National Volunteer Week Feature: Meet Saroj Saher

Saroj Saher has volunteered with Bissell for an astounding 30 years and has seen Bissell grow substantially in that time. Over the course of phone conversation, Saroj told me about her earliest days at Bissell and the many roles she has filled as a volunteer.  

In the early 1990s, she said, Bissell Centre was very simple” with fewer services and programs than we have currently. Shortly after starting her volunteer tenure with Bissell, Saroj met with Bissell’s CEO, who raised the idea of hosting a dinner around the Christmas holidays. The CEO said that people typically donate much more food around Christmas which would build up and couldn’t be distributed quickly.  

So, Saroj quickly signed on to spearhead what would become a regular Bissell tradition, the New Year’s Day Dinner. It turned out that the dinner required more work and a much bigger kitchen than anticipated. Over the years Saroj has forged many contacts with enthusiastic organizations who want to contribute their time and skill to preparing the dinner, ranging from large restaurants to NAIT’s commercial kitchens. Planning an event as large as the New Year’s Day Dinner takes a lot of time for staff and volunteers alike, but by all accounts, Saroj is far from done giving her time and extensive expertise to the cause. 

The New Year’s Day Dinner has come a long way since it started, providing over 1200 meals in its most recent iteration. However, for Saroj, giving back goes beyond big events like the dinner. As she says, “If you do a kind gesture, it’s contagious. You can give 1 dollar, a quarter, someone will see you giving, and it continues.” However large or small the gesture, Saroj firmly believes that when one person gives, others are motivated to do the same. 

Volunteer work is a matter of both duty and passion for Saroj, “I believe that I am better off financially…why I can’t I help? I have more privileges, so why can’t I share?” Saroj’s passion for the work we do at Bissell is evident right away when you talk to her. I asked what the best part of volunteering with Bissell has been and immediately Saroj replied “oh, I love it, I just feel so happy...there is a lot of connection there. I felt connected to [participants].”  

That sense of connection goes both ways as Saroj shared stories of participants who will come running up to her at events to catch up and the many stories she has learned over the years. It’s evident from talking to Saroj that she cares deeply about people and has an incredible drive to serve.  

If there’s one thing Saroj wished people knew about Bissell it is simply that “Bissell Centre is there to help.” Her passion for Bissell Centre’s work comes from the variety of services and programs on offer and the way that staff and volunteers engage with participants, “a smile can make a lot of difference.” 

Finally, what would Saroj tell someone who is thinking about volunteering with Bissell? “I would say go ahead, go, go! Don’t be scared. Try once, at least once. That experience, you will never forget. As we end our call, Saroj reiterates her gratitude for the many people who have helped her at Bissell and tells me that whatever we need, she is there to help. After 30 years of volunteering with Bissell, Saroj seems more motivated than ever. I have no doubt that the next time we host New Year’s Day Dinner, Saroj will once again be in the thick of things, more than likely leading the way. 


Interview by Sam Goertz, Volunteer Services Team

Meet Maureen: Volunteer Extraordinaire!

Bissell Centre relies on over 1,300 volunteers every year who give 17,000 hours assisting participants and staff in many of our programs.

Whether it’s serving meals in our Drop-in Centre or making our Summer Camps a memorable experience for families, our volunteers are making a difference in the lives of people in our community.

We are celebrating the achievements of our volunteers during National Volunteer Week and we had an opportunity to connect with Maureen, a dedicated volunteer in our Childcare, to share her thoughts about volunteering.

What motivates you to be a volunteer?

“Volunteering is a gift you are given from the universe. As corny as that sounds I truly believe it. I started volunteering at a young age, even before it was popular and the joy I receive every time I volunteered made me want to come back for more.”

What do you like most about volunteering at Bissell Centre?

