“One of my favourite things about volunteering for Hats Off Day was meeting  and working with wonderful people. Everyone I talked to was just so happy to be there and see the community come together. It was great to see how much Hats Off Day really means to everyone in the community and it was a truly amazing experience to help it all come together.”

Despite the cloudy sky, the first post pandemic Hats Off Day festival was filled with smiles and excitement. As one Youth Ambassador wrote to me after the event, “children were having fun at the bouncy castle, holding Foosball contests with peers… visitors enjoyed street food and drinks from around the world while listening to amazing music from talented musicians and watching vintage car shows. Smiles were on everyone’s faces, and without doubt, the event was a huge success and I am looking forward to next year with the parade back.” More importantly than any cinnamon sticks or music performance, however, was the incredible community building that took place over the course of a mere five hours. 

Volunteer Burnaby begins recruiting barricade volunteers for Hats Off Day in early March, while Youth Ambassadors are found throughout April. However, due to the uncertainty of COVID-19 conditions and future regulations, planning for Hats Off Day 2022 didn’t begin until March, and volunteer recruitment didn’t start until May. While people are understandably hesitant to begin volunteering at large events where the risk of infection is higher and the barricade position doesn’t seem like the most glamorous volunteering opportunity, by June 18th we had 37 adult volunteers and 45 Youth Ambassadors from across Burnaby helping with barricades, information booths, lunch deliveries, activity support, and more. 

Festivals such as Hats Off Day are integral to a community’s life, and their importance is recognized year after year by the thousands of people who attend. However, the people who make it all happen – the volunteers – also get a lot out of their experience: A sense of belonging while doing something they are passionate about. “As a resident living in Burnaby Heights for more than one year,” one barricade volunteer wrote to me, “I found this Burnaby Hats Off  Day event a great blessing for my family. I myself felt so proud to live in the neighbourhood. As a person who loves doing volunteer work related to community, family and kids activities, I registered right away when I saw this opportunity.” Additionally, local volunteer opportunities give the youth of our community a chance to not only find belonging, but to develop critical teamwork, social, and critical thinking skills. One Youth Ambassador said that “I moved from China to Canada last year, so I am really grateful to have these opportunities to participate in local events related to culture and customs which not only help me improve my professional skills but also give me chances to learn more about and make connections with the community.”

 It was my first time ever directing volunteers, let alone 82 of them – but despite my stress and 20,000 steps logged that day, I had a wonderful time. Every barricade volunteer I visited greeted me with a smile. Adult volunteers were supporting and bonding with younger ones. Snacks were shared, stories were traded, and the return of one of the largest festivals to Burnaby was a success. The best part of all of this, however, came Sunday afternoon instead, when a volunteer told me that “this is the first time I feel I am home. After the event, now I walk out the street, things are not the same, the sense of community and the care for our local business is in my heart now.”

Natalie Sparrow, Volunteer Burnaby’s Summer Employment Staff.

If you are interested in volunteering in your community, find more opportunities at volunteerburnaby.ca or https://www.volunteerconnector.org/burnaby/volunteer-burnaby