Volunteer 55

These Volunteer55 Ambassadors are dedicated volunteers in the Central Okanagan. Some of them have been donating their time for over 75 years! KCR Community Resources is recognizing them for their commitment to their roles, their passion for making a difference, and their tireless dedication to organizations throughout the Central Okanagan. They are all aged 55+ and want to encourage others to get involved by volunteering in the community.

Volunteer55 focuses on raising the quality of life for both individuals and the community-at-large by encouraging those ages 55 and better to share their skills and time through volunteerism and by encouraging non-profit organizations to actively recruit and enlist the help of older adults to achieve their missions. Volunteering helps with social isolation by promoting inclusion and participation as part of healthy ageing strategies … and yes, even in times of social distancing, there are great ways for everyone to volunteer.

Over the next while you will be finding out more about these wonderful citizens of the Central Okanagan. Stay tuned, and sign up for our EBlast Newsletter so that you don’t miss a thing!

To find your next volunteer opportunity go to VolunteerConnector.org

Meet Our Volunteer Ambassadors

Carol Polasek

Tell us about yourself.
I was born in Regina but have been in Kalona since 1963. I don’t think people know how old I am.

How long have you been a volunteer?
25 years or more.

Where do you volunteer?
I used to work with Saint Vincent de Paul for 10 years. I have also volunteered at Cottonwoods extended care. Currently, I am at the Gospel Mission as well as the shelter downtown.

Tell us about your volunteer experience over the past year during COVID-19.
I have not been able to be at Cottonwoods too much. But I have carried on at the Gospel Mission as well as the Doyle Avenue shelter for the last year.

What have you learned about yourself and/or about others through volunteering?
Volunteering is my therapy. My husband passed away three years ago and immediately after he died, I started at the Gospel Mission. I love the people there and look forward to being there.

If you could encourage someone else to volunteer, what would you say?
I have tried to encourage people that are on their own to spend the time volunteering. You get more than you give.

What is one of your favourite volunteering stories?
When I was with Saint Vincent de Paul, I became very close to the families that I served. We often became good friends. Cried together and laughed together.

What does volunteering mean to you?
I was my husband‘s caregiver for nearly 15 years and when he passed away in 2018, I found that volunteering helped me through the grieving process. I would say volunteering is my therapy and I feel it is a good example for my children and grandchildren.

Joyce Brinkerhoff

Tell us about yourself.
I was born and raised in a small Alberta town close to the Rocky Mountains. My husband and I moved to Kelowna right after he finished medical school in 1990. Previous to marriage I spent two years as a ‘clown’ in a childrens’ production which toured the USA and Canada.

How long have you been a volunteer?
My parents raised us to volunteer – so early on we helped them, volunteer, then did it on my own, then took my kids and now I take my grandkids! Post-COVID, my grandkids will likely take me to volunteer!

Where do you volunteer?
My volunteering is eclectic – with an emphasis on advocacy. Mostly in the intercultural area, community-building, international humanitarian projects, my church and school district. I’m on the board of Society of Hope – affordable housing, president of Global Citizen Events, promoting the Global Goals, volunteer at Metro – homelessness and part of Journey Home task force, sit on the COLIP – anti-racism initiative, HFTN Mexico and Ghana director for children’s programs, and locally with Food for Thought, Harmony Day committee for SD 23 and various other volunteer projects.

Tell us about your volunteer experience over the past year during COVID-19.
The biggest challenge for most I have spoken with is meeting via ZOOM but I don’t mind that so much. My challenge is hearing of those in our community who don’t have access to those types of resources and hearing about them falling through the cracks. Drug overdoses have gone up and fewer have had the chance to be encouraged personally into rehabilitation resources. On the positive, others were able to access computers through various grants and donations so that was helpful.

Why is volunteering important to you? What motivates you to stay involved?
At times I have volunteered to ‘feel useful’ or ‘appreciated’ or ‘give back’ but my deepest motivator is the love of God and how He teaches me to see each person as of value and worth and it’s my privilege to serve and be served.