“I started volunteering with Bissell Centre because they required assistance in the Childcare. At that time I had been involved with two young children and they had moved away. I found I really missed the interaction with children and started looking for a way to fill that gap. Then I saw the ad that really changed my life about volunteers needed for the Childcare. I contacted the volunteer coordinator and applied. As I waited for my clearance to come through I volunteered in the kitchen as well as an Income Tax Preparer. It was in the orientation they said “you can’t change the whole world but you can make one person’s world better.” That is now my goal.”

What’s your favorite experience with volunteering at Bissell Centre?

“My favorite experience, one that brings me joy and happiness every time it happens, is walking into the Childcare preschool room on Friday morning and having at least one and sometimes as many as five or six children come running to give me a hug. What could be better?”

What makes Bissell Centre a special place to volunteer?

“I have been volunteering for a year at Bissell Centre and have come to know some of the staff. They are amazing. Every staff member who I meet gives more than is expected. This isn’t just a job to them, it is a life. They care, they give, they are amazing. The Bissell staff make volunteering a joy”.

What are your favourite hobbies outside of volunteering?

“When I am not volunteering at Bissell Centre I enjoy downhill skiing, gardening, cooking and of course my three weeks in May of learning through the Edmonton Lifelong Learners Association. Retirement has been great!”

Do you want to make a difference for people in our community? Come volunteer with us! 


Our Volunteers: Inspired to Give!

More than 1,200 people volunteer with Bissell Centre every year. They contribute over 15,000 hours of time in total! So much of what we do is only possible because of these wonderful, generous people. That’s why we are celebrating National Volunteer Week this week!

We will be honouring over 100 volunteers this week during our celebratory lunches and appreciation activities. It’s a privilege to show them how much we love them!

Below are a few quotes from some of our amazing volunteers about why they are inspired to work with us:

“This is a chance to give back to the community in any way I can!” – Xavier


“I volunteer to participate in and improve my community as I was homeless in my youth. I now want to help provide opportunities for others’ successes” – Mike


“As a volunteer, I am empowered to do so much and because of that I have a real sense of purpose!” – Yovella


“You really become part of the team and staff are so friendly!”


“I love the welcoming environment, you always feel accepted at Bissell Centre” – Ivy


“I volunteer to be involved with a diverse and beautiful community of people.” – Jessica


“Bissell Centre helped me realize I wanted to work with children as a career and gave me insight to my life’s purpose.” – Shannon


“It always feels like time well-spent, I feel purposeful.”


“I volunteer to give back to a community that was there for me. To also put smiles on the faces of others.” – Constance


“Volunteering at Bissell Centre has allowed me to learn new skills, meet new people, and enhance core leadership qualities.”


Join our Volunteer Community!


Join Diane! Become a Volunteer Hairdresser!

Haircuts are a luxury that many people in our community can’t afford. That’s why we’ve offered a free haircutting service for over 26 years at Bissell’s Drop-in Centre. Every Tuesday, participants can sign up to receive free haircuts and beard trimmings thanks to a group of volunteers who keep the program running.

Some clients visit the hairdresser to get themselves cleaned up before a job interview or housing appointment, but Diane, a long-term hairdressing volunteer, says participants request haircuts for all kinds of reasons. “One fellow came in with long, long hair and a big beard,” she recalls. “He told us, ‘Take it all off!'” She explained that the client hadn’t seen his daughter in two and a half years and that he wanted to “look nice” for her high school graduation tomorrow.

Diane has been cutting hair at Bissell Centre for over six years. “When I don’t come, I miss the people in the Drop-in Centre,” she says. “We know a lot of them. When we walk through the Drop-in, they’re always stopping us and talking to us. It’s like a family.” Diane says that her clients always appreciate the work that she does. “They come in and a lot of them don’t feel that good about themselves. But once they have a nice haircut, and they’ve spent a little bit of time talking with the ladies – when you show them their face in the mirror, it’s the difference between night and day. Their eyes have life.”

