In this guest blog post, Karen Saunders (on the left), RBC Employee and longstanding corporate volunteer, reflects on how volunteer days at Furniture Bank has brought her colleagues closer together, gave her life perspective and brought her leadership qualities to the forefront that she never knew existed.

In Karen’s words…

The holiday season is upon us. It’s the time for peace on earth, and good will toward men. It’s also the time for a cornucopia of commercialism and merchants happily sit back and reap the rewards of our ever-growing need for bigger and better gifts. Meanwhile, families right here in our own community are sitting on milk crates and are sleeping on the floor for the holidays.

Yeah, it’s also the perfect time for a reality check.  Let’s get back to peace on earth and good will toward men. This is something we should all strive for 365 days a year. Regardless of what our financial situations are, we need to reflect on the fact that there’s always someone more in need, and that we can always help, in some way.

Some people are everyday heroes in our community – firefighters, nurses, police, those that work in the not-for-profit sector, etc. – they all make a difference in people’s lives. While I am valued by my manager and my company, I feel the need to make a difference to society…to my community. The best way I can think of is to volunteer. I feel there is a personal and corporate responsibility to do so.

There are plenty of places to volunteer, and there are no wrong choices. For me personally, the reason I feel so connected to Furniture Bank is that, instead of knowing at the end of the day that you contributed to a statistic, you actually get the satisfaction of dealing one-on-one with the clients.

Sometimes, you make a real connection. You get a glimpse of their personalities, and if you’re lucky, they may even share their success stories with you. The courage it takes to rebuild a life is immeasurable and I find it totally inspiring. Sometimes the interaction is more business-like, but let me assure you, whatever the experience, there is always great reward.

RBC started volunteering at Furniture Bank about a year and a half ago…

We started out small, giving our time here and there, but we now volunteer regularly, every 6 weeks. My beloved colleague, Justin Field, started this “partnership” with Furniture Bank, but since his departure to another area of RBC, I have happily taken the lead, and I do so with my whole heart. I am very passionate about Furniture Bank and the difference we are making.

I am grateful to step outside of my normal role in RBC and take a leadership role as the organizer of our volunteer days. I never thought of myself as the leader type, but the one thing I’ve learned is, the most important thing you need to be a leader is passion. If you’re passionate about something, it is very contagious.

It’s hard not to be passionate about this.  I have seen and experienced things that have changed me forever.

 

I once helped a very reserved man who spoke very little during our transaction. That is, until he saw a piece in the showroom that must have spoke to him on some level that I couldn’t quite comprehend, but it sure made a difference in him! It was a framed picture of a wizard (I know eh?).  His face lit up like a Christmas tree and he was dancing around, smiling and joking with me….yes, same guy!

I also assisted a woman with a small baby. She confided in me that she once had beautiful things, but had to walk away from them to escape a dangerous situation.  For someone who was used to the finer things in life and had to abandon them due to circumstances that nobody should have to suffer, she was the epitome of grace and humility.  She was grateful for every bit of furniture we found for her, and was even reluctant to take too much for fear of not leaving enough for the others that followed her appointment.  Because we had made such a connection, at the end, the staff at Furniture Bank asked if she would mind posing for a photo with us.  When she found out it would be posted on social media, she declined. No reason was spoken, but the reality of that hit me like a punch to the solar plexus….she was afraid someone would know where she was. This still brings tears to my eyes.

 

Learning about my colleagues:

  • Volunteering as a group gives me the opportunity to get to know colleagues from other branches that I wouldn’t normally get to work with. I have seen sides of my colleagues that I didn’t know existed and they may say the same about me. It is a fantastic opportunity for a team building experience!
  • I am so proud of my colleagues!  When we started out volunteering, it was a bit of an effort getting enough people together. It is amazing to witness how this has blossomed. Every time someone new volunteers at Furniture Bank, they tell someone, and the result is, I have people approaching me, wanting to volunteer. I actually have to turn people away with promises they can join the next session.
  • The scope of the involvement of my colleagues is astonishing. One-time volunteers become regulars; they are listening to their clients, looking for opportunities for donations – on an individual basis or entire estates; they are reaching out to other contacts in the Bank who may be able to secure donations on a large scale; and they are making personal donations.
  • Most of all, it warms my heart to see how much they care. One of my colleagues had finished up with a client and was talking to them in the waiting area. She ducks back into the showroom and comes back with a brand new picture frame. She looks at the woman’s 6-month old son and says “A smile like that needs to be captured” and pushes the frame at the woman, whose eyes filled with tears. Same volunteer – after finishing up with a client that shared her East Coast heritage, she nips back into the showroom and comes back out with a framed picture of a lighthouse.  She says “I know you said you didn’t need any artwork, but everybody needs a piece of home”.

As a long-time employee of RBC, it makes me proud to work in a company that is so committed to serving the community, and allows and encourages me to give my time.  What I’m most proud of is how RBC came through for Furniture Bank when they needed it the most.  Their professional steam cleaner broke.  When I learned of this, I was determined (with the tenacity of a pit bull) to find a way to help. I made some calls, presented a heart-felt business case, and RBC Foundation came through with a donation of $3,000 for the purchase of a new steam cleaner!

This all tells me one thing – RBC’ers have lots of heart!  And we’re not going away any time soon, Furniture Bank!