Volunteers thanked for their many hours of work
Annual event draws crowd of 500 for evening of entertainment and recognition
It was a packed house on the floor of the Agrena April 25 for the annual Barrhead Volunteer Appreciation and Awards Night.
A longtime tradition in town, this year’s ceremony touched on the idea of “Celebrating People in Action,” and recognized more than 20 people who have given hours of their lives to helping and benefiting others over the past months, years and decades.
As always, the highlight of the evening was the presentation of the Rosemary Empey Volunteer of the Year Award, the Longstanding Service Award and the Outstanding Youth Award.
But before getting to the awards, various dignitaries got up to speak about the value and importance of volunteers and what it is they bring to the community.
Speaking first was Jenny Bruns, the chair of the volunteer committee for 2012. In her address to the crowd of over 500, Bruns spoke about how much impact a single volunteer can have on a community.
“Every moment spent volunteering leaves a positive impact on the community,” she said.
After Lambert Veenstra gave well wishes on behalf of Yellowhead MP Rob Merrifield, and Chamber of Commerce president Darlene Gross thanked the volunteers for their tireless work, it was time for Mayor Brian Schulz to take over the microphone.
“When I’m out talking to and recruiting doctors, I’m most proud to talk about our volunteers,” he said.
He added that it means so much to have people out there helping out without any payment. Sure, he said, they could be paid for the work they do, but all the effort wouldn’t really mean the same.
Schulz went on to thank everyone for coming out, and that when he looked out into the crowd, he didn’t see volunteers. Instead, he saw his family and friends.
“Volunteers make a community great,” he said.
Next up was county reeve Bill Lee.
“There are a lot of people here tonight,” he said. “This is probably the biggest thing Barrhead puts on.”
Lee also talked about how many times volunteers don’t get the chance to get a pat on the back and a thank you for the hours of work they put in. So, tonight is that chance, he declared.
The keynote speaker of the evening was former Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock MLA Ken Kowalski.
Kowalski spoke about how the first time volunteers were officially recognized in Canada was in 1943. That was when women were first formally thanked for all the work they put into the war effort on the home front, he said.
He went on to praise Alberta for having led the country in volunteering for years — until last year when Saskatchewan took the crown.
Kowalski also spoke about how the changing demographics, as Alberta shifts to having one of the youngest populations in Canada from one of the oldest, will affect volunteerism in the province.
“Alberta is a changing province, and volunteerism will change with it,” he said.
Finally, once Kowalski had wrapped up his speech and the Barrhead-Westlock 55-Plus Games committee was presented with the library’s Making a Difference in Our Community award, it was time for the main event — the presentation of the big three awards.
Up first was the Outstanding Youth award.
Nominated were swim club coaches Emily Assenheimer, Will Assenheimer, Rylyn Laing, Taryn Sekulich and Shyla Wegewitz, as a group; swim club coach Melissa Strawson, as an individual; figure skating coach Nicole DeZaeyer; and all-around volunteer Bertha Lavigne.
When the envelope was opened, emcee/MC Rita Lyster announced Bertha Lavigne had been named the 2012 Outstanding Youth volunteer.
“The recognition’s great, but that’s not what I do it for,” Lavigne said. “You can only volunteer if you have someone there to volunteer for.”
Lavigne said she wants to help girls in Girl Guides who are shy and withdrawn break out of their shells. Her reason is that she was once one of those girls, so she understands what they’re going through, and wants to get them to see what they can become by following her lead.
“You have to give back what you gained,” she said. “You’re looking back at your own mentors.”
Despite playing down the award, Lavigne did say it means a lot to have the community turn around and recognize what she saw in her past leaders.
The second major award of the evening was the Longstanding Service award. Nominated for this award were teachers Gayle and Laurin Lamothe, Cub Scout leaders Connie and Dave Turner, Gardenview Crossroads member Irene Miller, and Vega Hall stewards Lillian and Ron Branden.
Upon breaking the seal on the winning envelope, Lyster declared Connie and Dave Turner were the 2012 Longstanding Service award winners.
“It was very surprising,” said Connie. “It’s very much an honour.”
Dave added that they enjoy every minute of what they do, and that in itself gives back to them — the award is just a bonus they never expected or sought.
Their work with the Cub Scouts has taken them across Canada, and enriched their lives, he added, and they’ve never considered taking a break.
“Is this award going to change anything?” he asked. “No.”
Finally, the moment everyone in the audience was waiting for — the declaration of the 2012 Rosemary Empey Volunteer of the Year award.
Up for the award this year was Glenreagh Community member Edith Strawson, FCSS board member Janet Kaplan, and the Blue Heron Support Services Association leadership team.
With a drum roll sounding at all tables in the building, Lyster broke the seal and proclaimed Edith Strawson had been named the volunteer of the year for 2012.
“It feels good, really good,” she said. “I’m surprised, it’s awesome. I really appreciate it.”
Winning the award was just a case of a little extra on top of the work she does, Strawson said, something she never expected or overtly desired.
“I didn’t even think about being recognized, because I just enjoy working with people,” she said. “I find it fulfilling.”
Strawson said she found out she had been nominated about a month ago. That was surprising in itself, she said, but to win was just more so.
After the ceremony, Elaine Dickie, one of the organizers, said she felt the whole evening went very well, especially the entertainment.
She added that she heard from speaking with Gerry St. Pierre that having the 55-Plus Games committee there was a great opportunity to rally the troops, as it were, and start chasing down volunteers for the games in 2013.
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