‘Why volunteer?’ Searching for answers with person with decades of experience

Why volunteer? It’s a question some people may ask these days, and a question a lot of others never really struggled with before.

The Estevan area is famous for its volunteer community. Thanks to many dedicated people who give their time, skills, talents and connections, the Energy City and surrounding areas have had a lot of great events, big and small, and is home to a lot of facilities, none of which would ever be possible without volunteers.

Wendy Gustafson of Macoun, right, and her three kids, from left, Benjamin and Josh Gustafson and Becca Anderson, are all volunteers making their community a better place. Photo courtesy of Wendy Gustafson

Marking National Volunteer Week from April 14-20, the Mercury and SaskToday reached out to one of the wonderful local long-term volunteers, Wendy Gustafson of Macoun, to talk about what decades of volunteering meant to her and her family, and try to help new generations find an answer to the “Why volunteer?” question.

Gustafson’s volunteer journey started a long time ago and has seen her involved with many different projects and initiatives.

A lot of volunteering opportunities came naturally, she said. She and her husband Bently were youth leaders in their church before they had kids, and they continued being involved in different capacities throughout their life. When their children were in school, Wendy became involved with activities there.

She’s worked with the Heart and Stroke Foundation and started and ran a few mother-daughter walks in Estevan. She also organizes all the funeral lunches in her community. Gustafson has been on the United Way Estevan board for about 14 years and worked with Relay for Life when Estevan organized that opportunity to get together with family and friends to celebrate cancer survivors and remember loved ones.

And those are just some of her volunteer roles. She says she can’t think of a time when she wasn’t volunteering and helping with something.

“I don’t know what got me started on it [volunteering]. I was raised in a farming community. And I know that on the farm, you’re busy and you learn to work. And in a smaller community, too, it takes people to volunteer, it takes those to make it go,” Gustafson said. “So, I think that’s what I was taught as a child. If somebody needs help you do it, you just give your time. And it just developed in me since I was a young person.”

Being a young family with three kids, they always were busy, yet she would just say yes to volunteering opportunities coming her way. Gustafson recalled that back in the day, one of her kids questioned her volunteering, but as time went by it seemed that her kids found answers for themselves.

“Years ago, when my kids were younger, one said to me, ‘Mom, why do you volunteer so much? You’re so busy all the time. You’re always volunteering. Why are you doing that?’ … He didn’t say it was dumb, but he didn’t get it. And then fast track now, all three of my kids are adults, and he plus the other two, his brother and a sister, are so involved in the community and so involved volunteering, and so involved on different boards and in on the church committees and coaching baseball and coaching hockey and on the United Way and all these things,” said Gustafson.

“And I thought the greatest success that one could have, the greatest achievement as a volunteer is to see your kids grow up and be that committed.”

While volunteering always felt natural for her, she said it’s also indeed rewarding in many ways.

“When I feel that somebody has benefited from something that I have done, it’s such a good feeling. And I like being busy. I think it’s just satisfying. And it’s a good feeling to be able to accomplish something to the end, see people benefit from it and just be able to give of yourself,” Gustafson said.

“I’ve had a couple of times in my life where I needed help. I lost my husband just a year and a half ago to cancer. And it’s been devastating. … But during his sickness, people volunteered, they came and helped us with our farming, they took care of animals, they did things for us, volunteered. And it was hard for me because I wasn’t used to being on that end of it.

“I was used to being the giver and volunteering, and now these people were helping me. And I was so blessed. We were so blessed to receive help from people who wanted to volunteer their time.

“So, I’ve been on both sides. And you know what, it’s a win-win.”

She noted that being a volunteer in the southeast also means belonging to a wonderful community.

“There are a lot of amazing people, and I’ve worked with some amazing people. We are very blessed in our community, in the Estevan area with some pretty awesome people that give up their time,” Gustafson said.

She noted that the willingness to help seems like a part of human nature to her and comes from deep within. And when we respond to that natural call, it’s rewarding. Also, people in small communities know firsthand that without their joint effort, they wouldn’t have many great things and opportunities.

“There are things in life that require volunteering, and if nobody steps up, what’s going to happen? What kind of a sad world would this be? You can’t put yourself into a spot where you burn yourself out and you’re tired, but usually, everyone has a little capacity to volunteer,” Gustafson said.

“And it is a piece in your life that you need, I think, to take the time out of your life and give it to someone else; it helps build character and build a better person.”

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