Wood Buffalo’s volunteers may be the unsung heroes of the community, but Erika Hornsey is working hard tochange that reality. As executive director of Volunteer Wood Buffalo, she sings the praises of the region’s volunteers every chance she gets.
“Volunteers are everywhere in the community, and they impact the day-to-day lives of the average Fort McMurrayite more than they might realize,” says Hornsey, who has served as executive director of VWB since 2010. “I see them as embodying that ‘big spirit’ we all know and love. Volunteers are the ideal citizens, going above and beyond to make this community a better place to live.”
Working with such inspiring people is what drew Hornsey to a career in the not-for-profit world in the first place, as a 19-year old in Toronto trying to decide where her future would take her.
“I wanted to find a career that would make me happy in the long term, and would make me feel like I was doing something positive for the community I lived in,” she says. “At the end of the day, I really am making a difference here. I get to help all these wonderful people help other people.”
Hornsey, an active volunteer herself, has her pick of ways to give back to the community. She’s board chair of the Wood Buffalo Community Village, sits on the board of the Fort McMurray Food Bank and the SteeringCommittee of Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo, is politically active and has helped out with everything from the SMS Wine Auction for Big Brothers Big Sisters to the Fort McKay Wellness Association.
Hornsey says one of the biggest challenges of her job is choosing which organizations and events to volunteer for. “I try my best to do one thing at a time – you can only do what you can do,” she explains. “I try to think about the greater good. You can’t do everything for everyone so I try to prioritize.”
One of the reasons she loves her job so much, she says, is because there’s always room to grow. “The job will never be done. The challenge is in trying to find some form of work-life balance,” she says. “I’m really passionate about volunteerism, and I want to help people volunteer and help organizations get volunteers. Thewhole idea is that you’re never really done – there’s always more you can do.”
“I can’t imagine a job I’d like better than working for VWB,” she says, attributing much of her professionalsuccess to the environment of Fort McMurray itself. “I’m always telling young people, people who think, ‘There’s no way I could ever join a board,’ to get involved! There’s opportunity here like no other. You have the chance to have a substantial impact on the community.”