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Volunteer Services Bureau programs thriving despite downturn

While the local economy is turning around, the Grande Prairie Volunteer Services Bureau has yet to see the effects. Executive Director Carol-Ann Pasemko says many agencies in the city rely on industry support.

“If you’re relying on the oilfield for a big portion of your funding, that’s discretionary funding; it’s the first thing that gets cut and the last thing that goes back.”

Pasemko says the VSB fared better through the economic downturn than other agencies, due to their success finding grants. However, since most of them are for specific programs instead of operations, it can still be tough to keep the lights on.

“Funders like programming grants; programs look great. You can put on a display, or you can go to a workshop, or you can do some kind of mini conference,” Pasemko explains. “But in the background, they’re giving you 10 to 14 per cent for administration costs and it doesn’t cut it.”

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The executive director hopes more companies will consider more operational grants, although they may not be as flashy. She presented in front of the city’s community living committee Tuesday morning, as the city provides 14 per cent of their overall funding.

Part of that support goes to their youth programming, of which one in particular is doing well. Now in its fourth year, Wired 2 Hire gives youth aged 16 to 30 years old free job training and a way to give back to their community.

“Our agencies were reluctant to have youth volunteers because they felt that they were too much work,” Pasemko says, “and the other side of it was kids were telling us they didn’t know where to go to volunteer.”

The program gives certification in First Aid, H2S, WHMIS, Transportation of Dangerous Goods, Food Safety, Pro-Serve, Pro-Tect, and Customer Service. However, their tickets aren’t handed out until they do a 25 hour practicum volunteering with a local non-profit or charity organization.

“It’s been a tremendous program; it’s made a huge difference,” Pasemko maintains. “What we find now is our agencies are much more aware of youth volunteers, they’re happy to have the volunteers. Those kids bring a lot of energy into a place.”

Pasemko adds that many of the youth continue to volunteer after the program finishes, and are more likely to volunteer later in life. The program has an 84 per cent completion rate.

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