What have you learned about yourself and/or about others through volunteering?
As above – in giving we receive. Volunteering brings me perspective on issues and life experiences I would otherwise be ignorant of.

If you could encourage someone else to volunteer, what would you say?
Just do it!! Find your passion and volunteer there.

What is one of your favourite volunteering stories?

I will never forget the impact of my looking up from serving food at a homeless shelter to see my 3 yr old asking a very dishevelled elderly man if he would read her one of her books and see his face light up as she sat beside him listening intently to him read The Cat in the Hat. He may have been a ‘drunk’ without much to offer to others but at that moment they were loving each other with deep purpose and delight. Genuine humanity.

What does volunteering mean to you?
Volunteering brings life. Volunteering introduces me to wonderful friends. Volunteering gives purpose beyond my own limited viewpoint.

Reenie Scott

Tell us about yourself.
I was raised on a farm in Saskatchewan close to a small town named Davidson. I was a registered nurse for 40 years. A profession that I was very passionate about! We moved to Lake Country in 2009. When I was younger I lived in many different places, one of them being Tuktoyuktuk, NWT.

How long have you been a volunteer?
3 years

Where do you volunteer?
I volunteer at Kelowna Gospel Mission Thrift store. I’m a cashier there. I have also helped with the banquets held at the Gospel Mission shelter. Recently I did my first volunteer shift at the vaccination clinic held at Trinity Church

Tell us about your volunteer experience over the past year during COVID 19.
I have not been volunteering since last June. I felt that I needed to step away because at the time I was able to visit my Mom in the facility where she was. I have now received the first dose of COVID vaccine so I am anticipating returning to the store in the near future.

Why is volunteering important to you? What motivates you to stay involved?
I enjoy the people contact!

What have you learned about yourself and/or about others through volunteering?
How great it is that so many people put in long hours volunteering!

If you could encourage someone else to volunteer, what would you say?
That I truly enjoy my day with the customers and with the staff. I have met some wonderful people.

What is one of your favourite volunteering stories?
It amuses me when patients that I used to care for come into the Thrift Store and we recognize each other!

What does volunteering mean to you?
Volunteering is uplifting!

Ruth Mellor

Tell us about yourself.
I came from Ontario via Vancouver where I did MSc in Human Nutrition at UBC. Have lived in Kelowna since 1972 when my husband got a job at OC.

I was very shy when I was young and had red hair and ringlets.

How long have you been a volunteer?
I have been involved in volunteer activities since I moved to Kelowna.

Where do you volunteer?
I am on the Board of Kelowna Film Society, Kelowna Pro-Choice, and Central Okanagan Community Gardens. I have been involved with CFUW (Canadian Federation of University Women) and served on the local Board, provincial Board, and National Board.

Tell us about your volunteer experience over the past year during COVID 19.
I am a Volunteer Coordinator at the Barlee Community Garden and so was still active in duties such as collecting fees and interacting with gardeners, although there were no group clean-ups or activities. I have been involved in Zoom meetings as Past President of CFUW BC Council and CFUW Kelowna advocacy committee.

Why is volunteering important to you? What motivates you to stay involved?
I like the interaction and the feeling of being useful. Nothing is more rewarding than telling potential gardeners that I have a plot for them. Before Covid people enjoyed the social interactions involved in gathering to see good films and verbalized their appreciation.

So I guess it contributes to my ego and self esteem to be appreciated.

What have you learned about yourself and/or about others through volunteering?
I chose organizations which are useful, but also where people get along and enjoy being involved in the volunteer experience. I have learned not to stay if I am not enjoying myself, at least most of the time. I worked as a Supervisor in Nutrition services for 18 years and learned how to deal with people which is useful in coordinating a community garden which is like being mayor of a small town.

If you could encourage someone else to volunteer, what would you say?
It is very rewarding – pick an activity that suits your interests.

What is one of your favourite volunteering stories?
When I was coordinator at the Hartman Community garden one of the gardeners told me she lived in an apartment close by, was new to the community, had no friends or relatives in Kelowna, and having a garden plot where she interacted with people had changed her life completely.

