar allowance to buy a gift for a kid who may not have had something coming to them, you can have a huge positive impact,” Cerenzia says.
For Cerenzia, volunteering has brought many positive benefits. “From a career perspective, it’s given me the opportunity to sit on boards of directors and gain real practical skills and experience for professional development,” she says, adding that there are also many positive health effects of volunteering, including reduced stress and improved self-esteem. “At the end of the day, through all of that, you’re making a difference in someone’s life.”
The service is completely free – both for its partnering charities and the volunteers. If you’re interested in getting involved, Neighbourhood Network encourages you to look beyond the traditional concept of serving a meal at a shelter. Think about what your passion is – perhaps you love sports, or working with animals, or maybe you’re interested in medicine and health. Whatever you love to do, Neighbourhood Network will help you match your passion with a cause, so you can find a volunteer opportunity you really care about.
“It’s about helping you grow as a person and making the community a better and stronger place,” says Cerenzia. “We’ll find you a meaningful volunteer experience, and then hopefully you’ll become a lifelong volunteer.”
Written by Charlotte Ottaway