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The heartbeat of SCCSS: A tribute to 50 years of volunteer dedication

This year, Sunshine Coast Community Services Society (SCCSS) celebrates 50 years of community impact.

This year, Sunshine Coast Community Services Society (SCCSS) celebrates 50 years of community impact. For five decades, we have worked tirelessly to provide essential services, support, and resources to those in need, empowering individuals to thrive and our community to flourish. As we reflect on the past 50 years, we are filled with gratitude for the unwavering support of our volunteers, donors, partners, and community members who have stood by our side every step of the way. Together, we have made a lasting impact, touching the lives of countless individuals and leaving a legacy of compassion, resilience, and hope. This National Volunteer Week, SCCSS board member, Kim Fenton reflects on 50 years of volunteer service at SCCSS. 

Leaders. Coordinators. Caregivers. Gardeners. Retail workers. Assistants. Board members. Box carriers. Vegetable distributors. Baby cuddlers. Card players. Painters. Wisdom keepers. 

Sunshine Coast Community Services Society had more than 9,284 volunteer hours in 2023. That is more hours than is in a year – which is 8,760, so you don’t have to do the math. 

Dedication, commitment, perseverance, faith, and enthusiasm. Oh, and compassion, motivation, generosity and purpose. And don’t forget strong backs, nimble fingers, broad shoulders, loving arms, and big hearts. Each of our volunteers brings something different to working with us – all 120 of them. 

When our doors opened 50 years ago, we were an organization completely run by volunteers. To say that a door somewhere opened up and we were ready for clients is a bit simplistic; we had been working hard for a few years before that as an organized group of people who saw a gap in needs on the Sunshine Coast and decided to gather together and make things better for residents in need. We formed a legal and proper society in 1974 after representatives from various social service groups came together, including folks from the hospital, school board, regional councils and local churches. 

Our first volunteers worked in the Homemakers program, which has come full circle over the years. It shifted from us to the Home Support Society, then back to us as the Better at Home program in addition to Home Support run by Vancouver Coastal Health. Yew Transition House was staffed with volunteers when it first opened. Volunteers also kept the audiobook program organized and worked with children with disabilities. 

Many of our programs went on to be managed by other agencies or levels of government. Take, for instance, transit. We offered regular minibus services from Halfmoon Bay to Langdale. In 1985, there were more than 14,000 rides taken, growing to more than 109,000 rides in 1993. It is easy to see that it was feasible for a transit authority to step in and scale up the service! 

In those early years, most of our volunteers were retired folks or young mums who could spare a few hours when the kids were in school. Programs dependent on volunteers were Meals on Wheels, seniors’ day programs, and children’s play programs. By 1982, we had 130 active volunteers. It was also the year that a committee formed to start a food bank in Gibsons (currently our food security programs use over 4,000 hours of volunteer labour annually). 

Today, the volunteers who are the backbone of many of our programs come from all walks of life. Several volunteers at the food bank are former program participants who have come back to help others. Others started as volunteers and are now paid employees. Some folks volunteer during work hours, and their company pays them for doing so. The range of ages of our volunteers has grown; we have a few volunteers in their early 20s and our oldest volunteers are 83 and 84 years young! 

Volunteers don’t just give – we ensure we offer value in exchange for their work. Our thrift store volunteers are a close-knit group, sharing friendship and connection. Many food bank volunteers have been working together for years and don’t want to change their schedule for anything! We are also keen to help volunteers gain job experience through skill-building. Learning how to run a cash register, transplant and care for garden vegetables, or do administration work like tracking people or products, are all skills that can help someone find employment. 

Professionals like computer repair, dentistry and massage are examples of specific skills that are as welcome as much as the age-old skills of rocking a baby to sleep, sitting with someone experiencing grief or celebrating with cake and candles. 

The times have changed since volunteers first started working with Community Services. We have grown from three programs to over 30. We are one of the largest employers – with paid and unpaid staff – on the Coast. However, one thing that has not changed – the valuable contribution our volunteers offer.