Why I love the Toronto Beach…

Great public places create community and vice verse – community creates great public places. We all live and work and play somewhere, and we are constantly influenced by our surroundings in terms of our mood, our interactions with others, and our behaviours. Of course, I am a huge fan of Jane Jacobs and I continue to read and think about public spaces and places, especially within cities.

The Project for Public Spaces, which has an excellent website (www.pps.org) has a concept of “The Power of Ten” – that a great place needs to offer ten things to do or ten reasons to be there. The Power of Ten means that this great place will attract lots of diverse people who will interact together, all with different motivations to be there.

   I live near the Toronto Beach and I love it (geographically defined by me as at the water, with the west border at Ashbridges Bay/Coxwell and the East border at the Water Filtration Plan/Victoria Park Ave). I think it is truly a great place, and here is my “Power of Ten” list of what to do for my beloved Beaches area:

1. Exercise – my go-to for running and biking, with wide open sky and a very long boardwalk, as well as public water fountains throughout. There are also exercise stations (like chin-up bars etc) although I don’t use them. The beach makes me want to put on my runners and run, just so I can get down to see the beach.

2. Playgrounds for children – Lots of excellent playgrounds all along the beach, from what my family calls “The Purple Park” on the eastern edge (with an awesome sandbox filled with trucks and diggers that people have left) to the castle at Kew Park to the toddler-friendly little park right at the pool…

3. The Pool – I am SHOCKED when some of my neighbors say they have never been to the pool! The Donald Summerville pool is amazing – free, outdoors and three pools – a kids pool, a diving pool and an olympic sized pool with lanes. This is our go-too place with the kids – we love it!

4. Swimming in the lake – I love the pool but I also love to splash around in the lake. People still don’t seem to know that the lake water is perfectly fine to swim in, internationally recognized by the Blue Flag program. There are very few people, even on the hottest days, in the water. Often the water is choppy so I don’t swim per-se, but I do jump in, and I have been known to jump in the water in my clothes, just to cool off.

5. Lake sports – people are on the lake doing all kinds of activities, from canoeing, kayaking, para-sailing (I SO want to take up this sport!)

6. Kids soccer – my son plays on the Beaches Soccer League, which has 1300 players from ages 4 to 16. It is wonderful to go down to the beach and watch my sons soccer – a real community event where everyone is out.

7. Play in the sand – make sand castles, inukshuks, bury your body etc etc – There is lots of fun to be had on the sand. My kids and I have made awesome sand castles, and of course, they also enjoy burying me in the sand. There is a guy who makes amazing inukshuks with the rocks on the sand, always out there on a summer weekend.

8. Eat ice cream and other treats! Of course, when you’re frolicking around on a summer day, you and your family may be looking for an icy delicious treat. Close to the beach is Queen St with lots of ice cream and frozen yogurt shops. I especially highly recommend Ed’s Real Scoop where the ice cream is made in-house!

9. Reading on a park bench – I love reading and I love finding nice public places to read, and there are plenty of park benches along the beaches boardwalk to relax and read. There are also beautiful trees to read under if you are looking for shade. I spend a lot of time during my maternity leave, with my baby asleep, reading under a tree or on a park bench.   

10. Pray / Appreciate the beauty of nature – I don’t explicitly pray to God, but I do go to the beach just to feel connected to nature. The beach waves calm me, and the big open sky reminds me that my life is a part of this big and amazing and beautiful world. And no matter what is happening in my personal life, the sun is always rising and setting each day and the waves are always moving. When I am upset or anxious and just need to clear my head and breathe, I go to the water. And if its not too cold, I dip my toes in and give thanks for my life.  


Nov 5th is International Volunteer Managers Day – Reflecting on Leaving the Profession

It’s a day with mixed feelings for me today – a little happy, a little sad, a lot reflective. Nov 5th is marked as International Volunteer Managers Day, to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of Managers of Volunteers, who work tirelessly to support and engage volunteers – see http://volunteermanagersday.org/. I love the line “volunteering does not succeed in a vacuum”, recognizing that Volunteer Managers play a critical role in providing ‘behind-the-scenes’ support to volunteers. Often, this support translates to internal advocacy, and Volunteer Managers speaking on behalf of volunteers to advocate for changes so that organizations are more accessible/welcoming and inclusive of volunteers. This is often the small but critical details that make or break the volunteer relationship – do volunteers have a space to work and a place to hang their coat? Do we have a budget to throw a Holiday party for volunteers instead of just for staff (or better yet, can we invite the volunteers to the staff holiday party?) Do are office volunteers have the information and access to codes needed to do meaningful work? Are volunteers involved in planning and decision making, or even consulted for feedback, when they have years more experience than paid staff?

This post in Energize by Susan Ellis is the best I’ve read about this day and reflects my concerns about this profession – http://www.energizeinc.com/hot/2013/13nov.php#!.

    My sadness and reflection comes from my own personal journey, as someone who was a Volunteer Manager for 10 years and was completely passionate about the profession, to having now said goodbye to this career path (although I hope to continue to think and write about volunteer engagement and related themes for years to come). I have personally been volunteering and have worked with volunteers for most of my life, being inspired as a child by my Grandparents (I’ll save that story for another blog post). I landed my first formal Volunteer Manager job about 10 years ago, and jumped into the profession with both feet. I took all of the steps to becoming an expert in my field, joined the executive of my local Volunteer Manager Professional Association, wrote and published an article on volunteer management and community development, presented several workshops at volunteer conferences, and became certified as a CVA (Certified Volunteer Administrator), etc. etc. My career goal was to be a leader in volunteer management. I was 100% committed to this goal.

Here’s the catch: there are very few true leadership roles in Volunteer Management, at least in Toronto, Canada. I worked as a Volunteer Manager in two organizations, with my responsibilities being overall volunteer management – recruitment, retention, recognition, etc. While I thoroughly enjoyed both positions, after 8 years doing this work, I wanted to contribute at a leadership level, with a wider scope and a focus more on the strategic and less on the front-line day-to-day. I job searched for 2.5 years, and came up empty. I had interviews and came close to one job (down to myself and the successful candidate), but was not successful. And the interesting thing I learned through this whole process, was this: Leadership roles in Volunteer Management are not being filled by people who have experience in volunteer management! This is crazy but true, and sad. These positions are being filled by people from the corporate sector or if from non-profit, then expertise in fundraising. What other profession hires a “Senior Manager/Director of *blank*” with no experience in the subject matter? While Volunteer Managers are advocating to recognize the significant work of Volunteer Managers, non-profit leaders are unfortunately not buying it. A perfect (but sad) example is Volunteer Canada, who has just announced their new CEO, with no experience in volunteer management – http://volunteer.ca/content/new-ceo-announcement. Why is that? Because unfortunately, Volunteer Management experience is not seen as strategic, high level, leadership work. 

   I have shifted career paths and I’m happy with where I am – I am still passionate about volunteerism and volunteer engagement and my work allows me to integrate this passion with overall community development and program management skills. I very much value the amazing experience I had as a Volunteer Manager, and there are days where I miss some aspects of that work (and I especially miss working directly with amazing and inspiring volunteers). I don’t have a fixed career goal anymore, as that feels limiting, and I want to be open to where my path takes me. I wish that Volunteer Managers and volunteer engagement generally was more respected within the non-profit sector, as volunteerism is so immensely important. I will continue to speak out about this where I can and when I can, to keep the dialogue going. And last but not least, I will continue to actively volunteer and try to do my small part in making the world a better place.