What does volunteering mean to you?
Volunteering makes me feel useful. Volunteering has led to many friendships.

Gloria Clay (Glory Bee)

Tell us about yourself.
My hometown is Lake Country, and I have lived here for 11 years. Two things most people know about me are I love helping people and I hate being late.

How long have you been a volunteer?
I have been a Volunteer for about 4 years.

Where do you volunteer?
I volunteer around Lake Country and area. I drive folks to doctor appointments, or to hospitals for appointments and sometimes I shop for folks that can’t do it for themselves.

Tell us about your volunteer experience over the past year during COVID 19.
During COVID, it has been very stressful on everyone. When I wasn’t allowed to drive clients, I drove friends. My clients had definitely become friends, and I wasn’t going to leave them stuck without a ride to appointments. They really appreciated that.

Why is volunteering important to you? What motivates you to stay involved?
I LOVE volunteering as it has allowed me to meet SOOOOO many lovely folks and be able to help them as much as I can.

I stay motivated as it keeps me busy and active. As I tell folks, it keeps me from rusting up–I have enough rust already. 😊

What have you learned about yourself and/or about others through volunteering?
I have learned, about myself, that I am very patient. I have learned that others really appreciate the services we are able to provide. It really means a lot to them.

If you could encourage someone else to volunteer, what would you say?
I would tell others, that may be thinking about volunteering, check out what you could offer to others in our community. Maybe you could help someone with a few repairs around their place. Maybe you could do some shovelling in the Winter, or use a snowplow to clear some driveways.

Maybe spend a few hours visiting, playing cards, or reading to someone who can’t see the words to read their favorite author. Or, maybe, like me, you enjoy driving and would love to be able to go for a lovely drive with someone that is in need of keeping an appointment.

Find your niche and follow through–you won’t regret it. Sooner or later, we are all going to need someone to help us. And if we can make friends that way, more power to us all.

What is one of your favourite volunteering stories?
Just one of my favorite volunteering stories is a beautiful lady I met, and the first time I was running late!! I apologized and took her to the appointment. She was quite perturbed.

I thought, “Oh, Dear!! She won’t want me to drive her again!!”. I did drive her…. again and again, and she is such a lovely lady. She loves that we are both Leo’s and we get along very well.

If it hadn’t been for volunteering, I wouldn’t have this lovely woman.

What does volunteering mean to you?
Volunteering, for me, IS fun and it helps me fill my days with lots of great memories. I have met folks that moved here as young brides, lived on an acreage, that was in the country. But now, they live at the edge of a subdivision, and have many stories to tell.

Volunteering DOES improve my well-being and makes me REALLY appreciate living in the Okanagan. As many times as I had driven through this area, I NEVER dreamt I would be retired here, and living the dream I am.

Thank you for the great opportunity to be a part of this beautiful service we provide folks. I REALLY appreciate it.

Jill Frances Siebert

Tell us about yourself.
I have been in the Central Okanagan since 1948; I moved here from England. I myself was adopted into a family with 5 boys then me and then there was 1 more boy after me.

I love to have my kids around me. I have 4 sons, 10 grandchildren and 7 great grandchildren. Boys prevail in my family. I am very fortunate that they all live nearby in the Okanagan

Overall I like to be active.

How long have you been a volunteer?
Almost 40 years, the Y is my second home.

The Y taught me how to swim ~ when I first came in I was deathly afraid of water so I came over and two girls got me over the fear and taught me how to swim.

Where do you volunteer?
I volunteer at the YMCA of Okanagan.

Tell us about your volunteer experience over the past year during COVID 19.
I wasn’t able to do what I really enjoy as I cannot work with the children and teach the children in Aquatics so I am helping in the office!

Why is volunteering important to you? What motivates you to stay involved?
I volunteer as I like to be needed, I feel I am contributing to everything all around regardless of what it is. I love being around people and it gets me out!

