Voluntary in Nature

Editor's Note ~ Fall 2011 (V5I3)

This summer, I came down with a case of volunteer- itis. I was first infected in 2010, when Elizabeth Hanson, Yukon NDP leader and MLA for Whitehorse Centre, knocked at my door, canvassing voters during the run-up to a December by-election. When the subject of arts funding arose, Hanson flipped the script on the traditional candidate- voter interface and shared how I could play a role in advocating for the arts. 

   Two days later, Hanson introduced me to the Friends of the Gallery (FOG), a supporting organization of the Yukon Permanent Art Collection. Soon, I wasn’t just a FOG member, but part of its board, sort through submissions for the collection and agonizing over which artworks and artists best represented the territory.

   Around the same time, coffee with a friend in Dawson turned into a tagalong to a meeting of the Dawson City International Short Film Fest's organizing committee. Despite knowing little about film, I found myself offering my time to the event--the enthusiasm of the committee members was catching.

   In both instances, I got far more from volunteering than I put in. The anguish I experienced evaluating works for the Permanent Art Collection was nothing after seeing a young artist learn his submission had been selected. At the film fest, when my name was accidentally drawn for an audience prize, I wasn’t disappointed, but elated to be ineligible due to my involvement with the event. As it happens, the only thing better than winning a draw is winning it and then handing the prize to someone else.

   Shortly after moving to Dawson this spring, my volunteer-itis became full-blown. I'd love to blame my innate selflessness, but the truth is that small towns run on volunteers--if you want your town to thrive, you have to make it happen. Add the fact that volunteer-itis is highly contagious--one person can infect dozens of friends, family, and co workers--and it's no wonder I spent my summer raising my hand for one job or another.

 Compared to many Yukoners, my volunteer-itis is mild. Sure, I may have agreed to face-paint children at the Dawson City Music Festival when the very idea terrified me (Spiderman is a tall order!), and I’ve found myself rising early on weekends when I desperately  needed sleep, but overall I’ve done the bare minimum. 

                                                photo: Lisa Ewasko

I’ve seen others give their last joule of energy to their community while asking nothing in return. I've seen people with two full-time jobs give up their weekend for three days of eight-hour dishwashing shifts. I've seen professionals end a 10-hour workday with four hours designing the program for an arts festival. I've seen people perform thankless tasks and learned later they've done it every year for a decade. And unlike myself, none of them feel obliged to comment or wonder at their largesse.

   Yukon life is marked by encounters with colourful characters, and every town has its quirks and distinctions. But what unites us all is a deep sense of community. Perhaps because the winters are long, we’re compelled to share warmth with each other. Perhaps what draws people to this remote land is not a desire for isolation, but a longing for an authentic feeling of togetherness. Perhaps we instinctively know that spending time on our community is the price of admission to a better life.

   Many seasonal residents will leave at summer’s

end infected with a desire to build their home community--an export we can proud of. Those that remain will find opportunities in the slower winter months to fling our hands in the air and say “I'll do it!” Whatever the cause of Yukon volunteer-itis, it's probably incurable. And since it quite literally knocked

on my door, I've had no desire to shake it.

Elaine Corden



Harper Street Publishing
Box 141
Carcross, Yukon Y0B 1B0

We're on the Tagish Road!


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