Dear Heather

Dear Heather,
I work full-time, take AU courses part-time, and have two teenagers, so I don’t have a lot of spare time for a volunteer work commitment. Do you have any suggestions about how I can ‘give back’ to my community with what little time I have? I am particularly interested in helping people with health problems.

J.L., Calgary

Dear J.L.,

Kudos to you for taking that first step- deciding to do something for the benefit of others. Fortunately, there are a lot of ways that you can help without giving up a lot of time.

One great way to make a difference in your community is to become a regular blood donor. This takes about half an hour, once every two months, and every donation can be used to help up to four patients. In Calgary and some other large communities, you also can choose to donate specific blood components (plasma or platelets) instead of whole blood. These procedures take a little longer, but they allow you to donate more often. Giving plasma takes a little less than an hour, but you can donate up to once a week, if you want to. Donating platelets takes two hours, and you can do this as often as once every two weeks. A lot of people donate during their lunch hour (a great strategy, since volunteers feed you soup and cookies afterwards anyway). Call Canadian Blood Services at 1-888-2-DONATE or visit their website at if you have questions or to make an appointment.

Another great way to save someone’s life takes no time at all: sign your organ donor card. Every day in Canada and around the world, people die while on the waiting list for a transplant. Although most Canadians think organ donation is a great idea, very few (shamefully few, compared to other countries) have actually signed their card. If you live in Alberta, there’s one on the back of your provincial health card. If you believe in organ donation, take it out and sign it right now, before you forget. Make sure you mention this to your family members too, so they are aware of your wishes.

Signing up for the Unrelated Bone Marrow Donor Registry also takes very little time and could put you in a position to save a life. All you do is call Canadian Blood Services, arrange to attend an information session, which takes an hour or so, and let them draw a vial of your blood for tissue matching. If you match someone who’s waiting for a transplant, you’ll get a phone call for further testing. The donation procedure itself is done on an outpatient basis, and most donors feel only mild discomfort and are back to work the next day. Right now in Canada, hundreds of people are waiting for a bone marrow transplant. Although most people on the registry will never get called to actually donate, it’s a good feeling to know your name has been added to the list of those who are willing to help.

Finally, there are a lot of health-related volunteer opportunities that don’t require a large or ongoing commitment. Sometimes help is needed for an annual or one-time event; once it’s over you’re done for another year. Other opportunities may allow flexible hours or involve work you can do from home. Check your local health authority’s website (in Calgary it’s ) or look for an agency that recruits volunteers for a variety of organizations (such as Volunteer Calgary: – they’re sure to have something that will fit your interests and schedule.

Whatever you decide to do, enjoy the knowledge that you are making a difference in other people’s lives. I find this makes everything else I do seem more worthwhile: as the immortal Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?”.

Thanks for writing,


E-mail your questions to Heather at Some submissions may be edited for length or to protect confidentiality: your real name and location will never be printed. This column is for entertainment
only. Heather is an AU student offering objective advice to her peers; she is not a professional counsellor and this column is not intended to take the place of professional advice.