What have you learned about yourself and/or about others through volunteering?
You get to meet different kinds of people; some you stay friends with forever and that is so big and deep and you cannot get that anywhere else.

If you could encourage someone else to volunteer, what would you say?
Go for it! You get more out of it than you would ever imagine

What is one of your favourite volunteering stories?
Comradery and the times we have been able to get together, I miss that. I am always delighted to be with everyone when I volunteer!

What does volunteering mean to you?
I feel fulfilled; the fact that when I get up I know I am needed and respected, it is so nice to have that feeling that someplace needs me!

Shonu Ghosh

Tell us about yourself.
I was born in Chandpur (Bangladesh), grew up in Kolkata (India), lived and married in Mumbai (India) and lived in Toronto (1975-2004) and I’ve been in Kelowna since 2004.

How long have you been a volunteer?
All my life.

Where do you volunteer?
Kelowna Centennial Ambassador – 2005, Sun Pointe, David Lloyd Jones, KGH, Taste of Home, Rotary Club, Kelowna JCs, and many other places.

Tell us about your volunteer experience over the past year during COVID 19.
I have been taking cooked food over to cheer up people. To date, I have delivered over 30 cooked “Butter Chicken”.

Why is volunteering important to you? What motivates you to stay involved?
It has been such a blessing for us when we give. It comes back manyfold to us. We came to Canada with not even money to go from the airport to the city. Unknown people have befriended us, given to us, and blessed us in every possible way. I HAVE TO GIVE BACK. I must! That is what I have learned from childhood.

What have you learned about yourself and/or about others through volunteering?
How much I love “Volunteering”, how much joy and happiness I can bring to others and that leads to a sense of enduring fulfillment in my own being.

If you could encourage someone else to volunteer, what would you say?
Just try it once and you won’t be able to stop.

What is one of your favourite volunteering stories?
I used to take an elderly lady shopping weekly. After almost two years she did not even bother to know my name. I was Mr Su. She would not talk to my wife. I was “Her” Mr Su. When she had an accident, she did not want her children to be notified, only Mr Su to be contacted and nobody else. Unfortunately, the RCMP did not know how to contact me. Once, I was taking her shopping, we got out of her apartment, she walked ahead of me, and opened an RCMP cruiser and plopped herself inside. I had a lot of explaining to do.

What does volunteering mean to you?
Volunteering is like COVID 19, infectious!

Suzie Docherty

What does meaningful work look like for you?
Through our partnership with Capital News, we have been sharing stories about wonderful people 55+ that are adding meaning and impact to their lives through volunteerism. Suzie Docherty is someone who did just that and then landed a job that is personally fulfilling, allows her to make a huge impact and pays her at the same time.

Having served as the Volunteer Manager for the Central Okanagan Salvation Army for five years, Suzie was one of the volunteer facilitators for KCR’s Overview of Volunteer Management workshops, helping to build capacity in the sector and to nourish Volunteer Managers in their role. Through this, she fueled her passion for coaching and facilitation and is now bringing all of these skills to her role as an Employment Counsellor with the Employment Services Team at KCR. Suzie’s specialty is working with mature adults and is the lead facilitator for Options 55+. This free programs offers mature adults who are looking to add meaningful work to their lives by exploring their passions, developing their skills and boosting their confidence.

“Our program helps participants find meaning, direction and confidence,” says Suzie Docherty. “I always say, ‘Who you are makes a difference’ and I love seeing people discover this light inside of themselves.”

The four-week program includes workshops and one-on-one coaching, plus access to support tools like the weekly Job Club, online resources and an empathetic coach and cheerleader to support you through the job search journey. Topics covered in the workshops include:

  • Week 1: Know Your Worth & Own Your Worth
  • Week 2: Exploring Work Options
  • Week 3: Job Search Tools Best Practices
  • Week 4: Nailing the Interview

Participants will gain insight into a diverse and changing job market, explore second career options, and discover opportunities in a totally new sector.

