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Week celebrates gift of volunteerism

Contributions of time and skills create smart caring society
Chris Bolster

Community organizations across the country are celebrating National Volunteer Week, April 6 to 12, a time of recognition designed to inspire people to make a difference and thank those who do.

In 2014 the week of recognition is being celebrated for the 11th consecutive year.

Volunteers strengthen and build communities and make the country more vibrant. Governor General of Canada, Right Honourable David Johnston, called Canada “a smart and caring nation,” and it is people’s dedication to community involvement that has given Canada that reputation at home and around the world, he said.

From youth sports and youth organizations to service groups and community support services, volunteerism plays a key role in the community development of Powell River.

“Powell River is the place it is because of volunteerism,” said John Weston, member of parliament for West Vancouver–Sunshine Coast–Sea to Sky Country. “The heart of a volunteer is someone who is putting another person’s interests first. It’s about improving community.”

Weston called Powell River the heartland of volunteerism. “The community is exemplary,” he said. “The average person is probably a member of four volunteer organizations.”

He added that efforts of volunteers are invaluable to his work in Ottawa. “To the extent that I represent people effectively is because people come together and they provide me with the best ideas, information and time that anyone can provide,” he said.

“What I love about people from Powell River and Canadians is that it comes from their hearts to donate their time, money and relationships to make the community better,” he added.

Whether it is through leading youth organizations like Scouts Canada and Girl Guides of Canada or donating time to coach youth sports like minor hockey or soccer, volunteers are helping to groom a new generation.

A year and a half ago, POW! TOWN roller derby league head coach Jennifer Dodd volunteered to step in after the team’s previous coach had to move away. She joined the league three years ago and stepped up to what she thought would be temporary position but fell in love with it, she said.

“Derby as a sport wouldn’t run without an army of volunteers, especially the referees and non-skating officials for each game, which is beyond the day-to-day operations of each league,” she said.

Nicki Lister and Nikki Hartley-Kraus coach the junior team which has almost 30 children this year, she added.

A hub for people interested in donating their time and passion is Volunteer Powell River (VPR), an initiative of Powell River and District United Way (PRDUW). It operates as a referral service for organizations which need to recruit volunteers.

“Organizations pay a nominal fee to be a member of Volunteer Powell River and then community members can select activities that they may enjoy,” said Dale Lawson, PRDUW executive director.

A challenge for organizations is the lack of influx of new volunteers and the competition for volunteers, she said adding though that more and more she sees newcomers to Powell River using the free service provided by VPR to connect with the community.

Lawson said that at one point in the eight years that VPR has been operating there were as many as 1,500 people looking for opportunities. The number of people varies from year to year and there are probably about 300 active volunteers looking currently, she added. Volunteers can browse the organization’s website for opportunities at

One organization that uses the VPR service is Community Adult Literacy and Learning (CALL). The organization helps learners acquire basic writing, reading, math and computer skills.

Deb Calderon leads CALL for Powell River Employment Program Society and works closely with Vancouver Island University. She said volunteer tutors are the backbone to the program.

“We match our tutors one on one with adult learners,” she said. “We will help anyone who needs help if we can make a match.”

Calderon said about 30 to 35 adults are helped each year by about 20 tutors.

Tutor Linda Power is a newcomer to Powell River, but a long-time volunteer. She has been a literacy tutor for the past four months with CALL and is now teaching computer literacy. She works with her learner with the goal of helping her learner be able to publish a newsletter.

Power mentioned that in addition to volunteering to meet new people and give back to the community, she also sees it as a good way for people to maintain their skills.

Non-profit organizations like Powell River’s Therapeutic Riding Association, which puts persons with disabilities on horseback, and initiatives such as PRDUW’s ORCA (On the Road with Children’s Activities) Bus program would not be able to operate without the help of volunteers, said Lawson.

While there are more and more baby boomers who are retiring, she still sees a strong commitment from youth to help out.

As far as she is aware, there are not any formal recognition events planned for volunteers in Powell River this week. However, the contribution of volunteers is not taken for granted.

“We all recognize the human capital which makes our organizations function and I know how much we appreciate our ORCA Bus drivers,” she said. “It’s on the road every day and the only reason it’s there are the volunteers that make that happen.”

Volunteer Canada has set up what it calls the Volunt-Hear Hotline and is encouraging Canadians to call the hotline and participate in a national conversation about volunteer recognition. The hotline (1.855.372.5077) is toll-free where callers can leave a brief message of thanks and explain the impact volunteers have made on their lives. The messages will be uploaded to a website and organized so that listeners will be able to hear about the impacts volunteerism makes.

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