Mel Kotler is a familiar face in Kelowna: an active member of the community, he volunteers for many causes and campaigns. Past President of Fabricland Pacific Ltd., Mel has been retired for 10 years, and says volunteering helps to keep life interesting. Mel took time from his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his volunteer work.
Q: What inspires you to volunteer?
A: There’s a lot of need out there, and making positive change in your community makes you feel good about yourself.
Q: What kinds of volunteer work do you do?
A: Volunteering has been an important part of my life for a long time. I’ve volunteered on more campaigns and with more organizations than I can count. I do a lot of fundraising work, because that relates to my marketing background, and I also mentor organizations to help them meet their fundraising goals. I’ve worked on a number of United Way campaigns. I was part of the Major Acquisitions group for the Kelowna Cancer Lodge in the late 1990s, and I’ve been active in the Okanagan Jewish community since 1986/87.
Right now I am also involved with Project Literacy in Kelowna doing fund-raising and tutoring.
When I was with Fabricland, we made a lot of corporate donations. I thought, “If we don’t give back, who will?”
Q: Do you remember your earliest volunteer experience?
A: I started volunteering with the B’nai B’rith Youth Association as a teenager in Montreal. Even then, fundraising was a natural fit.
Q: How do you balance your volunteer work and other commitments?
A: Because I’m retired, I don’t have work commitments, and I don’t have young children anymore, so I’ve got more time. I’m a newlywed for my age – my wife Dina and I have been married for 12 years. We get involved in a lot of things together, and she also has her own interests and community involvement.
I’m choosier about how I volunteer now, though. Because of my profile in the community, the phone rings a lot. I’ve had to learn to say no, and that can be tough. And I try to work smarter. I mostly take on shorter-term, hands-on projects, so I’ve still got time for other things that I enjoy. Dina and I like to travel, so I try to limit my long-term commitments.
Q: Would you say that volunteering has changed your life in any way?
A: Absolutely. I really believe that it contributes to my emotional well-being – it can be quite therapeutic. It feels good to help out, and I’d be a dull person without outside interests. I was involved in a project called “Making Memories” this past Christmas, to take 800 kids who wouldn’t usually have the opportunity, for whatever reason, to see a performance of The Nutcracker. My role was to get the fabric for stockings, so the kids got a few treats, too. And I tell you – just this one day, this one little thing, made a huge difference to a lot of those kids.
Q: Do you have any advice for other retirees who might be thinking about volunteering?
A: I’ve given presentations to groups of new retirees, and I always tell them – print out business cards! Once your name gets out there, people will start calling.
Volunteering is a great way to fill the days when you retire. Life will take you down a path, if you let it. People who don’t volunteer are missing out.