“Life and work skills really mean something and you can give back with them,” explains Suzie. “Participants get to connect for themselves how they can leverage their skills and experiences as mature adults and sell those highly desirable attributes to potential employers.”

To find out more about the Options 55+ program and how you can access it, contact Suzie at ac.rcknull@eizus. The next session starts soon, so don’t delay.

Sheila Fergusson

Tell us about yourself.
I was born and raised in Regina, lived in Calgary and have been in Kelowna since 1988. I can sew and play the piano.

How long have you been a volunteer?
I started volunteering with Girl Guides when I was in my 20’s

Where do you volunteer?
I have been in various positions with Girl Guides – leader of units with girls at various levels, administrative positions of Treasurer and Commissioner, and now Co-Chair of one of our camps. I have also helped to organize and run events and camps, teaching activities and songs. I have also been involved with the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) in the last few years. We raise funds for the betterment of girls and women and our communities with an emphasis on ensuring access to education. I have helped with the Education Committee for the last year, deciding how to allocate money for awards.

Tell us about your volunteer experience over the past year during COVID 19.
Girl Guides has been mostly unable to use our camp so I have not done much in regard to that, aside from some administrative functions that can be done online. The Girl Guide District I belong to held an activity over Zoom for Thinking Day (an annual event to remember our founders) where we had a “campfire” sing-along. I was on the planning committee and led some songs, all over Zoom. I also sometimes sing with a group of Guiding members who get together over Zoom – that is mostly for our own enjoyment, but it helps us learn new songs. CFUW meetings including the Education Committee have all been virtual.

Why is volunteering important to you? What motivates you to stay involved?
I am rewarded knowing that Girl Guides has a significant impact on the growth and character of girls, building strong women. CFUW furthers my commitment to the wellbeing of women and our community in their works. In both organizations, I have met amazing intelligent, active women who are very friendly and supportive. Lifelong friends!

What have you learned about yourself and/or about others through volunteering?
There is literally nothing a Girl Guide leader would not do for a friend in need. In both organizations, I see the power of women, together, in making changes for the improvement of our society. For myself, I have been challenged to learn many new skills and stretch outside my comfort zone along the way. Volunteering makes me truly feel a part of my community.

If you could encourage someone else to volunteer, what would you say?
Helping others enriches your life and connects you to many others

What is one of your favourite volunteering stories?
We have various recognition awards in Girl Guides. I was honoured to receive a Merit award, which means a lot in terms of recognition by my co-Guiders. It means I have made a difference.

What does volunteering mean to you?
Volunteering brings meaning to my life.

Jeff Stewart

Tell us about yourself.
My home town is Ottawa, Ontario but I have lived in Charlottetown, PEI, Lethbridge, AB, and Edmonton, AB before moving to Kelowna in 2019. Two things people don’t know about me besides enjoying volunteering at the H2O are my passion for insects and for cooking (but not cooking bugs).

How long have you been a volunteer?
I have been volunteering at the YMCA H2O since December 2019.

Where do you volunteer?
I volunteer as a spin instructor at the H2O here in Kelowna as well as a server in the Bistro at the Kelowna General Hospital.

Tell us about your volunteer experience over the past year during COVID 19.
Covid has presented some challenges. My last in-person spin class was in 2020. I miss the face-to-face interactions with people but understand that this is necessary during Covid. Since the last in-person class, virtual spin classes have been held. This involves live streaming and recording spin classes every Thursday morning. Thank you to Jennifer Bulcock and Nathan Baker at the H2O for making these classes possible. Also, thank you to the people who join the class each week. Their efforts and participation are greatly appreciated.

Why is volunteering important to you? What motivates you to stay involved?
Volunteering is win-win. As a volunteer, I have the chance to give back to the community and stay active.

I took spin and other classes at the YMCA in Edmonton for years before realizing that these classes were led by volunteers. The dedication and enthusiasm they showed is what I hope to bring to my classes.

What have you learned about yourself and/or about others through volunteering?
You are never too old to learn something new. I became a spin instructor at 64 years of age. What I have learned through others is that volunteering is a team effort. There is a sense of community and support out there.

