Volunteer award winners.

Every not-for-profit body is only as good as its army of volunteers. While running the business and developing its programming may originate at a national office, like at Skate Canada, it’s the inspiring folks at the local level that really make the organization hum.

At Skate Canada, with some 1400 clubs in towns and cities all across the country, it takes thousands of volunteers to keep clubs operating, to run events, interact with current and potential members and to define the club’s place within the community.

Most volunteers entered the world of skating because they wanted their children to learn to skate. Then, as their children’s interest and commitment grew, their involvement grew too, to a point where offering time to help make the club run smoothly seemed like the natural way to support their child’s hobby.

They discovered the job of volunteering requires anything and everything. It could be as little as an hour of your time or as serious as sitting on the club’s Board of Directors. And it can involve a smorgasbord of tasks … planning on-ice schedules, buying ice time, manning administration and officiating, fundraising, coordinating test days, producing ice shows, designing marketing and promotion plans … and even taking on the roles of psychologist, negotiator and team leader.

If it sounds like a bucket of scary snakes, it can be … but it can also be the stuff of life-changing experiences: friendship, teamwork, mastery of new life skills and the development of highly successful partnerships.

At the yearly Volunteer Awards Gala and Banquet during the Annual Convention and General Meeting coming up in Winnipeg, you can ask the amazing volunteers being honored for their outstanding service what skating has added to their lives. The award winners come from every province and from every part of skating … club and section volunteering, coaching and officiating … yet their individual messages about the value of partnerships are consistent and often spoken with one voice.

Laurie Bertholet, the mom of Manitoba’s representative for the CompetitiveSkate Athlete Award, states, “Success definitely starts at the grassroots and moves all the way up to the elite level. Promoting that we are all partners in skating’s progress shows that all parts of the skating family are important, whether CanSkater, elite athlete, coach, volunteer or administration.”

And as pointed out by Therese Bilsborough, the award winner from Northern Ontario, using the strengths of all partners is a key to success. “I feel that partnerships with our volunteers, municipalities, fellow rink users and the corporate world are absolutely necessary for my club and community to thrive.”

These days with so many other activities vying for a participant’s time and money, the challenge for skating and our clubs is to recognize the realities of today’s recreational landscape and provide an activity and environment that is positive, productive and fun.

New Brunswick’s winner, Carole Tiffault, describes such an activity at her club, the Dieppe Gold Blades. “We promote our programs to other sports like ringette, hockey and speed skating. All our associations do their registrations together so that people are aware of all the sports being offered.”

Cindy Ramsay from PEI agrees that getting along with other groups in the rink is critical, however looking outside the rink to build partnerships can also provide unexpected results. “We need to create a good working relationship with the municipality to be in their thoughts when resources are being handed down; with local business so we can tap into their resources; with high schools so we can access potential volunteers; and with local media so our events can receive coverage.”

What does a good partnership look like to our winners?

Doug Pettapiece from Alberta/North West Territories/Nunavut section describes the key characteristics. “There should be agreement on a common goal, openness, transparency, trust and mutual respect for all parties involved.”

Newfoundland/Labrador’s winner, Susan Thistle, goes even further. “The goals should be clearly defined so that a strategy can be established to reach the goal. Each partner needs to understand their respective roles in the partnership … and to work well together.”

Skate Canada Central Ontario’s winner, Joanne Phelps, adds one simple but vital piece of the puzzle, “Collaboration and respect are critical to any successful partnership!”

It’s true that some volunteers come to the club with special professional skills to share, and certainly those resources are invaluable to a club’s success. Most other volunteers however come with things that may not be as tangible but are every bit as important … an even bigger and better bag of tricks … motivation, dedication and time.

Perhaps they had a great skating experience as a youngster, maybe their children are learning to skate at the club and they feel it is their duty to volunteer or maybe they’re an official. The reasons for getting there are as diverse as the skating community itself but one thing holds them all together … to give time to a sport that has somehow or in some way has enriched their lives.

Based on her myriad of experiences, Nova Scotia’s Sarah Miles says it perfectly. “It takes many people to grow a successful sports organization. If those partnerships are really positive, they can create a lifelong commitment, involvement and love of skating.”