Stewart: Backbone of any community—volunteers

There is a special type of person who is the backbone of any community. 

These individuals make significant contributions to the places where they live without any expectation of anything beyond the satisfaction that comes from helping out. 

I’m talking, of course, about volunteers.

Try to imagine for a moment what life would be like without the many people who give of their time – the folks who coach kids’ hockey, volunteer with local theatre groups or help out with Scouts and Girl Guides.

The Vancouver 2010 Olympics would not have been the incredible success they were without the tens of thousands of blue-jacketed volunteers. Likewise, the International Children’s Games held in Kelowna a few short weeks ago reminded me of the powerful difference volunteers can make.

Life would not be nearly as good as it is now without the dedication and hard work of such people.

Life would also be less safe without volunteers such as Beryl Itani. You may never have heard of Beryl, but chances are she had a big impact on your life.

Former volunteer emergency social services director for the City of Kelowna and then the Central Okanagan Regional District, Beryl was on call 24/7 for about 30 years. During the 2003 Kelowna fires, she headed efforts to evacuate and care for 30,000 Kelownians—the largest evacuation in the history of our region. During the 2009 Westside Interface fires, she again headed efforts to evacuate over 15,000 people.

Beryl “retired” at the end of last year, but I just don’t feel I can discuss the contribution of volunteers without mentioning her outstanding contribution.

In a column about the importance of volunteers, I must also mention the Heart and Stroke Foundation. February was Heart Month, which the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s web site describes as its “largest grassroots fundraising initiative.”

If you have been thinking of volunteering, this would be an excellent group to support. You would be helping to raise funds for life-saving research. If you want to learn more, please call the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s local number, 250-860-6275, or visit their website

Another great group to help out would be the Variety Club. They recently wrapped up another very successful Show of Hearts Telethon on February 12th and 13th – raising more than $7 million in British Columbia for children who have special needs. The Variety Club has important work to do throughout the year, though, so I’m sure they would welcome more volunteers. If you want to help out, please visit their website at

If you are one of these unsung volunteer heroes, I say thank you. And if you have been thinking about getting involved and lending a hand, I encourage you to do so. You will have the great satisfaction of knowing that you are enriching the lives of many others and making the Kelowna area even better than it is already.

Ben Stewart is the Liberal MLA for the Westside-Kelowna riding.


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