If you could encourage someone else to volunteer, what would you say?
Volunteering is so rewarding. Do what you can. Whether it is one morning a week, less than that, or more. Every little bit helps. You will get way more back than you give.

What is one of your favourite volunteering stories?
I am all thumbs when it comes to technology. There always seems to be something unplugged or not activated to run the live stream for the classes each week. The music drives the pace. When the music was lost, a participant asked me to sing. It did not go well!

What does volunteering mean to you?
Volunteering gives me a sense of purpose, the chance to meet new people, and to stay active.

Jeanette Mergens

Tell us about yourself.
I came to Kelowna in the summer of 1971, so I’ve been here 49.5 years. I have a heritage home on Abbott Street that I have lived in for 41 years. I received the Governor General’s Award for Volunteerism in 2018. I grew up on a farm in Dawson Creek. My first involvement with volunteering was with the 4HClub.

How long have you been a volunteer?
Since I was 12 years old.

Where do you volunteer?
I have and am still volunteering in clubs and organizations (Rotary, CFUW, CORTA, BCTF, BC Interior Jazz Festival), to raise money for causes during my school years, in campaigning to raise money to build buildings at universities, to raise money for cancer, the Red Cross, The Kidney Foundation, Heart & Stroke.

Tell us about your volunteer experience over the past year during COVID 19.
I am sitting on the Boards of 3 organizations where we meet on ZOOM. I am a member of COPAWS, gathering information for future actions. I participated in Coldest Night of the Year, and of course, Volunteer55.

Why is volunteering important to you? What motivates you to stay involved?
I want to make the world a better, more equitable place for all our future generations.

What have you learned about yourself and/or about others through volunteering?
I am not easily discouraged. I look at change-making as a long term process.

If you could encourage someone else to volunteer, what would you say?
Volunteering enriches your life.

What does volunteering mean to you?
Volunteering keeps me actively involved in my community.

Jane Linden

Tell us about yourself.
Born in Victoria, lived in Langley for 30 years, lived in West Kelowna for the past 4 years, retired from healthcare.

How long have you been a volunteer?
Many years over my life.

Where do you volunteer?
Foodbank, Gospel Mission, Teen Challenge men’s addiction shelter, Trinity Church, Helens Acres farm

Tell us about your volunteer experience over the past year during COVID 19.
Have still been volunteering, got my vaccination early due to volunteering, things have changed a bit but I am still enjoying it all.

Why is volunteering important to you? What motivates you to stay involved?
Giving back to the community.

What have you learned about yourself and/or about others through volunteering?
I meet a lot of good people, I enjoy being busy and productive.

If you could encourage someone else to volunteer, what would you say?
There are so many great benefits, occasionally you get free lunches, tickets to events, and get to serve at events (when there is no pandemic).

What is one of your favourite volunteering stories?
So many grateful people appreciate what you do.

What does volunteering mean to you?
Improves my well being, keeps me active in the community, is enjoyable, keeps me fit.

Enid J. Bradley

Tell us about yourself.
Kelowna is my hometown, although my working career took place in Alberta. The one thing most people are surprised to learn about me is that I have practiced yoga for over 40 years and have taught for 20+ years.  Apparently, I don’t look like the typical yogi – whatever that is!!

How long have you been a volunteer?
2.5 years

Where do you volunteer?
Kelowna Downtown YMCA.  I teach traditional beginner/intermediate yoga to adult students ranging in age from 30s-80s, and also teach chair yoga to predominantly students over 55 years of age.  Throughout the years of yoga practice and classes, my yoga teachers focused on working with the body to get the most out of it and to help stay healthy and fit – it was never about pushing oneself to the limits to achieve the perfect pose.  My teachings reflect this same philosophy as the style of yoga I teach is not about how far you can stretch or how long you can hold a pose, but instead of being conscious of how a pose can help you no matter how well you perform the activity. I like to think of it as “feel good” yoga and hope that everyone feels this way when they leave one of my classes.

