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And the nominees are…

Volunteer Citizen of the Year candidates announced

By: Scott Hayes

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Apr 09, 2014 06:00 am

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  • LIGHTING JOE – Joe Becigneul is an active volunteer best known for his work with referees with the St. Albert Minor Hockey Association.
    LIGHTING JOE – Joe Becigneul is an active volunteer best known for his work with referees with the St. Albert Minor Hockey Association.
    CHRIS COLBOURNE/St. Albert Gazette
  • LITERACY LADY – Sandra Fildes is a former teacher who transferred her love of reading to her volunteer work.
    LITERACY LADY – Sandra Fildes is a former teacher who transferred her love of reading to her volunteer work.

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St. Albert is a city of 61,000-plus people but not one of us is an island. There is a fabric to any community, and our city has many connections that hold all of us together.

These connections are made by people who drive others to doctor’s appointments, help others to read, run cultural and sports programs and make safe places for our children to play, among many, many other things.

They are our volunteers and they keep our many social agencies, community groups, charities, schools, churches and neighbourhoods running for the common good. If it weren’t for them, St. Albert might not have been held in such high regard by MoneySense magazine, the publication that recently deemed our city the best place to live in the entire country.

The Community Information and Volunteer Centre celebrates them all with its annual Volunteer Citizen of the Year Award. This year, there are four nominees, all of whom say that volunteering is its own reward. Glory is not the goal, only the satisfaction of selflessness.

Glynis Thomas, the executive director of the centre, said that it’s important to recognize how much people give to their communities.

“Every day, somewhere in St. Albert, a volunteer is helping someone,” she began. “Often that help goes unnoticed. We all believe in our community volunteers. We certainly support our community volunteers but we don’t always have the opportunity to say thank you.”

That appreciation, she continued, is not just for the nominees for this award, or the winners of the Leaders of Tomorrow youth awards, but for all volunteers.

“It takes all of you to make our community.”

The ceremony to celebrate the Leaders of Tomorrow youth volunteer awards and to announce the winner of the Volunteer Citizen of the Year Award takes place at the St. Albert Alliance Church located on Villeneuve Road. Tickets are $25 each. The event starts at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 3.

Please call the CIVC at 780-459-6666 for more information.

The nominees, in alphabetical order, are as follows:

Joe Becigneul

“Lightning” Joe has spent the better part of the last two decades involved in sports as a behind the scenes player. With a “slow and steady wins the race” mentality, he has helped to ensure the success of St. Albert hockey for many years to come.

“I’m famous for my speed,” he said, tongue planted firmly in cheek.

He first became a hockey referee 18 years ago but when the referee program was in dire straits, he stepped up to keep things together for the sake of the kids. He became the referee in chief – “reluctantly… the program was in shambles,” he admitted – but didn’t stop there.

“I just thought, ‘We can fix this.’ So we did. The key for me was the training. We weren’t training young officials like they should be trained.”

He spearheaded the start of the Referee Advanced Technical Training program, which has effectively staved off a staggering turnover rate from more than 60 per cent each year to less than 20 per cent.

“That program has paid us back in spades.”

The first time nominee is no stranger to being recognized for his service, having previously garnered awards from the administration of the hockey leagues for his dedication.

Becigneul also volunteers regularly with Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools, the Knights of Columbus and the Holy Family Parish. He is also very active in the business community, especially with the chamber of commerce, the Northern Alberta Business Incubator and the committees for both the Perron district and the farmers’ market.

The nomination, to him, is a surprise especially because he gives for the sake of giving, and many other citizens share that regard.

“You don’t volunteer and you don’t do these kinds of things to be nominated and to win awards. We’re the number one city to live in Canada and we are, I dare say, because our volunteer base plays heavily in that. We are famous as a community for it. A call goes out and the volunteers are there.”

“I have always volunteered. My wife thinks I have an inability to not raise my hand. There’s always a need. I’ll volunteer ’til I die.”

Sandra Fildes

If it has to do with literacy or reading then Sandra Fildes wants to be a part of it. Whether it’s volunteering with STAR Literacy or the St. Albert Public Library for more than a decade, the former teacher feels that exercising one’s ability to read is the key to a happy life.

