Getting involved is what makes Barrie great!

In every community there are people who receive and people who give.

When I moved here 30 years ago, what struck me then is how healthy this community is. And part of that health is the tremendous efforts of volunteers who make untallied contributions to all aspects of community life.

Some are more visible than others… we’ve all been at the receiving end of the generous work of the Royal Victoria Hospital Auxiliary. Many of us know of the kindness and energy that goes into hundreds of hampers for Christmas Cheer. The work at the Food Bank is assisted by the donations of people wanting to reach out to others. Right now hundreds of volunteers are mobilizing to offer five nights of care every week at the Out of the Cold Program. The Arboretum at Sunnidale Park exists because of the work of people who care enough to water, weed, make plaques, talk with tree and shrub donors etc.

Givers gain. That’s for sure. Every time we look outside of ourselves to see the need of someone else and meet it, we’ve been given the gift of growth. Even if you’re tending the snowy walkways of the elderly neighbour on your street, you’re volunteering to make life in Barrie better.

So, it makes sense today to explore some of our resources made possible by people who give without looking for something in return.

Next weekend, November 27, people in Barrie are being asked to bring their energy and ideas to a forum at City Hall. Called Smart Growth, the forum is designed to listen to better ways to develop this growing city of ours… everything from trees and parks to housing density and styles, to transportation systems, bus services and routes, to roads, and rezoning. It’s an opportunity created by the City of Barrie, to open official ears and hear ideas . It’s a forward-thinking approach, a reaching out to gleen the thoughts of people living here. There will be speakers and workshops and the Rotunda on the main floor of City Hall will be buzzing with energy. It’s a great chance for you to find a willing listener to your ideas. 9 til 3.

That’s one kind of volunteering.

Another occurred recently when the Barrie Chamber of Commerce recognized the volunteer efforts of people in the community who give in a variety of ways. Ted Maxwell was recognized for development of Skills Canada, a provincial program that fosters respect for careers in the trades and rewards young people for involvement in these career areas. He also developed “Men Alive” with key conferences across Ontario for men interested in enriching their Christian faith. Gert Walter of Injectech Industries received accolades for his approach to business in the region. Gert is determined that Injectech Industries is a North American leader in injection mould, manufacture and assembly. He offers in-house training to employees, and continues his commitment to Barrie with a second plant recently opened. Gert is involved with local school boards and Georgian College with a Youth Internship Apprenceship Program to offer apprenticeship training for students.

Ben Andrews, a teacher, received applause and energy for his tireless efforts to organize the Barrie Kiwanis Music Festival. He also devotes his energy to sports development in hockey, skating and basketball and serves actively to serve street people in our community. Donna Mizen’s award, donated by the Chamber itself, was in honour of her contribution to Business After Five. Donna volunteers her time to organize and deliver the Business After Five networking opportunities, one of the Barrie Chamber’s most successful monthly events.

Debbie Roblin has given countless hours of volunteer help to her community, including the elderly. Despite a a brain injury in 1991 which impairs Debbie’s balance, memory and hearing, she puts her abilities to work helping other people. Not only the elderly benefit; Debbie also works with the Simcoe County Association for the Physically Disabled. She serves in their mentorship program.

And Rita Pauderis puts her energy into hospital work, making tremendous gifts of time and talent to the RVH Auxiliary. Jay Lethbridge received his award for his unbeatable devotion to sports for those with developmental disabilities. He created the Barrie Integrated Baseball Association in 1988, a league of 10 teams of 20 people–non handicapped and handicapped players working together. A modified rule system lets everyone play on equal ground and Jay has given 12 years to this organization. He’s also a Big Brother, and a church warden.

Claire Campbell gives 200% of herself to St John Ambulance work all over the region and received the John Piesley Award for her efforts. And Rob Butler, the energy behind the Circle At The Centre (development and funding of the reflecting pool/skating rink in our civic square) was recognized for spearheading the development of what has to be the world’s best used skating rink.

