Life after the NCVA: A memoir of 8 years of volunteerism

Today was a bittersweet day for me.  After more than eight years, I stepped down from my board seat on the National Capital Vegetarian Association.

It was long overdue; my last term was somewhat involuntary, in lieu of folding the organization. We agreed to hang in there to give people a chance to get involved and carry the torch.  From the great turn out at today’s meeting, and the enthusiasm of the attendees, it seems to have worked. Since I’ve been much more focused on my own vegan projects for the past year or so, it was a relief to officially step down.  I had come to realize that I really did need to do so, so that others would realize how important it is that they step up.

Ottawa Humane Society Summer Harvest Garden Party - July 2014
Ottawa Humane Society Summer Harvest Garden Party – July 2014

It’s been quite the ride. I got involved with the NCVA just as its founders were finalizing its bylaws to make it a real legal entity. I had met vegan athlete Brendan Brazier at a talk, and it was he who made the introduction in late 2006.  I was two years into being vegan and wanted to do something constructive to spread the word. While I had a vegan partner, I realized that many others struggled with the social implications of taking a principled stance.  I wanted to strengthen the social fabric underpinning the movement so that anyone who wanted to follow their conscience could do so with support. I started by creating a newsletter, which we published for four years.  Then monthly potlucks, which also ran about four years.

first veg fest
Volunteers from the very first Veg Fest, June 2009. The cow on the left is Gwen Hughes, one of the newest NCVA board members.

The initial board members drifted off, but were replaced by Corrie, who would be an incredible partner in building the association. The two of us toiled, creating the membership discount program that many of you know, and ultimately co-creating and organizing Ottawa Veg Fest for the next four years.  The first Veg Fest was really just two volunteers who wanted what they’d seen in Toronto trying to make it happen. And it was a success! On a marketing budget of $0 (but with help from PR wizard Camille Labchuk), the premier event drew more than 2,000 visitors.  The rest is history.  I am proud to be part of what I consider a landmark event, that’s so widely known now that even many omnivores are aware of its existence.

I worked with many volunteers over the ensuing years, and among the most noteworthy have to be Erin and Neil.  Those two are powerhouses, and it was gratifying to work with them both.  It was they who kept me going the past few years, even as I itched to branch out and do other things, and especially through my own personal burn out.  Neil is a numbers magician, and nobody holds a bake sale or caters an event like Erin.  I’ll never forget – or be able to thank enough – Erin cooking for nearly 24 hours straight for the Holiday Howl karaoke event that I put on at the Montgomery Legion with Jenn Lakeshore. Then there was the Ester the Wonder Pig bake sale, and perhaps the highlight – the We Animals reading at the Ottawa Humane Society.  People like Erin and Neil give me faith that we can make a difference.

Glebe Garage Sale, May 2014. We raised a lot of money for Esther the Wonder Pig's sanctuary.
Glebe Garage Sale, May 2014. We raised a lot of money for Esther the Wonder Pig’s sanctuary. Pictured with Josee, who is beginning her second term on the NCVA board.

Another source of pride (and never-ending frustration) is the NCVA Facebook group, which I created at least six years ago.  While I could live without the bickering and complaints, overall it has served as a terrific tool to connect vegans and vegetarians in the Ottawa area.  If you need to know where to find anything vegan-related, just ask it there and I guarantee you you’ll have at least five answers within the next ten minutes.  Friendships have been borne, and so many people have been helped.  I have met so many people through my NCVA work.  I like to say that I know hundreds of vegans, and it’s true. And now those people know each other.  It’s gratifying to know that I played a part in creating so many ties between people.

So in some ways it feels like goodbye, but really, it’s just goodbye to an official, provincially governed role within a non-profit organization. For the past six months I’ve been developing two side businesses, including PlantKind, which lets me continue to focus on vegan education and advocacy, while also hopefully eventually being able to earn some income from my passion.  And of course there’s this blog, which is now one and a half years old.  I’ll be around, it’ll just be in a different capacity.

I am also looking forward to helping like-minded businesses and organizations with their marketing, communications and public relations through my freelance business services.  I have accumulated a wealth of professional experience in this area, and after donating thousands of hours of my time to volunteerism, I do need to now focus on putting a value on my time.

Poster for the Holiday Howl, December 2013, which raised nearly $2,000 for animal rescues.
Poster for the Holiday Howl, December 2013, which raised nearly $2,000 for animal rescues.

To all of you who have volunteered, you have my deepest thanks. And to those who have become a part of our community, thank you as well.  We have built something real, something tangible, and I hope everyone can take a moment to appreciate that and consider the ways that you can contribute into the future. Each and every one of you has the potential to be a part of this, and not only do the animals need you, but your community does as well.

I truly believe that focusing on vegan retention is critical, and that creating that social infrastructure to support fledgling vegans and vegetarians makes a huge difference.

Best of luck to the new board. May your experience be as deeply fulfilling as my own.

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