She sees her volunteer work as an extension of her career. She first taught with Edmonton Catholic Schools before moving to the Greater St. Albert Catholic School District until her retirement in 2001.

“I really enjoy being with people. My career was very rewarding and I spent a lot of time working in schools with children and parents. I totally enjoyed that but I didn’t have the time then to give back to the community because I was so busy with my career and my family,” she explained.

“I always said to myself that, when I retired, I would start to give something back to the community. I learned that from my parents. Both of them were very community-minded people and contributed a lot over their lifetimes.”

She also sits on the advisory board of STAR Literacy and has given her time and service to the Musée Héritage Museum and the Holy Family Parish.

Being one of the four candidates for the Volunteer Citizen of the Year Award gives her the opportunity to reflect on how much so many others give throughout the city and even within her own home.

“This nomination is very humbling for me. I feel there are so many deserving people … that really give back to the community. I’m honoured to be considered among those numbers of people that do a tiny little bit of helping out. My husband is the same kind of person. He gives tremendously back to the community. It’s something important to the two of us.”

Jennifer and Davey Giordano

Many St. Albertans are aware of the playground wish that was granted last summer to then six-year-old Halle Popowich. The local girl survived acute myeloid leukemia, a rare cancer of the bone marrow and blood, after months of searching for a bone marrow donor.

But new playgrounds don’t just happen. They often take years of organizing and planning and fundraising. Somehow, the money materialized quickly. Taking the lead on the project was left to the Giordanos who spent hundreds and hundreds of hours on the phone, scribbling notes, making presentations, dealing with the press, and all of the many other minute details to make sure that the playground would open at J.J. Nearing Catholic Elementary School before school started in September 2013.

In short, they got the job done.

“I think it was three or four months that we actually had everything in place, ready to go,” Davey said. “It was quite the process. Things were happening quickly but at a good pace. It was just keeping the ball rolling and not taking a step back.”

That process meant constant attention to make sure that everything was co-ordinated properly between the construction companies, school, the city and the public at large, especially the volunteers who helped to build the playground. Everything had to be done on a timeline and every nut and bolt had to fit in the right place.

He said that they both had a huge sense of relief when the whole thing was over. “It definitely was worth every minute we put into it. No doubt in my mind, seeing the look on Halle’s face – and the rest of the kids’ faces – was definitely a very bright spot in our life.”

The nomination is a huge deal for them because it shows that people still noticed and appreciated their efforts, even if it was mostly in the background.

“It means quite a bit to us.”

Dick Tansey

As a senior with a penchant for altruism, Dick Tansey has worked hard in his retirement years to help other seniors live the best life possible.

And he does this is in myriad ways but it didn’t all start with a grand design.

“I stumbled into it, actually,” he admitted. He learned about the need that many seniors have for assistance after a relative in England experienced a fall. Trying to find a volunteer who would check on her proved enlightening. “We couldn’t find anybody. It was a real challenge.”

That led him to consider the problem right here at home.

He started by offering his services through the St. Albert 50+ Club, then called the Senior Citizens’ Centre. Now, he volunteers with Alberta Health Services both as a driver, helping to get home care clients to their medical appointments, and also as a community visitor, visiting with clients in their homes or meeting up for coffee or walks.

He also drives for both the residents at River Ridge seniors community on their weekly shopping trips and for the Primary Care Network’s Driver Cessation program, getting driving applicants (who have lost their driver’s licenses for medical reasons) to a 14-week support course to help learn how to cope with this major life change while learning how to stay mobile.

His other volunteer service includes work for the St. Albert Handibus Advisory Committee and the St. Albert Alliance Church. Of course, he’s best known in the community for his outspoken involvement with Seniors United Now. As the current vice-president of that province-wide organization, he advocates for a wide range of seniors’ issues.

Despite all of this community involvement, all within the last several years, Tansey admitted to being surprised at the nomination.

“[It] is an absolute honour. My goodness sakes! To even be recognized like that … that’s something.”


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