Tell us about your volunteer experience over the past year during COVID 19.
It has been an interesting journey this past 12+ months. I started 2020 teaching two yoga classes per week – one beginner/intermediate traditional yoga class and one chair yoga class.  All classes were cancelled in mid-March 2020, and when the Y eventually opened again to members any/all classes were being taught by Y staff vs. volunteers.  

I was able to restart chair yoga classes in October 2020, but those ended again in November with the increased pandemic restrictions.  Traditional yoga classes were/are being taught by Y staff.  

I returned to the Downtown Y in mid-January 2021 to teach chair yoga, however, the classes were reduced to 5 in-person students and online attendance optional for other members.  I continue to teach chair yoga and look forward to the time when in-person traditional yoga classes will begin again with volunteer instructors.

Why is volunteering important to you? What motivates you to stay involved?
When I think about what is important and motivates me to continue volunteer teaching yoga, I smile at the satisfaction and joy I get from being able to share with others what I have learned about yoga; I get to practice and teach in a wonderful setting; have the best students in a class that you could ever have as they are there because they want to be; and the friends and camaraderie that exists between the Y members and staff.  There is no downside to volunteering in my case.

I feel so fortunate the Y allows me to teach yoga to their members as there are many great yoga teachers in Kelowna to choose from, and I’m lucky they include me in their family of volunteers.

What have you learned about yourself and/or about others through volunteering?
The location of the Downtown Y is very unique and many members live within a small radius of it.  You often encounter members walking in the parks, downtown streets, etc., and most of the time they offer a greeting even if they don’t know your name but know you from the Y.  The Downtown Y community stretches beyond the doors of the facility, and I look forward to the day when they can host their monthly coffee sessions for members as these were great occasions to meet new members and make new friends.  I have had the great opportunity of meeting new people that have grown into friendships outside of the Y, and I’m unsure if this would have been possible without the Y being the common denominator.

If you could encourage someone else to volunteer, what would you say?
Find something you have been or would like to be passionate about and how you would use it to help others; that way volunteering is never a struggle. You will always be rewarded for your efforts as demonstrated in the response from the people you encounter or from your own continuous growth in what you learn throughout the journey.

What does volunteering mean to you?
Volunteering opens up the world to me at a time in my life when I have the opportunity to investigate places where I would like to be and share with others whatever of my skills and knowledge they need.

Sharon Shepherd

Tell us about yourself.
I was born and raised in Revelstoke, BC, attended UBC and graduated with a Pharmacy degree. My husband and I moved to Kelowna in 1977 where he was a physician in General Practice until December 31, 2020. We have a son and daughter (two grandchildren) who returned to Kelowna after they completed university. I was a city councillor in Kelowna for 9 years (three terms) and Mayor of Kelowna for 6 years (two terms) and was a medical office manager for over 40 years. What most people may not know is that my husband Michael and I started going together when we were 15 and we are celebrating our 49th wedding anniversary this year. I am also an Honorary Fellow for Okanagan College. If anyone knew me in politics they may not have realized that I also managed the medical office. I play tennis, snow ski, ride mountain and road bikes, love gardening, watercolour painting and am learning genealogy. My husband and I love being a Nana and Papa to our grandchildren and try to attend events they are now involved in. 

How long have you been a volunteer?
I have been a volunteer since high school. I was involved in school parent groups and neighbourhood associations and sport team managements for many years prior to politics. 

Where do you volunteer?
I am a volunteer presently with the following: Poverty and Wellness Strategy for the Central Okanagan Leadership committee, ETSI-BC (Economic Trust of the Southern Interior) provincial appointee, Sports Hall of Fame, CFUW-Kelowna (Canadian Federation of University Women) advocacy committee, East meets West Board, Wild Things board, December 6 vigil, and Strata President Bullet Creek, Big White. 

Tell us about your volunteer experience over the past year during COVID 19.
I have stayed connected with the many volunteer activities I was involved in and through Zoom meetings continue to be involved. 