With a few volunteers moving away and a few others retiring soon, Diane hopes that some fresh faces will start to come by the haircutting centre. “Come and see,” she urges anyone thinking about volunteering. “Spend time with us! Come here and just take a look at what’s going on – take a look at the smiles and the happy faces that go out of here. You’re not making any kind of commitment if you just come by and visit.”

As for Diane, she knows that she’ll continue to cut hair for her clients at Bissell Centre for as long as she is able. “It makes me feel good,” she says, “knowing that I’ve in some way helped somebody feel a lot better about themselves. More people should try and volunteer.”

We’re recruiting haircutting volunteers!


It’s Time to Recognize and Thank our Volunteers!

National Volunteer Week (NVW) runs from April 12th -18th and is a time to recognize, celebrate, and thank Canada’s 13.3 million volunteers. Bissell Centre relies on 1,200 of volunteers each year who graciously support our many programs that help people in poverty.

This is the 12th consecutive year for the NVW campaign and we encourage people to get out and participate in volunteer appreciation activities during this week!

For more information on how to volunteer at  Bissell Centre, please visit:

All Sides of the Coin – Part 3: My Role of Employee

Bissell Centre employee, Sissy Thiessen, shares her story of assuming the various positions of volunteer, program participant and employee within Bissell. This is the final part of a three-part series.
By: Sissy Thiessen

All Sides of the Coin – Part 3: My Role of Employee

To my surprise, my journey with Bissell Centre did not end after my time volunteering and participating in the summer of 2009. Three years after entering the doors of the Robert Tegler Friendship Room  for the first time, I finally returned to Bissell. But this time, not as a volunteer or participant.

Ever since the day a speaker from Bissell came to my high school, a seed was planted in my mind that made me want to be within the centre. Even after I volunteered and moved on to spend three years in another city being a University student, active volunteer and employee, I still found myself thinking about coming back to Bissell. Upon returning home to Edmonton after my studies, I decided I wanted to work at Bissell Centre.

On my first attempt, I had applied for a position within Bissell’s Homeless to Homes  program, a program aimed at providing clients in need with stable housing and access to income supports. I was unsuccessful, but had learned more about the amazing support Bissell provides to inner city Edmontonians. I also felt like I put my name on a list and that someday, someone would recognize my drive, passion and eagerness to work for an organization that directly assists people. And I was right.  

In October 2012, I applied for and accepted a position within Employment Services, which assists participants looking to enter or re-enter the workforce. Manager, Mark Bubel, said my passion and writing skills were apparent in my letter of intent and after interviewing me, was gracious enough to take a chance on me. I was given an opportunity to prove to myself, as well as the organization, why I kept feeling the need to return.

I started my position as an Employment Support Worker on a relief basis at the end of October, and have gained a multitude of knowledge, experience and transferable skills since commencing employment. I have learned the inner workings of a non-profit organization, how to provide someone with the skills required to succeed in life and the workforce, conflict resolution and most importantly, I have learned how to empower someone. I have had the opportunity to work within a well organized social service agency that directly works toward eliminating poverty in our community.

Through my time spent in Employment Services, I have also gained valuable skills to assist me on my own career path. I came to help others and by the graciousness of this organization and its leaders, I have also been helped in return. I was even granted the opportunity to utilize my education in Journalism and work within Marketing and Communications a few hours a week.

At the time being, I have been offered a permanent, full-time position in a project-support role for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum of Services (FASS). This program works to enhance our community’s understanding of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), how to prevent it, as well as supports individuals and families affected by FASD. I am so thankful for all the opportunities Bissell has provided me with thus far, which have exemplified what it means to be genuinely compassionate, empathetic and courageous. These experiences have also taught me one of the most important lessons I think can be taught- the true power of the human spirit in the face of the most challenging obstacles. My life has been given new direction and meaning, and I am grateful my path has lead me back to Bissell Centre. I look forward to my future within this organization, as well as the continued generosity and lessons that accompany it.

