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2016: Our salute to volunteers

The Tri-City News honours the helpers who worked — without pay — to make our community sparkle this year.
The best of the best volunteers in the Tri-Cities. Back row: Patty Klassen (Port Moody Rotary); Carl Trepanier (Coquitlam Sharks, Coquitlam 125, Coquitlam Sports Council, Coquitlam 55 Plus Games, BC Summer Swimming Association and BC Liberal Party - Port Moody-Coquitlam); and John Saremba (Burke Mountain Naturalists, Critter Care Wildlife Rescue and Colony Farm Park Association). Front row: Barry Lang (Coquitlam 55 Plus Games, Coquitlam 125, Dogwood Pavilion, Lower Mainland Sr. Slo Pitch and Coquitlam Senior Men's Curling); Cléone Todgham (Port Moody Rotary); Trudy Gallant (Port Moody Rotary); and Alwyn Chan (Eagle Ridge Hospital Foundation and church outreach).


That, in a word, is how Coquitlam's Barry Lang explains why he donates so much of his spare time to help out non-profit groups and at special events around the Tri-Cities.

This year alone, the retiree was a familiar face on the volunteer circuit, giving countless hours to five organizations.

"It's my way to give back," he said with a shrug.

Lang — and the many, many other community boosters around him — is the reason The Tri-City News decided to shine a spotlight on the people who made our region sparkle this year.

And 2016 was exceptionally busy for our local volunteers, busy at everything from from Port Moody Rotary RibFest, U19 Men's World Lacrosse Championship, PoCo Grand Prix and Coquitlam 125 parties to the Coquitlam 55-Plus Games, Kinsmen Craft Beer Festival, BC Highland Games and the numerous civic functions that drew thousands of visitors to the Tri-Cities — each of them creating significant economic spin-offs.

At each of the events, volunteers were there with smiles on their faces to welcome you — they were usually the last ones to leave, too.

Trudy Gallant of the Port Moody Rotary Club, which runs the summer RibFest at Rocky Point Park, said they were overwhelmed with this year's callout: Its base jumped from 175 volunteers in its inaugural year to some 500 this year to meet the demand for the 60,000 attendees.

"People were doing double shifts for all three days," she said, "because it was fun and they wanted to be involved."

Geri Briggs-Simpson, Coquitlam's community services supervisor, said the city's parks, recreation and culture department recorded 250 more volunteer hours this year than last year — not including the 55-Plus Games or "the countless hours that volunteers put in on all the [civic] committees, animal shelter, fire department and police department," she said.

"Our community constantly steps up to the plate to volunteer."

Hayley Sinclair, the membership services co-ordinator with Community Volunteer Connections, which serves groups in the Tri-Cities and New Westminster, said 40 more clubs signed up with CVC this year to tap into its ever-growing base, which now stands at around 500 people.

Sinclair said CVC's Flying Squad — made up mostly of young people looking for high school credits — swooped in with support for many one-day events this year to assist with set-up/take-down, balloon blowing and face painting, for example.

Whole families are also making the connection with groups such as Port Moody Meals on Wheels, the Burrard Inlet Fish Festival, New View Society and ISS of BC.

"Volunteers are keeping these organizations serviceable," Sinclair said, adding, "Volunteerism is a Canadian standard. It's our way of being a good neighbour."

Besides special events, the municipalities utilize volunteers for seasonal sport and recreation programs. For instance, Port Moody has, on average, 30 active volunteers in the summer — most of them in Grades 10 to 12 and recommended by their teachers.

Many younger volunteers find full-time jobs with the city once they graduate, said Port Coquitlam's Carrie Nimmo, manager of cultural development and community services. 

While volunteering, they learn about customer service and add skills to their resume, she said. And because the city wants to retain its volunteer base, it is putting a focus in 2017 on training city staff "to provide meaningful experiences."

In all three cities, volunteers are recognized for their efforts with free meals and free admissions; awards for the best helpers are also handed out by city council annually.

"Our city is very blessed in that people want to come back year after year," Briggs-Simpson said. "They love being a part of that whole magical team. When when you see repeats, it's because we're doing something well. They're getting something from it."

Carl Trepanier said Coquitlam is "phenomenally well equipped" for volunteers. "They make it so easy to do."

Trepanier said he started volunteering when his kids were younger "and it just snowballed from there. I like getting out and being a part of what's around me. There's always something going on in the community."

"I really believe that we are most fortunate to be living in a great community," Gallant added. "Volunteering is a way to support it and to keep it healthy and vibrant."

"I'm just doing my job," added Alwyn Chan, supervisor of Eagle Ridge Hospital's diagnostic cardiology unit, who gives his time to the hospital foundation and his church group. "I'm just pitching in where I can. There's lots of us out there doing the same thing."