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New volunteer super-group renews commitment to volunteering

Service Clubs of St. Albert's (SCOSA) goal is to grow the volunteer base and support existing community groups
Laura Charrois, centre right, is an avid volunteer supporting many groups including the St. Albert Food Bank and the newly created Service Clubs of St. Albert.

Face it. Without St. Albert’s broad range of service groups contributing to our community well-being, city residents would not enjoy its present quality of life. 

As we continue to face more challenges such as rising costs for groceries and gas, an aging population, deteriorating health care system, social isolation and a climate crisis, it is more important than ever to find ways of supporting those in need. 

Volunteer service clubs are an important segment that function as a support stopgap. However, while the demand continues to spike, many groups are witnessing volunteer declines, with 55 per cent of Canadian charities reporting fewer volunteers than before the pandemic. 

Mike Howes, owner of Sparklean Restorations, a 30 plus year community volunteer with numerous service clubs, is a driving force in developing a new organization designed to combat dwindling volunteerism.  

Newly formed in 2023, Service Clubs of St. Albert (SCOSA) is a loose group of about 14 service clubs that support each other by sharing ideas and volunteers. For instance, if Kinsmen need assistance hosting the Rainmaker Rodeo, they could contact all SCOSA member clubs. And if individuals from SCOSA's clubs are interested in helping, they would be encouraged to assist.

“I can’t take credit for the idea. I borrowed it from Mike Bedford about 10 years (ago),” said Howes. Among Howes' many contributions is membership in the Fraternal Order of Eagles, treasurer of St. Albert 50+ Activity Centre and past chair of the St. Albert Chamber of Commerce. In addition, he has worked on projects with the Elks, Lions and Rotarians. 

From his experience, he's noticed a decreasing interest among young volunteers as older volunteers retire. 

“Organizations need more to interest young people than to come to a meeting once a month and discuss projects and finances. Here at the Eagles, we own our building and we’re able to host different events that attract younger people. That’s the catalyst that’s brought our numbers up to 275. We are very lucky to have other things to offer,” said Howes. 

He compares Eagles membership to many local clubs such as Kinsmen, Elks, Knights of Columbus and Cosmopolitan Clubs that top their numbers at about 20. In practical terms, it is more difficult for small clubs to advertise events, whereas a collective group can raise greater awareness. 

“The idea for SCOSA is to get service clubs together and work on the same page. When you have 12 to 14 clubs putting information on social media about an event and a few volunteers from different groups donating their time, it takes the pressure off in putting together a big event.” 

Laura Charrois, the Youth Suicide Prevention Coordinator at St. Albert Food Bank is a member of Rotaract Club of St. Albert, a young-adult offshoot of Rotary Club. From an early age Charrois has donated her time filling shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, organizing Christmas hampers, ringing Salvation Army bells and collecting for the food bank. In addition, she’s taken part in a Mental Health Walk, promoted OutLoud and travelled to Belize with Rotoract taking teaching supplies including books and computers as well as assisting in building a playground. 

Describing SCOSA’s mission, Charrois said, “There’s something incredible about working together. We’re not competing with each other. We’re trying to make St. Albert a better place by working together and finding what organization is the best fit for you.” 

A big barrier to volunteering is time. Many people prefer to spend their evenings and weekends with family and friends. However, volunteers can have a profound effect on the people they meet and make a significant difference in our lives. When volunteers give their time, they create bonds of respect, share opportunities and provide mentorship.  

“Volunteers get to see what goes on in St. Albert. It also increases their community connectedness and belonging,” Charrois said. 

Volunteers matter. As Mike Howes puts it, “It feels better when you climb the ladder of success and reach down to help people up rather than step on their heads as they make their way up.” 

In recognition of National Volunteer Week on April 14 to 20, SCOSA is setting up an information booth at the St. Albert Lifestyle Expo from Friday, April 19 to Sunday, April 21 at Servus Credit Union Place, 400 Campbell Rd. 

In addition, a recruitment Volunteer Expo is taking place at St. Albert 50+ Activity Centre on Wednesday, April 24 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Information booths from SCOSA’s service clubs will be set up and former Mayor Nolan Crouse will give a talk on the benefits of volunteerism at 7 p.m. The 50+ Activity Centre is at 7 Tache St. 

Anyone wishing to learn more about SCOSA can contact Mike at 780-699-4539

Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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