Volunteering has benefits far beyond giving freely without financial rewards.
Without a paid consultant, Adaoma Patterson chaired the volunteer-driven transition team responsible for making changes to the way the 52-year-old Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA) operates.
To make the hybrid organization relevant and more attractive to young people, significant changes were made to the governance structure. The organization is divided into three entities – the Caribbean African Canadian Social Services (CAFCAN), the JCA membership organization and the JCA foundation.
The critical social services delivery, through full and part-time professional staff, will be governed by a separate board that will set policy and provide leadership that will enable it to blossom and grow by fully serving the designated communities within its mandate.
The membership component will continue to provide cultural programs that include events that appeal to a younger demographic, while the foundation will raise funds for the other two entities.
A 2010 DiverseCity Fellow and former JCA executive secretary, Patterson said the process that led to the necessary changes was exciting and challenging as there were some senior and elderly members who were opposed to change for fear that they might be displaced from the organization.
“It was really a journey and change for the JCA which had been grappling with how to remain relevant and engage young people,” said Patterson, who was honoured last Saturday night with the Volunteer of the Year Award at the JCA’s gala to mark the organization’s and Jamaica’s 52nd independence anniversary. “This is a conversation that had been going on for several years and yet we were unable to implement those things that we knew needed to happen. Part of it was just timing and having the people with the right skills to guide the process.
“I was fortunate to lead a wonderful team of past JCA presidents and current board members in engaging the organization’s membership and other stakeholders in what that direction should be for the JCA and how do we ensure its continued survival after 50 years.”
Former JCA president, Audrey Campbell, said Patterson deserves the recognition.
“Adaoma has literally led our team through the separation of the JCA,” said Campbell. “She has championed the process and done a fantastic job.”
The new JCA board comprises several young members who have been paired with JCA and community elders through a pilot mentoring program.
“The elders will be working with the young people over the next year to assist with the transition,” said Patterson, who is a United Way of Peel Region allocations committee member and poverty reduction adviser. “The focus is on how do you cultivate leadership – not only for the organization but for the community. We are excited about this pilot.”
Patterson’s passion for volunteering was fuelled by her Jamaican-born parents. She was born and raised in Winnipeg, where her late father, Horace Patterson, was a founding member of the African-Caribbean Association of Manitoba.
“I grew up being part of an organization,” said Patterson who – shortly after turning 18 – was elected a National Council of Jamaicans & Supportive Organizations in Canada youth representative. “That was sort of my introduction to volunteering in Toronto as I moved to this city not long after that.”
Her father migrated to Canada in the 1960s to pursue studies at the University of Manitoba, where he was the student union’s first Black president, a member of the debating team and a lecturer after securing his Master’s in political science.
A decade after the family patriarch’s death in 1982 at age 42, Patterson joined her sister, Chioma and mother, Lois, in establishing the Horace Patterson Memorial Foundation that offers scholarships to young people in Winnipeg to pursue post-secondary education.
“Dad was passionate about education and young people and we thought it would be fitting to create an opportunity for Black youths in Manitoba,” said Patterson, who has been a JCA member for nearly two decades.