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Volunteerism in Alberta: 100 years of Celebrating Community
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Boom to Bust to Boom Again


FolkfestMost organized humanistic endeavours — from arts and culture, to the environment, to the legal system, to social services, to running programs at a zoo — rely on the help of volunteers. Much of the time, it is the voluntary section of an organization that recognizes the need to respond to shifting trends, economic conditions, and changing social values. The hard work and front-line response offered by volunteers has helped to address needs, fill voids, enrich communities, and improve social conditions all over Alberta.

Although many Albertans enjoyed a degree of prosperity from the 1950s to the early 1980s, society continued to feel the effects of poverty, while the crime rate began to increase. People experienced substance abuse, loss, grief, suicide, and loneliness. In response, community service agencies began to open in the 1960s. The Support Network, for example, evolved under various names, and grew into a large agency that responds to community members who are in crisis. This agency and hundreds of other social service organizations throughout Alberta would not exist today without a committed volunteer force.

Media Village Prior to the early 1980s, there was no group devoted to the support of victims of crime in Canada. Interestingly, these volunteer rights groups began to surface after the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms was entrenched. The advocates of justice reform and victims’ rights demanded a justice system that would have an awareness and regard for their rights. They also pursued a system in which their rights were at least equal to those given to accused criminals under the Charter. The victims-of-crime movement has been a social phenomenon. Grass-roots bereavement and network groups have spun out of the movement as a result, in Alberta and elsewhere. Canada now has numerous registered victims’ rights groups, hundreds of women’s shelters, and Victim Services units attached to police departments. Most of these services operate with the assistance of volunteers. The justice reform and victims-of-crime movements have influenced changes to the Young Offenders Act, stalking laws, and are responsible for the introduction of Victim Impact Statements.

Girl Guides and StormtroopersSchools throughout Alberta have benefited from the volunteer efforts of parents and community members. These volunteers devote hours of their time in order to help with countless school tasks, including fundraising, reading to students, chaperoning during field trips, helping out in classrooms and libraries, and lobbying the government for improvements to education. An example of the impact that volunteers can have on students is the story of Steve Ramsankar. In the early 1970s, Ramsankar, the principal of Alex Taylor School (a poor inner-city school in Edmonton) initiated a community-based approach to education, hoping to start a hot lunch program for his students. With the help of sponsor donations and volunteers, Ramsankar achived his goal, and was even able to keep the school open during summer months to continue providing lunch for the youngsters. In many cases, the food the children received at school was their only meal of the day. By 1983, this initiative branched out into eight other inner-city schools. Inner City School Liaison officers from Edmonton Police Service also worked with these students and in many ways pioneered the introduction of Community Based Policing in April of 1988.

Olympic Park motelSports have always been important to Albertans. Alberta began its tradition of hosting large sports events with the 1978 Commonwealth Games, which were held at the Kinsmen Centre and Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton. Edmonton also hosted the World University Games (Universiade) in 1983. Calgary received the honour of hosting the Winter Olympics in 1988, a massive event that helped put the province on the world map. Hundreds of volunteers offered their time and skills at every one of these world-class events, which would not have succeeded without their help.

On the cultural front, the Alberta Motion Picture Industries Associations (AMPIA) was formed in 1973. Mel Hurtig pioneered book publishing in Alberta when he started Hurtig Publishing in the 1960s. When the Book Publishers Association of Alberta was founded in 1975, Alberta had five book publishing companies. By 1987, the association boasted 25 members. The Writer’s Guild of Alberta was formed in 1980, while The Editors Association successfully united in the early 1990s. These associations were all formed with the generous help of volunteers.

Heritage Days was formed in 1976 and the Edmonton Folk Festival got its start in 1979. Among the hundreds of festivals held in Alberta each year, these two events are especially noteworthy for their size and popularity. By the end of the year 1999, Heritage Days was the world’s largest three-day celebration of cultural and ethnic diversity. Each year, the efforts of more than 6000 volunteers are required to operate this festival. The Edmonton Folk Festival, which stages world- class local, national and international musicians, attracts a massive audience each year. At least 2000 volunteers donate their time to make this event an annual success.

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Volunteerism in Alberta: 100 years of Celebrating Community

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