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Photo courtesy of United Way Ottawa.

Community Builders: Three secrets of a super volunteer everyone should know

By United Way Ottawa on August 1, 2018

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This column, courtesy of United Way Ottawa, profiles recipients of Community Builder Awards. With the Community Builder Award program, United Way Ottawa honours Ottawa’s outstanding volunteers: the organizations, partnerships, agencies, neighbourhood groups and individuals who work tirelessly to make our city a better place for everyone.


Shelley Rolland-Poruks is a federal employee who has dedicated thousands of hours to support many community organizations in Ottawa and beyond. On June 13, 2018, she was presented with a United Way Community Builder Award by Senator Vern White as part of National Public Service Week, an annual event that celebrates the hard work and valuable contributions made by Canada’s public servants.

Shelley has actively and generously volunteered for 15 years with many charities including United Way Ottawa, United Way Renfrew County, the YWCA of Durham, Kiwanis Club and many others, and has contributed greatly to the Government of Canada Workplace Charitable Campaign (GCWCC).

We asked Shelley to share some of her super-volunteer secrets to find out how she juggles it all.

1. Shelley schedules volunteering into her calendar, just like other important obligations.

“For me, volunteering is a priority,” writes Shelley in an email interview. “I make the time to volunteer just like I do for the other important things in my life like spending time with family and friends and going to yoga. Everyone has the same amount of time in a week, and we all make conscious decisions on where we spend our time and what activities and people we prioritize. For me, volunteering has always been something I think is important and therefore I make time for it.

Photo courtesy of United Way Ottawa.

“Logistically speaking, I schedule all of my work, home and volunteer commitments into the same calendar. This ensures I have a really good understanding of what’s happening when and allows me to meld everything together without mixing up meetings and events.

“One of the things I think is important when deciding to volunteer is to be upfront with the organization about your availability and commitment. This way there is a clear understanding of expectations and participation. This goes for the person volunteering and for the organization who is recruiting. Nothing is worse than saying ‘yes,’ only to find out the commitment is way more than you had envisioned.”

2. Shelley understands that volunteering adds numerous benefits to her life.

“I have been volunteering in the community with my family since I was a small child. I was raised by parents who were active in service clubs and made giving back to the community a priority. In every city I’ve lived across Canada, be it as a high school or university student, or as a grownup, I’ve found one or two organizations to get involved with. It makes me feel good to give back, but it has also helped me foster a better understanding of my city’s needs and issues. I think this is important. I see it as a civic duty to know your community and know what the issues are. If you don’t know this, how can you a) choose the right people to lead it and b) know how to help fix the problems and help the people in need?

Photo courtesy of United Way Ottawa.

“I’ve also made some great friendships. The relationships my parents made through volunteering remain some of the most important relationships in our lives. I lived and breathed the philosophy of ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ and can proudly say that through my family’s volunteering I gained a large village of extended family.

“It makes me feel good to give back, but it has also helped me foster a better understanding of my city’s needs and issues.”

“I’ve also grown my personal networks in ways I couldn’t do just through work. I’ve learned valuable skills that have helped me in my professional career. Often people think you have to be ‘the boss’ or have a senior title at work to make a difference. Well, I can honestly say that I’ve managed just as many crises and communications issues in my volunteer roles as I have at work. I’ve recruited volunteers and board members and hired senior paid staff like Executive Directors. People sometimes see volunteering as something that they are only giving their time and skills to and fail to recognize they also learn and grow from the experience as well. You may have excellent accounting knowledge but haven’t had the opportunity to speak in public, or perhaps you are really creative but haven’t learned how to organize events. Volunteering is definitely something both people and organizations equally give and take from.”

3. Shelley encourages others to be charitable by building community and charity into everyday life at work.

“I always make a point of letting my employees and my supervisors know what I’m doing in the community. It’s not because I’m bragging (??!!), but I think it helps promote the organization I’m helping and shows my colleagues that volunteering is an important value to me. I also think it helps others to consider volunteering when they see that another busy person is able to fit it into their schedule. And lastly, if I show others that I think helping the community is important, I think people will make the connection that I will also make helping my colleagues a priority.

“I show others that I think helping the community is important, I think people will make the connection that I will also make helping my colleagues a priority.”

“I work in the government, so our GCWCC activities are really important to my home department as well as across the Government. I believe that my team in Corporate & Digital Communications can make a positive impact on the campaign in our Agency, and so I encourage my team to get involved. I’ve also made it a priority for my team to help with the internal communications of the campaign. We have expertise in that area, and so it makes sense that we would contribute this expertise to our campaigns.”

We asked Shelley if she had anything else to add.

Shelley receives her Community Builder Award from Senator Vern White and United Way Ottawa President and CEO Michael Allen. Photo courtesy of United Way Ottawa.

“My mother passed away unexpectedly in May,” she wrote. “The Community Builder Award was presented to me less than a month after her funeral. As you might imagine, it was a very emotional time for me and my family. Receiving this award without my mom was both weird and super sad. But it was also super special. I know she would have been very proud of me and really touched by the ceremony in the Senate with Speaker of the House George Furey and Senator Vern White. I am very grateful to the United Way Ottawa for this recognition. My mother Janet Rolland (nee Watson) was born and raised in Manotick, and I think it’s pretty neat that Ottawa is now my home and that I have settled in quite well.”

Correction: An earlier version of this post said Shelley volunteered for the YMCA of Durham. It was, in fact, the YWCA of Durham.


Through research, evaluation and partnerships with community experts, United Way Ottawa identifies the root causes of the biggest social challenges facing our community, and helps find solutions that change tens of thousands of lives for the better. One hundred percent of donations stay in Ottawa to help those most in need.


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