All Sides of the Coin – Part 2 “Participant”

Bissell Centre employee Sissy Thiessen shares her story of assuming the various positions of volunteer, program participant and employee within Bissell. This is a three-part series that will be published separately.
By: Sissy Thiessen

PART 2: Me as a Participant of Bissell Centre

The next phase I entered in my journey at Bissell was on the other side of the table- as a program participant. While I was still a volunteer, the manager of Food Services offered me an opportunity to participate in a First Aid Course as part of a women’s program that was running at the time. It was a full day course, offering a certificate in Standard First Aid, as well as infant-level CPR c. Realizing an opportunity for professional development when I see one, I jumped at the offer. There were about 10 of us, all appearing to be of First Nations descent. Some were with child, others said they had to make stressful arrangements to coordinate child care for the day.   Read More…

All Sides of the Coin – My 3 roles at Bissell Centre

Bissell Centre employee Sissy Thiessen shares her story of assuming the various positions of volunteer, program participant and employee within Bissell. This is a three-part series that will be published separately.
By: Sissy ThiessenSissy headshot

PART ONE:   Volunteering at Bissell Centre

I was sitting in Social Studies class in high school when I first heard about Bissell Centre. An employee from the centre came to talk about what the organization does for Edmontonians in need, and what it means to truly give back to your community. For the life of me, I cannot remember who the person was or what they did at Bissell, but the message of hope in their words is one that has stayed with me since I first heard them in 2005. I remember feeling so impacted by the warm heartedness and compassion I was hearing about. I was so amazed at how an organization could do so much for so many- how much help was really out there. And how much need for these services there really was.

It wasn’t until 2009 that I finally got around to volunteering for Bissell Centre. I had recently watched a movie called “Yes Man,” starring Jim Carrey, a movie about staring fear and apprehensions right in the face and saying “Yes” to any opportunity that comes your way. Giving what you have and going along for the ride. In the movie, Jim’s character volunteered serving soup to the homeless. And just like my mother will tell you, if I see something I want to do being done, I will find a way to do it. So, my mind was made up. I was going to serve soup to the homeless. Read More…

Seeking New Volunteer Board Members

Bissell Centre’s Board of Governors is seeking new volunteer Board members. Governors must be or become members of Bissell Centre.Responsibilities of a Board Member:  

  • Attend monthly Board meetings
  • Have a commitment to and understand Bissell Centre’s vision and mission.
  • Alignment with Bissell Centre’s Strategic Touchstone and the work we do.
  • Be aware of/attend Bissell Centre events and represent Bissell Centre in the community.
  • Work cooperatively within a group.

Becoming a Board Member:
Bissell Centre welcomes everyone, but is especially looking for those with skills/experience/contacts in the following areas:

  • Social Enterprise
  • Mental Health/Addictions
  • Finance/Accounting
  • Links to Aboriginal Community

The Board currently has two committees: Audit & Finance Committee, and Human Resources, Governance & Nominating Committee.
If you are interested in becoming a candidate for our Board of Governors or for more information, please  click here to see the entire Board of Governors Recruitment Notice

Love watching people win? Volunteer for Bissell Centre’s Yellowhead Casino FUNdraiser and everyone wins!

Help support our vision  to eliminate poverty by volunteering at our Casino FUNdraiser and watch people win while raising money to help others!!    With your help we  will raise more than $70,000 to support our work with the people that need it most!  

Bissell Centre has an opportunity for a group of select people  to  volunteer for an eight hour shift  on Thursday July 19th  or Friday July 20th  at our casino fundraiser at Yellowhead Casino. The money raised that night will go towards running our programs and services and will help those ready to make significant changes in their lives by getting off the streets, finding employment, conquering addictions and more!  

To volunteer please contact Amanda Almeida, Volunteer and Events Manager, by phone at 780.423.2285 ext. 134, or email at

More information on our News and Events page!

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