Twylla Genest

Twylla Genest
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A day in her life

8:30 am Begin follow-up on last night’s volunteer orientation. Organize registration forms, start preparation of interests/skills profiles for database entry

8:45 am Greet volunteer who makes weekly calls to ensure volunteers and agencies have connected. Handle request for help at soccer tournament. Back to registrations

10:00 am Start writing newspaper story. Field phone requests: SPCA needs office worker; immigrant needs accommodations; single mom needs child care while attending job interview

2:00 pm Chair monthly Community Volunteer Coordination Network meeting. Major topic, Fall Job Fair

4:55 pm Prepare to close shop. Emergency call, senior with no food in fridge. Hit phones hoping to catch someone at the right agency to help. No luck

5:15 pm Climb in car and head out to deal with situation. Stop by grocery store. Deliver essentials. Note to follow up in morning

11:49 pm Eyes pop open. Jump out of bed and find pen and paper. Note idea for Fall Job Fair. Back to sleep

Former life: Educator, developed and delivered career-counselling program in Coquitlam for 18 years
Home life: Married, mother of three. loves renovating family home, gardening and canoeing Kalamalka Lake
Guiding principle 1: What we see depends mainly on what we look for
Guiding principle 2: I am not standing in another person’s shoes. I don’t understand their circumstances, so I try not to judge


Some people are givers

Volunteers make our communities liveable. Coordinating the network of Vernon’s non-profits, special events administrators and willing workers is one dedicated organizer, Twylla Genest

It’s the morning after the night before … no hangover involved. This “night before” was Twylla Genest’s regular orientation session for Vernonites who think they’d like to do volunteer work in the community. As coordinator of the Vernon Volunteer Bureau, an arm of the Social Planning Council for the North Okanagan, Twylla established these bi-weekly sessions to showcase available opportunities and give prospective volunteers an inside look at some specifics like liability, the requirement for criminal record checks in certain positions, a code of ethics and how to avoid burnout. But the meeting is just the beginning.

This morning Twylla faces a pile of registration forms and a significant organizational challenge. She loves it. “If you’re not organized you waste valuable time,” she says. Her expression is intense, concerned — striking green eyes boring deep into my own. “To respect others, your work needs to be organized.”

And it is. Since joining the bureau, Twylla has shaped it into a highly efficient enterprise run on the model of an employment agency, which makes a lot of sense, both in terms of its function and her past experience. Before her first retirement and move to the Okanagan, Twylla was an educator in Coquitlam where her work in special education morphed into a career counselling/planning program that she developed from scratch and ran for 18 years.

When she arrived in Vernon, wanting to get to know the community, Twylla went looking for information on volunteering and contacted the forerunner of the bureau. What she found turned into a second career, developing the operation and matching the needs of community social organizations with the skills, talents and interests of local citizens. She regards the bureau’s role as “a support of the supporters.”

Twylla sorts through the information collected last night. Details on the volunteers will go into her database; she’ll contact the relevant agencies with possible matches; and later, will put out a bulletin to all members of the Community Volunteer Coordinator’s Network (CVCN), which she founded and chairs, to announce the new recruits.

However, these 30-some non-profit agencies aren’t the bureau’s only clients. Twylla also collects volunteers for community events such as Funtastic or this year’s women’s curling championships. With so many different organizations requiring help, the range of needs is broad. 

Twylla has created eight categories — worker, caregiver, arranger, office, special skills, speakers, activities and miscellaneous. Jobs within these categories range from gardener to senior’s visitor, from tutor to proposal writer, from website developer to public speaker. There aren’t many skills that she can’t match with a need.

And the needs are great. “Serving the community is a bottomless pit,” she says. Organizations providing programs in education, health and safety, immigrant integration, animal care, crime prevention and the full range of social support all need help.

When they identify a new job, Twylla creates a profile, which she posts in the front window for walk by traffic, and on the 10-metre wall of work in the orientation room, so new volunteers can easily see what’s available. In addition, she advertises openings everywhere that makes sense: newspapers, churches, Welcome Wagon, website, employment centres, clubs … plus the Fall Job Fair.

Later this afternoon she’ll be chairing a CVCN meeting to work on details of this year’s event. So far, 38 organizations have expressed interest in participating. It’s a great way for them to showcase their work and a valuable one-stop-shopping opportunity for prospective volunteers.

Twylla says people take on the work for many reasons. “Some are very lonely: newcomers to the community, newly widowed or separated and are longing to fill a void … some are newly retired with knowledge expertise and experience to offer … some have little self confidence and want to make changes, both in themselves and their personal situations … many need to feel valued.”

One woman came into the bureau with her two children and asked if there was anything they could do or anywhere they could donate their pennies. It was a lesson in values. Twylla is a woman who smiles sparingly, but this memory lights her face. “Some people are givers and some are takers,” she says. “It’s a choice we make.”

Read more of the original stories celebrated in our 30th-anniversary issue.

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About The Author

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Laurie Carter

This grandma wears hiking boots (and other fetching footwear) in search of cultural, culinary and eco-adventure. Award-winning writer, photographer and author of the popular Grandma Wears Hiking Boots guide to the Okanagan Valley, Laurie proudly serves as senior editor of Okanagan Life magazine.