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CityMakers: Nick Bachusky provides insight into Ottawa’s volunteering eco-system

By Nickie Shobeiry on February 21, 2018

Nickie Shobeiry is Apt613’s correspondent at Synapcity, Ottawa non-profit for civic engagement, connecting people across diverse communities to share perspectives and create positive change.

Nick Bachusky is a CityMaker extraordinaire who was nominated by Karen Secord of Parkdale Food Centre to be spotlighted in our column. Passionate about his community, we spoke to Nick about his work, and his insights into Ottawa’s volunteering eco-system.

Apt613: How long have you been in Ottawa?

Nick Bachusky: I’ve been in Ottawa since going to school back in 2001. I travelled around the world for two years, and then decided this was the best city in the world!

You’ve got such a wide span of interests: architecture, city-building. How did you start off?

I worked in banks, and discovered their inner-workings were not right for me. Then I learnt what a mortgage agent was, and that I could work for myself, create my own hours—create my own life. I didn’t want a work-life balance, but work-life integration. Volunteering was a part of that; I love giving back. When you work in corporation, they want you to do their specific volunteering, and you have to wear their gear. I didn’t like that—it seemed so fake. Volunteering now, I don’t have to tell people what I do. I can do it solely for the purpose of volunteering, and that’s to help others.

Volunteering now, I don’t have to tell people what I do. I can do it solely for the purpose of volunteering, and that’s to help others.

And how did you come across the Parkdale Food Centre?

I used to host the Lunch out Loud Ottawa podcast with Apt613—I did 147 episodes! One time, I went to a golf tournament with my co-host, Andrew Miller. The funds raised were for his real estate agent office. Karen Secord, Parkdale Food Centre’s manager, was the speaker. Everything she said was near and dear to my heart; you can’t fix healthcare until you fix health, you can’t fix health until you fix diet. There’s a great need for good food for people—for caring for people. I turned to Andrew and said, “we need to get her on the show.”

Karen will never turn down the opportunity to share her story, because she is so passionate about what she’s doing. As soon as I arrived to the Parkdale Food Centre for the first time, I instantly knew I had to be a part of it. Interviewing Karen, I loved her openness to new ideas. I had volunteered for several different boards and fundraising committees, and it was all the same old, same old, “this is the way we do it.” Everyone who works and volunteers at the Parkdale Food Centre has the mindset that, if it benefits just one person, why not implement it instead of saying no?

So what is your exact role at the Parkdale Food Centre?

When I met Karen at the Parkdale Food Centre for the first time, I asked, “Are you talking to neighbours about money problems, taxes, the CRA?” She said no, so I’ve been there every Tuesday from 11 am to 1 pm for the last three years. I didn’t expect anyone to open up, to share their life story or problems within six months to a year. I told Karen I’d be there every single week, to help out with everything in the meantime.

What have you learnt in your time there?

The need for food banks to work with MPPs, MPs and local city councillors. If we don’t let government know what’s going on at the food banks, on the streets, they will never know there’s an issue. ODSP [Ontario Disability Support Program], they’re overworked. There’s not enough workers, so they can’t tell the MPs and MPPs what the problem is. I make sure that, with as many interactions as I have with our neighbours, I do tell Yasir Naqvi or Catherine McKenna or Jeff Leiper what’s going on in the area. Then, when they’re in session in Parliament or Queen’s Park or City Council, they can bring up the issue. We need to get more voices for the vulnerable out there. If not, you’ll only have the lobbyists for the utility companies and the banks. They’ll be the ones dictating where money goes in the budget. We need so many more people in Ontario and Canada to speak up for the vulnerable.

We need to get more voices for the vulnerable out there… We need so many more people in Ontario and Canada to speak up for the vulnerable.

What’s the biggest challenge?

When you’re dealing with the most vulnerable, they’re there for a lot of difficult reasons. Me being at the Parkdale Food Centre so consistently is so they know I’m there. You can’t make excuses for not showing up. That’s a huge problem with the volunteer industry, especially with the vulnerable; they don’t want to disclose something, and then the next day, I’m not there. It’s about making people comfortable to share their personal problems, so we can help, and to let them know they can be helped. It’s worked very well, although of course it could always be better. When people go into the Parkdale Food Centre, they know that everyone is there as a human being. We’re all in this together, we’ll help each other. We keep going forward and keep bringing ideas.

Parkdale Food Centre also recently received a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation?

That’s another great thing; it’s to create a position for a coordinator to work between nine different food banks and healthcare centres, bringing them together to share best practices. It’s incredible that this hasn’t existed before—it blows my mind! But the past is the past. The coordinator will work to get others on-board, so it’s not just the Parkdale Food Centre, it’s all the other food banks as well. We all want to eradicate food banks, but while they’re there, we might as well try to do the best we can with the resources we have.

So Nick, what advice do you have to other CityMakers?

Just get out there. It’ll help you and importantly, others. We chose to live in Ottawa, so why not take the small steps? Synapcity does incredible work, there’s courses you can take—talk to a councillor, work on ward issues. It’s so much better to get out there and meet your community. It’s small steps.