Nominees announced for Volunteer of the Year
Ceremony to be held on May 2
Wednesday, Apr 15, 2015 06:00 am
In the big scheme of things, volunteers are the very lifeblood of so much of our community life. We might not see them all the time, or know what they’re doing, but they’re always there.
They ensure that so many recreational and cultural activities thrive with hustle and bustle. They have our backs when there are important community functions that need help. When there’s a shortfall of support for worthy causes here and abroad, people don’t call out for Superman. They dial up volunteers because they’re the reliable ones in the real world.
In short, volunteers make the world go ’round. Glynis Thomas, the executive director at the Community Information and Volunteer Centre, said that National Volunteer Week is a good moment to reflect on the extraordinary value that our civic-minded citizens offer to us all free of charge.
“It’s important to stop and consider the essential nature of volunteerism in our communities. St. Albert is no exception. We need our volunteers daily… weekly… always,” she emphasized.
“The need for volunteers never changes. They are our heart and our soul.”
She continued by stating that the city’s health and vitality would not be the same without the tireless efforts of the many hundreds of volunteers in our midst. She roughly estimated that volunteers contributed nearly nine million hours of their time during 2014 alone.
That’s why St. Albert’s Community Information and Volunteer Centre (CIVC) offers its annual Volunteer Citizen of the Year Award, along with the Leaders of Tomorrow awards to youths. This year, the ceremony will be held on May 2 at the Alliance Church. Here are the five nominees for the Volunteer Citizen of the Year Award.
You probably wouldn’t want to run into a burning building with just jeans and a T-shirt. Well, neither would Victor Fernandez. In fact, he doesn’t want anyone to have to.
It’s for this reason he started the St. Albert-based charity Canadian Aid for Fire Services Abroad, which collects old firefighting equipment in Canada and sends it to ill-outfitted departments all over Central America, South America and Africa.
“I started with two helmets,” he said, and since that 1999 start he has helped deliver 34 tons of gear valued at more than $6 million.
And having spent eight years as a firefighter in Chile before his 32-year career with the St. Albert Fire Department, Fernandez knows first-hand how significant some old bunker gear can be to an under-funded volunteer department.
When he learned that even with all the proper gear firefighters are at higher risk of diseases like cancer, he decided to organize CAFSA.
Yet when he started, he never thought his efforts would be recognized with this kind of award nomination, and said he’s unsure about all the attention.
“I’ve been on the giving end a lot, and the receiving end not very much so it’s a little bit uncomfortable,” Fernandez said, adding he hopes someone other than him wins.
“I just feel like if we’re fortunate enough to be able to give back, then it’s our duty to do just that.”
It’s that simple philosophy that spurred Rosanna Fischer to start the charity KDM Helping Hands when she and her husband bought the business KDM Management in 2010.
In a few short years, she has helped bring Christmas to hundreds of students at schools around the Edmonton region that have a significant amount of children in need.
Last year, 400 kids at St. Elizabeth’s in South Edmonton were treated to a party with a healthy brunch, entertainment, and they also each received a boxed filled with some everyday essentials and packed to the brim with toys and books.
KDM Helping Hands has also been involved in some local fundraising projects, the most memorable for Fischer being a business challenge she issued to help build a new playground at J.J. Nearing School for a little girl with leukemia who chose that as her wish.
Currently, she’s focusing efforts at the Ronald McDonald House in Edmonton to improve the lives of sick children and their families who are in town for a hospital stay.
Despite these impressive efforts to better the community, Fisher said she was totally taken aback by the award nomination.
“I’m honoured, but I was really humbled by it,” she said.
Being a Scout means learning to grow as a person, experience the world, make meaningful relationships, and take care of yourself.
There’s a lot of kids out there who have an excellent example in Dan King. As the area commissioner for Buffalo Plains, he is the cheery face of non-stop support for 26 Scouting groups for more than 900 youths and 300 volunteers in St. Albert, north Edmonton and rural areas north of the capital. He manages teams to make sure that the clubs run smoothly, the leaders are the best leaders around, and that the kids gets as much out of the programs as possible.
That is no small feat but don’t ask for exaggeration from King himself.
“I get around,” he said, with subtlety.
For a guy who’s in charge of Scouting for one of the largest areas within the Northern Lights Council (“from the river valley north,” as he says, to communities including Fort Saskatchewan, Morinville, and Redwater), that’s playing it down somewhat.
King was only in Cubs himself for a few years as a child and it didn’t have an impact on him until he himself was a parent of a scout. It was then that he was asked if he was interested in becoming a leader and the rest is history.
“I sort of jumped in with both feet,” he admitted, agreeing that it was the deep end he jumped into. “Scouting is addictive and often time-consuming. What means a lot to me is Scouting and the future of scouting. I tend to get very involved in training. Wherever they need me is where I’d like to be.”
A year later, he became the section lead to be in charge of Cubs, then the group commissioner for the 12th St. Albert Scouts, followed shortly thereafter by becoming the Area Commissioner when his predecessor retired.
“What I’m guilty of is whenever somebody says, ‘I could use a hand,’ I don’t mind offering a hand. That’s what wound up happening. I said, ‘Sure, I’ll take that.’”