Don Mercer’s work is known as the King of Kensington at the IOOF facilities.. Don runs the Last minute Store at IOOF. When you think of the hundreds of people who benefit from Don’s work, the trickle-down effect becomes enormous.

Bill Anderson received the A.F. Maurice MacLaren Award for his work with Habitat for Humanity. Bill, who is also a Rotarian, has been a driving force behind the development not only of houses for people who couldn’t afford them at the marketable price tag, but he also developed a commercial venture called the Re-Store which is helping to fund the Habitat for Humanity project. The Re-Store takes in used and donated building materials, windows, bath-tubs, sinks, plumbing parts, lighting fixtures and re-sells them. Funds raised go to building houses for low income families.

Bill Irwin deserves his award for founding junior Kiwanis Clubs for youth at two elementary school locations. He also works with the Simcoe County Health Unit in the Safe Kids Committee, emphasizing road safety for children. Bill’s also on deck with RVH, Kiwanis, Kempenfest, and the Food Bank.

Where would the Arboretum be without Peggy Wong? Taking over from decades of service by Wyman Jacques, Peggy plants, pulls, tends, and coaxes growing things into health at the Arboretum. The north end of Sunnidale Park has become a valued retreat for people, as well as a favourite spot for wedding photography, and a wonderful way to recognize the birth or death, graduation, baptism, or achievement of a loved one. Peggy received the Ed Harper award.

Ann Marie Kocela was the deserving recipient for an award dedicated to children and families with unique challenges. She involves herself in countless fundraisers for the Parents With Challenging Children and Troubled Teens group, and works to improve the quality of life for young people who are out of the mainstream.

John Beer received the Ralph Snelgrove Award, which was aptly sponsored by CKVR Television, the station Ralph founded in the fifties in Barrie. John’s volunteer work involves organizing the provision of computers to schools in need. Through Bell Canada Pioneers, John has found over 1000 computers and retrofitted them for area schools. He’s also involved with Children’s Wish, Ambulance Bears, OPP Good Bears, Barrie Food Bank, CNIB and Easter Seals.

And Discovery Child Care Centre, the brainchild of Karen Eilersen, is changing the face of day care in Barrie as we know it. A generous volunteer herself, Karen is providing many ways for children in her care to learn about giving to others. Children all tend an organic garden on the Discovery property, eating some produce themselves at their mealtimes, and donating some also to the Food Bank. Karen’s award, Business of the Year, was sponsored by the City of Barrie.

I think it’s important to realize that each of the people here don’t just give their time in one area. I’ve yet to meet a volunteer who doesn’t give his or her time to a number of enterprises. And behind each of the people mentioned here are hundreds and hundreds of others who also give.

I think the volunteer effort I’m grinning about most these days is the new skateboard park which opened recently at the south end of Queen’s Park, near Central Collegiate. This wonderful facility is a small mecca to the skateboarders in our community, and it’s a monument to their energy and commitment, as well. Through the United Way’s Volunteer Service, the group was mobilized to write a proposal to City Council, asking for land and $50,000 in construction services. The group of young boarders promised to raise the rest. And they did. The $200,000 facility is buzzing with young people with true skill and a place to enjoy their enthusiasm. My only reaction when I saw it was… “we need more of these!”

Key mover and shaker in the skateboard park was young Dan Jones, whose entrepreneurial spirit has him providing skateboards and parts to boarders across the region. Dan marshalled boarders together and they designed the park, and accessed community services to get it built.

Great job!

There could be hundreds of stories like the skateboard park story. In fact, it’s always been my belief that people prefer to read about positive, celebratory achievements in the news pages of their community newspapers.

If you’ve reached the end of this, you’re proving me right.

To every one who gives of themselves to make our community the vibrant place it is… thank you!
And to those who are thinking about this for the first time, Information Barrie (728-1010) has a list of groups needing volunteers. All it takes is initiative.

Enjoy! And, Dan? Thank you!