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Woman pleads guilty to stealing from Girl Guides

A 31-year-old woman and former Morinville volunteer of the year, who worked with the organization for more than a decade, admitted Monday to stealing from the Morinville Pathfinders and Rangers and was handed six months of house arrest.

A 31-year-old woman and former Morinville volunteer of the year, who worked with the organization for more than a decade, admitted Monday to stealing from the Morinville Pathfinders and Rangers and was handed six months of house arrest.

Heather Juliet Volk, 31, pleaded guilty to a single count of theft for her deception, which took $2,581.96 from the accounts of two organizations.

Pathfinders and Rangers are both part of the Girl Guides organization, but are designed for older girls aged 12 to 17. The money Volk took came from cookie sales and other fundraising activities.

Volk, who had been involved in the organization for 13 years, was serving as treasurer when concerns about their bank accounts arose last year.

The Morinville RCMP were contacted in April 2010, firstly about two cheques the group did not recognize that were paid to a property management firm.

The group also noticed there appeared to be money missing from several deposits.

After an exhaustive review of the group's accounts and an investigation over the summer, the RCMP charged Volk in early October. She admitted to having forged the required second signatures on cheques and to having deposited 10 cheques into her own bank account.

Sharon Gavigan, an adult leader with the organization, read a victim impact statement and said the theft had left a terrible scar on the group.

She told the court the lack of funds forced the cancelations of planned field trips and outings and had a profound impact on the young women.

"The girls know now the hard lesson of trust no one."

She said the Pathfinders and Rangers now wait for a receipt when they drop off money they have raised selling cookies or through other fundraising, whereas before they simply trusted adults to do the right thing.

She added she and the other leaders have felt responsible for the loss and worried about the outcome of the trial, leading to stress and sleepless nights.

"My heart breaks. I have felt shame attending Guiding events."

She said it had been difficult for the other adult leaders to deal with parents and other leaders, because they could not fully explain the situation until the process was complete.

"We have been forced to do a lot of damage control."

She said the older girls in the group remember happier times with Volk, but find those memories sullied by the theft.

Gavigan often looked directly at Volk when reading her statement and said the girls had been crippled by her actions, having lost funds in an instant they had worked months to raise.

Crown prosecutor John Donahoe underscored the damage Volk had done on the guides.

"These organizations don't have a lot of funds and they have to work for any funds they do have."

Volk's defence lawyer Brian McGlashan pointed to her complete lack of a criminal record and her strong history of volunteerism.

He noted she had worked with the Guides organization for 13 years and had done many other volunteer activities as well. Volk was even awarded the prize of Volunteer of the Year in Morinville in 2002 for her work with the Guides and other groups. At the time she was the youngest person to ever win.

He said she had run into severe financial difficulties, but always intended to make the situation right and "planned in her own heart to pay the money back."

Judge Bruce Garriock said Volk was taking from an organization she knew would suffer because of her long involvement with the group.

"This is an organization you yourself have worked for, for 13 years. You understand what it stands for."

He noted that there was "not one victim, but a number of victims" left reeling from this theft.

House arrest

McGlashan made an unusual request for the six-month term of house arrest. Ordinarily these terms are served with the first half as complete house arrest and the second half on a curfew.

In this case, McGlashan said Volk was eager to return to work as a summer camp counsellor, at a facility she had been working at for 13 years.

The schedule of the camp, which runs from July to August made it impossible for her to serve the house arrest during those months.

As an alternative, McGlashan suggested she could serve the months of June, September, October and November on full house arrest and report weekly to the Morinville RCMP during her time at the camp.

Garriock agreed to that exception.

The other conditions of the house arrest require Volk to make full restitution to the group and McGlashan told the court she would be turning over $1,000 that day.

She also has to perform 60 hours of community service work and is prohibited from being in a position, in either a volunteer organization or private business, where she would be in a position of financial trust.

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