He’s also the current Venturer advisor for the 12th St. Albert Scouts. He’s known by all as a man of honour whose word is his bond. His term as area commissioner technically ends soon but he has vowed to stay on as there is not yet a replacement for him. Even when that position is filled, his service to Scouts will not end as he plans on volunteering at the council level.
His nomination for this award came right out of left field, however. He called it a wonderful compliment.
“I didn’t really think I was qualified or eligible for it, quite frankly. I didn’t think I was doing as much as a lot of people out there do. It’s made me feel humble. I’m not what I consider to be an excessive volunteer but I do get out,” he laughed.
Project Heroes is a comprehensive and extensive portrait and art exhibit of the 158 men and women who lost their lives during the Afghanistan War, and the collateral damage of war itself. The artworks were produced by Shairl Honey, Susan Abma and Cindy Revell, among others. These artists are the heroes behind the project, having been hard at work on it for six years, but Jean Leebody is the champion.
Without her, the exhibit wouldn’t be where it is today: on a grand road show across Canada.
“It’s a huge, huge project. When I first walked into the studio to see what they were working on, it was hard to even get your head around it. The emotion … was practically hanging in the air. You couldn’t walk in without feeling something,” she said.
“This is what really drew me. I came out of there and said, ‘Man, they need help. I’ve gotta help them.’ There was never any question.”
She might not be a spring chicken but she still has a spring in her step for projects she feels passionately about. Her volunteer experience goes back decades, with her churches, with girls’ groups, seniors’ homes, schools, and the now defunct St. Albert Irish Society, which involved numerous cultural activities, such as an exhibit at the museum and St. Albert Irish Heritage Week.
She also volunteered with the Musée Héritage Museum before she became the curator, and that meant that she was the perfect person to step into a leadership role with Project Heroes, starting back in October 2012. She had the background, the contacts, and all of the gumption and know-how.
She knew the mover that was needed, set up exhibits across the country, fundraised, mentored the artists, and was a general and overall support including office work, consulting, planning, media communications, and research. She even wrote material for the show.
You name it, she did it. Everything except paint.
She knew that she had to help the paintings to get shown to as many people across the country as possible, even though the total exhibit space needed to be approximately 10,000 sq. ft.
Moreover, Leebody is always positive, always ready to go, and ever calm in the face of stress and mounting workloads and looming deadlines, and never shies away from the work that needs to be done, even when it looks like a monumental task.
“This has to be the biggest project that I worked on ever. The size of the exhibit alone was huge. I very quickly understood that they had absolutely no idea what they were getting into.”
This nomination came out of the blue for her.
“I didn’t expect this! I really don’t feel like I’ve done anything,” she said, adding that all of her volunteerism has been from the wellspring of getting personal satisfaction and enjoyment out of the work. “I didn’t look at it as something that would bring me any kind of honour. It was just something that I saw that needed to be done.”
So much of a community’s culture comes from the arts and special events throughout the year. But these things don’t just happen, which is why it’s so important that people like Joanne Root are there, behind the scenes, making sure that STARFest and the Children’s Festival are as awesome as they can be year after year.
But if you ask her about being nominated for the Volunteer Citizen of the Year, however, you’ll find that behind the scenes is exactly where she loves to be.
“It was very unexpected! Really, I think there are people in the community who do way, way more than me. I’m really touched that I was nominated. I was blown away!” she stated, her enthusiasm impossible to disguise.
“I’m flabbergasted. It never even occurred to me that I could ever be on a list like this. I’m very touched.”
With an undeniable passion for books and literacy, she has been involved with the Friends of the St. Albert Public Library for the last few years, working on fundraising that is critical for fuelling the library’s ongoing success and growth. She’s there for special events too, such as the annual library patron appreciation day and STARFest, which is where her talents have really shone.
Root is always thinking of new ways to show the uniqueness of the events and promote the library. She’s been on the committee since it started and is an integral component of planning for the annual fall event.
“I’m a book person. I love books! For me to have anything to do with books and being involved with the authors, it’s just terrific! It’s just the best thing that could happen. I’m a passionate reader. I’m one who really promotes reading.”
A lifelong fan of the arts, she is also heavily involved with the Miniature Enthusiasts of Edmonton making dollhouses of exquisite, intricate and yes, tiny, tiny details. She’s really good at the details of everything she does. Root loves to show the club’s work at various events around the city including displays at Leo Nickerson’s annual art day and in the children’s section of the library too, of course.
She especially loves the performing arts, so it makes sense that she’s volunteered at the Arden in the past and has been with the Friends of the Northern Alberta International Children’s Festival Society since 2011 too. Helping to make sure that such a prominent and popular annual festival goes off without a hiccup is in her blood.
“I don’t think that the general population knows the amount of work that goes into getting these events on their way.”
“I think it’s really important to bring my energy to something. I know how they need people so desperately. Without volunteers, this won’t happen. It’s really, really important!”
“Also, I enjoy doing it … every minute of it. It’s fun for me! If somebody needs me for something, I’m quite willing to put my hand up!”