You do want all the things you love about the location of your new house, condominium or cottage to stay that way or get better, don't you?

Volunteers keep Canadian communities moving forward in spite of what governments and the economy throw at them. Generous contributions of time, creativity and resources from people who care about where and how everyone lives continue to move communities forward whatever the future holds. This makes volunteer community spirit an important sustainability criteria when choosing a new neighbourhood, condominium complex or community.

Consistent disappointment over government and corporate actions and inaction during the economic collapse and the pseudo-recovery has made it clear that solutions and innovation do not lie in their direction. "If it is to be, it's up to me" is a powerful personal mantra and it may become the people-mover that is needed to strengthen communities in a weak economy.

A chance meeting in a local coffee shop proved this to me. As I describe the following incident to others, more and more stories like this one emerged. There's a lot going on that does not rate recognition in the Canadian Walk of Fame, but that really matters. I'm impressed with the spreading determination that it is up to us.

"We have to show our children, teach our children, that everyone has to give something back, or it will come back and bite them in the butt," said a determined volunteer who was canvassing local businesses to gather donated prizes for a silent auction directed at raising money to improve the local grade school's playground. Parents are increasingly called on to raise funds to ensure their children have books, supplies, outings and safe environments, so sadly her objective was not new or unique. What struck me was that this parent's children had long since left the school and moved onto higher grades. This determined parent keeps pitching in because she believes in paying back the support her children received. That's sustainability -- persistent commitment in the face of continuing need.

The consideration and commitment of uncounted volunteers like this woman, plus family caregivers and helpful neighbours, overflows into each of our lives to create a street, a highrise or a neighbourhood worth living in. The signs of volunteer value are all around us, but, since they are not branded and promoted in convincing marketing language, they can be invisible or undervalued.

A recent report released by Hill Strategies Research in their Statistical Insights on the Arts series revealed that 700,000 Canadians volunteered nearly 75 million hours in arts and culture organizations alone in 2007. Canadian arts and culture organizations, and many other groups, rely on volunteers to fulfill many roles, including serving on boards of directors, organizing events, fundraising, teaching or mentoring others, and performing various administrative tasks. Without volunteer support, many arts and culture organizations, and other non-profits, would be unable to achieve their mandates, or even to exist.

When considering a move to a new neighbourhood or community, open your eyes and ask a lot of questions about what matters there. You may also discover great opportunities to contribute your skills and knowledge.

  • Whether you have school-aged children or not, inquire about community connections and opportunities to contribute.
  • Lawn mowing, snow shovelling and minor seasonal maintenance, like installing/removing window air conditioners, are common cross-generation opportunities. Schools require community involvement hours toward graduation and homeowners always appreciate a willing hand with ongoing chores. Find out how you could get these or similar tasks done locally and you'll discover how the neighbourhood supports homeownership sustainability. Property owners should only move when they want to, not because affordable support services are scarce.
  • Check neighbourhood papers, library bulletin boards and local online connections to determine which non-profit groups are active and which populations they serve.
  • See whether groups you already support like Habitat for Humanity have a chapter or program in the area. Pitching in while learning about construction, creates new housing while providing volunteering property owners with knowledge and skills value in maintaining their own homes.
  • Investigate arts and culture facilities and linkages, too, since entertainment is a vital cross-generation and multicultural common ground for sustainability.
  • Ask local real estate professionals. It's their business to know how a community works. Which groups pursue, which goals. Where help is needed and appreciated.

Step back from real estate marketing descriptions of the location that you're considering and take a close personal look at the location. The giving overflow from volunteers may not be evident the first time you drive a new street or visit the local shopping area. Open your eyes to signs that you've found somewhere to really belong and you probably won't be disappointed. This is the genuine sustainable value in the neighbourhood, subdivision or condominium complex.

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