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Celebrate volunteers on the Coast

Volunteering has long been a way of life for one Gibsons' woman. Since coming to the Coast in 1987, Sybil Sears has been an active participant in her church.

Volunteering has long been a way of life for one Gibsons' woman.

Since coming to the Coast in 1987, Sybil Sears has been an active participant in her church. Once the secretary for the board of Gibsons United Church, Sears changed her volunteer role in 1993 because macular degeneration was taking her sight. Sears laughs that was also the time she turned in her driver's licence. "I never did want [a licence] but finally at age 65 I got one, so I guess it was only justice when I lost it," the engaging senior said.

And while she continues to volunteer on the church board and with the church's women's group, Sears now has need for volunteers herself. She relies on drivers to get her to White Cane Club meetings and to church services and events.

"We're so grateful to the volunteers," Sears said - a sentiment shared by the president of the White Cane Club, Flo Hill.

The club, a chapter of the Canadian Council of the Blind, meets once a month to help folks who are blind or visually impaired. The group brings in speakers to help make independent living possible for the members. But without the aid of the sighted secretary and treasurer and the six volunteer drivers, the club couldn't function.

"Without them we could not survive," Hill said.

April 17 to 23 is National Volunteer Week in Canada. The theme for this year's celebration is Volunteers Grow Community, a sentiment most volunteers heartily endorse. In fact most volunteers consider it a privilege to give to their community.

Bill Hubbs, a retired TD bank manager, is an excellent example of the difference one person can make in a community. The list of organizations Hubbs volunteers on is enough to make one's head spin. He has been on the Community Futures of the Sunshine Coast loans committee for the past four years and now sits on its board as well. He's a member of St. Mary's Hospital Foundation. Ironically, his father chaired the committee that built the hospital. Hubbs volunteers have been longtime givers to this community.

Hubbs is the past chair of the Sunshine Coast Community Foundation. He jokes that with his past financial experience, he's a shoe in for any group needing a treasurer or financial advice. And to that end, he is the treasurer of the Gibsons and District Chamber of Commerce. He's part of the group that formed the Gibsons and Areas Community Centre Society that is spearheading the drive to build a community centre in Gibsons. He's also involved with the Sunshine Coast Economic Development Society - and the list goes on.

When you ask the good-natured man what he gets out of volunteering, the answer comes quickly.

"It's a mom-and-apple-pie thing. You're returning something to the community, whether it's opening your wallet or giving your time," he said. And as if what he does already isn't enough, the concerned former businessman plans to run for the Sunshine Coast Regional District board as the director for West Howe Sound.

The only downside for avid volunteers such as Hubbs and his wife Joyce is finding time for themselves.

But overall, he said, it's wonderful when he sees the results of his work in the community.

Another Coast resident who has hospital-associated volunteerism in her blood is longtime Sechelt St. Mary's Hospital Auxiliary member and current president, Jo-Anne Sheanh. Sheanh has been part of the auxiliary for the past 14 years. She's volunteered many long hours at the thrift shop on Cowrie Street. "I think we really provide a wonderful service to the community. It really helps to fill the void. Kids clothes are so expensive. And it's a great place to recycle your stuff," Sheanh said.

And she's very proud that in the five years ending April 30, 2004, the six branches of the auxiliary have contributed $1.25 million to the hospital. Sheanh is quick to point out it isn't all work. A large part of volunteering is the social aspect.

"It plays a part for senior ladies. It fills your days. Volunteering today is a challenge to your ingenuity. It keeps you young," she said.

And raising money is not all the mostly women auxiliary members do. They help the residents of the various care homes on the Coast celebrate birthdays and holidays.

"Last Christmas we bought over 100 gifts for the residents of Totem Lodge," Sheanh said.

Many of the members, seniors themselves, are no longer able to work in the hospital or the thrift shop so they contribute by knitting, crocheting and doing crafts.

"We're a diverse group. There's something for everyone," Sheanh shared.

One of the larger volunteer groups in our community donates their time and money to the many parts of Sunshine Coast Community Services (SCCS).

Over 80 people volunteer their time for such diverse causes as the food bank, the six parent/tot drop-in locations and the transition house. One friendly volunteer does relief reception duty at the community services office two days a week.

Under the auspices of community services, volunteers receive training and a booklet that outlines what's expected of the volunteer and what positions are available.

Kate von Riesen, resource developer for SCCS, also gives credit to the community at large for their help to the organization."We've had great support from Royal Bank volunteers at fundraisers - both the Gibsons and Sechelt branches of the bank," von Riesen said.

Another service that SCCS has under its umbrella is the Visitors Information Centre at the Seaside Centre in Sechelt. There, volunteer Grace Fryer enjoys the interaction with people who use the centre.

Fryer has been volunteering at the centre since September. She was a park naturalist for many years and sees her attention to detail as a good foil to her volunteer job.

And how safe would the community be without the hardworking group of volunteers who fight fires? These brave men and women literally put their lives on the line for their community.

Right now the Sechelt Fire Department has one of its largest complements of volunteers ever. "We have 35 volunteers, the highest number in 60 years," said fire chief Bill Higgs. And what would a community be without the hundreds of volunteers who give their time to amateur sports? Whether coaching, refereeing or serving on the executive, no minor sports could run without the folks who help out.

Nancy Zogas has volunteered for Sechelt Minor Softball during the past four years. She's responsible for finding sponsors for the softball teams.

"My dad did a lot of volunteering when I was young so this just feels right," Zogas said.

And she's quick to give credit to a couple who plays a huge role in the organization. "Tim and Ann Hayward are Mr. and Mrs. Softball of Sechelt. I would hate to think what minor softball would be like without them," Zogas said.

Zogas echoes what many volunteers say: "If more people did one little thing, it would really help."

Volunteers are always needed. Helping our community can be as simple as picking up your phone and saying "How can I help?" Whatever your age or interest, there's a way to help our community grow.

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