It’s all volunteer power at Ten Thousand Villages

By Judith van Berkom – 

If we conducted a survey in Ottawa of the number and age of volunteers working in various capacities across the city, what percentage would be seniors? We don’t hear much about seniors, but they often care for grandchildren, drive school buses, work in retail, operate small businesses and volunteer. They are busier than when they were working. But now, they can choose the type of work they want to do. What motivates a person to voluntarily give of their time?

Westboro’s Ten Thousand Villages has engaged 67 volunteers at their Richmond Road location. Part of a network of 37 stores across Canada, over 3000 volunteers contribute their time and energy to support artisans worldwide, give those less fortunate the dignity of ‘fair trade’, independence, integrity.

They are passionate about what they do. Ten Thousand Villages, established in 1946, is the largest and oldest fair trade organization in America.

Judy Lincoln, Manager, Karmen Walther and Janet Bruce, volunteers, Kathy Neufeld, volunteer assistant manager and John Bell,
Judy Lincoln, Manager, Karmen Walther and Janet Bruce, volunteers, Kathy Neufeld, volunteer assistant manager and John Bell. Photo by Judith van Berkom

Fair trade gives employment instead of charity. Lincoln explains how artisans from various countries receive half the cost of the order when it is made; the second half is paid when the shipment is sent.

“Volunteering doesn’t feel like work when you’re having fun,” say Jean Fritzlan and Janet Bruce, both long-term volunteers with Ten Thousand Villages on Richmond Road in Westboro. “We were here before MEC,” adds John Bell, a retired senior naval officer whose wife and he have been with the store since it opened in 1999.

Bell’s last posting in Victoria BC gave him the opportunity to volunteer with Global Villages.

“Most of the women there were Raging Grannies,” says Bell. Many of them had travelled the world. He recalls money being sent to a nun on an Indonesian island who used those funds to buy sewing machines and start a community business.

Janet Bruce – the Bruce of Bruce House – has volunteered all her life, in hospitals and art galleries. “As soon as I walked in the door, there was something so appealing about it. It’s not just the look of the store, but the products are so lovely,” says Bruce.

“I’ve never, ever been more appreciated for giving my time than right here,” she says. She came to the Westboro store 13 years ago with no retail experience. Today she is 79.  “Computers and cash registers scare you half to death,” she says, adding that she has had some wonderful support along the way.

Manager Judy Lincoln has a background in international development. She volunteered with the downtown store before she became a paid staff member in Westboro.

“The best part of my day is working with volunteers,” she says. Her biggest motivation is getting to work with a different volunteer each day. “Sometimes I’m able to teach them something, but most of the time I learn from them. I’m surrounded by people who really want to be here.”

Kathy Neufeld, volunteer assistant manager and former high-tech worker, has been with the store for over 25 years. When the economic downturn took place several years ago, staff insisted on taking a 10% cut to their pay. Neufeld volunteers a day and a half a week and does all the finances for the store.

Karmen Walther returned in 2015 and is one of the younger volunteers, currently looking for work while gaining experience. “The older volunteers often show the younger ones how to deal with the public. The younger volunteers teach social media to older volunteers – the store has a Facebook page and Twitter account,” says Lincoln.

Fritzlan, native to Westboro and former music teacher enjoys meeting people in the neighbourhood. She thinks it’s important to give back to her community and to look at the larger community.

“We are becoming a global village,” she says, “We need to help people who live in countries where there is no social safety net.”

Did you know: the Ottawa Mennonite Church has been hosting an annual pre-Christmas Fair Trade Festival Sale for over 40 years? It takes place on Fridays and Saturdays during November at the Ottawa Mennonite Church. Read more about it right here.

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