Emily Parker says volunteering is a fantastic way to network and make connections with those who share similar values to you.
Turns out, many of her cherished friendships began at or were strengthened through her time at the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka, where she currently serves as a volunteer board member.
“In fact, my current roommate is someone I first met while working at the Barrie YMCA. We both facilitated child and youth programs and bonded over our time teaching yoga, dance, Drums Alive, and cooking classes,” Parker told BarrieToday.
Volunteering has always been very important to Parker because she believes in contributing to and helping her community in any way that she can.
Parker’s journey with the Y began at age 15, when she was hired to plan and facilitate child and youth programming at the Barrie YMCA. At the time, she was working at McDonald’s, but her friends that worked at the Barrie Y convinced their manager to take a chance on her.
“It proved to be one of the best experiences I had as a teenager and helped me to discover my passion for working with children. In a sense, my start at the YMCA helped lead me to my career in teaching," she said.
Before becoming a board member, Parker worked at the YMCA for many years, in a few different roles. During the summers, when programming would break, she would work at the Barrie YMCA day camps, and at YMCA Camp Wanakita as an overnight camp counsellor.
Outside her volunteer work at the Y, Parker has also volunteered at Elizabeth Fry Society of Simcoe Muskoka as a youth justice committee member and restorative justice facilitator in their youth justice program. She has also helped facilitate grief groups for children at Seasons Centre for Grieving Children, and was an in-school mentor at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Barrie.
While studying at Western University in London, Ont., she volunteered at the Ronald McDonald House of Southwestern Ontario and the Boys and Girls Club of London.
“I really enjoy contributing to and supporting my community, and so, I have dedicated my life to volunteering," Parker said.
At a member of the YMCA board of directors, she attends a monthly board meeting, along with monthly or bi-monthly committee meetings. She reads and takes notes on the pre-readings and agendas for each meeting, and participates in board meetings by asking questions, sharing opinions, and advocating for community members.
“The best part of my role on the YMCA board of directors is being able to help create change in the Simcoe County community by supporting community members and advocating for the design and implementation of more services to serve current and future members of the YMCA," she said.
Being a young professional, and one of the youngest members on the YMCA board of directors, Parker says she experienced the challenge of being heard in the beginning.
“I did not know how to advocate and use my voice during board meetings, but with the help of my mentor, I was able to understand how to work with others and be taken more seriously by my fellow board members," she added.
As a message for the next generation of volunteers, Parker said that volunteering often requires a demanding commitment. But for those who can commit, the reward of helping people and strengthening your community will be invaluable.
“If you are passionate about social justice and change, volunteering is a great way to participate on the front line of care and action in the community.”