Alistair Waters

Waters: Recognizing the Okanagan’s volunteer spirit

National Volunteer Week highlights the high number of volunteers in the community.

This week is national Volunteer Week in Canada. But, as Central Okanagan residents have shown time and time again, every week is volunteer week in this area.

The Central Okanagan has one of the highest volunteer per capita rates in the country and is currently leading the nation in the national challenge to encourage Canadian communities to volunteer a collective 150,000 hours of volunteer work this year to help mark the country’s 150th birthday.

On Tuesday, Kelowna city Coun. Tracy Gray helped kick off national volunteer week here, paying tribute to the men, women and children who give their time to help others.

“It reaches out to every part of the community,” said Gray, who read a proclamation on behalf of Mayor Colin Basran designating the week in Kelowna. “We can’t pay for the amount of man hours that are provided by the people who volunteer.”

Like other communities, so much that happens here simply would not occur if it were not for volunteers.

On hand Tuesday morning was one of the city’s best known volunteers, Beryl Itani, who served as head of the local Emergency Social Services for more than 30 years. That organization was called out to help many times during Itani’s time as its volunteer leader, most notably during the mass evacuations caused by the Okanagan Mountain Park wildfire in 2003.

She said while the national week was being marked here, for the many who give their time to an estimated 390 local groups, this week is “business as usual.” However, the week does serve as an opportunity to recognize and thank local volunteers.

The reasons why people volunteer are a varied as the volunteers themselves, but virtually all will tell you they feel they get more out volunteering than they they put in.

I remember interviewing a young Kelowna woman who was up for an award for her many volunteer efforts a few years ago, and she told me the reason she volunteers is to make her community the type of place she wants to live in.

Despite being a high school student, faced with a full academic workload, sports and music activities, and the typical social life of any teenager, this phenomenal young woman had a long and impressive volunteers resume.

When community wealth is spoken about, it is too often gauged in economic terms and not in wealth of human spirit demonstrated by that young woman and the many other volunteers who so willingly give their time and effort.

In a few weeks, the city of Kelowna will recognize some of those people at its annual civic awards ceremony. While not a volunteer-recognition event per se, the reason many of those who receive civic awards is their volunteer work.

Volunteering does not happen by chance here—of course communities across this country can make the same claim— but this area is fortunate to have the level of caring that it has. It’s not luck, specific decisions are made by people to give back.

And for that, volunteers should be recognized—and not just one week a year.

Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.

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