Why is volunteering important to you? What motivates you to stay involved?
Volunteering is important as I love to be involved and it is a way of giving back. My parents were volunteers and my mum at 88 still participates in a number of organizations. I feel that as a volunteer I can contribute my skills and knowledge and desire to “making a difference”. 

What have you learned about yourself and/or about others through volunteering?
It has been an opportunity to meet new people that have similar interests and passion in the organizations I am involved in. I have learned that there are not enough hours in a day to commit to making our community a better place to live and work in. 

If you could encourage someone else to volunteer, what would you say?
It is important to be interested in a cause to become a volunteer, but the time and effort it takes to make a difference can be as little or as much as one can dedicate. The rewards will be amazing.

What is one of your favourite volunteering stories?
I was a volunteer president many years ago with the former KSS parent advisory council and my son when he was in high school loved that I was there so much as he could find me to borrow money. My daughter (who was younger) thought I was there too much and didn’t like that I therefore always knew what was going on!

A serious story was about helping organize the December 6 vigil (women that were murdered in Montreal) where we always named and had candles for the women from our Okanagan community that had been murdered as well as recognizing the Missing and Murdered Indigeous Women. A number of years ago this event was held and there were still a group of committed volunteers and supporters that arrived for the event held behind Parkinson Recreation Centre and it turned out to be the “coldest” night of the winter. It reminded all of us that to be challenged by the cold for a few hours was very minimal to bear in contrast to what the families have had to endure because of the deaths of the women. This is one area that I still believe I want to do more – we have some bios and information on many of the women but I would like to see a “celebration” of their lives. I am working with the art gallery for a possible event in the future. 

What does volunteering mean to you?
Volunteering is worthwhile. is important. is rewarding.


Dennis La Hue

Tell us about yourself.
My hometown is Robson, BC. I have been in the Central Okanagan for 4 years. I was previously in Kitimat BC for 19 years. I was in a serious accident and broke my back about 40 years ago. I am a bit of an introvert, I need my quiet alone time to recharge my batteries.

How long have you been a volunteer?
Most of my life (off and on).

Where do you volunteer?
YMCA Okanagan, specifically the Kelowna Family Y in Rutland. I am a YMCA certified fitness instructor. My main classes are “cardio core” and “TRX”, however, I do cover for other classes if another instructor needs coverage. I also mind the gym so all staff can attend staff meetings once a month as well as help out when the gym is at maximum capacity.

Tell us about your volunteer experience over the past year during COVID 19.
Over much of the past year, the cardio component has been removed from all classes and class size has been significantly reduced. The classes I teach have been cancelled for the past 5-6 months. I visit the gym daily either as a participant or volunteer and it gives me an opportunity to visit and interact with my friends in a socially distanced atmosphere.

Why is volunteering important to you? What motivates you to stay involved?
It is a chance to socialize and gives a routine to my life. I feel valued and part of a great team. I get to exercise both my mind and body daily.

What have you learned about yourself and/or about others through volunteering?
I learned to be more relaxed and appreciate all people for who they are.

If you could encourage someone else to volunteer, what would you say?
I would say find something you like and enjoy doing… set your limits and boundaries, and of course, have fun.

What is one of your favourite volunteering stories?
I was minding the gym for a staff meeting. At the staff meeting, the staff were doing a scavenger hunt for one of their activities. They were 1 person short for the scavenger hunt as the manager could not participate because she had developed the activity. She minded the gym while I went on the scavenger hunt. I had a blast, my partner and I kicked butt.

What does volunteering mean to you?
Volunteering for me is fulfilling. It gives me a routine and keeps me socially, intellectually, and physically active.

Teena Gowdy

Tell us about yourself.
I’ve lived in Kelowna for over 35 years. I am getting into acting. I am a songwriter and have written over 100 songs.

How long have you been a volunteer?
About 30 years.

Where do you volunteer?
Mostly through my home church and at Acting and Singing events.

Tell us about your volunteer experience over the past year during COVID 19.
During COVID I volunteered at a drive-in Christmas program, so glad the weather cooperated!

Why is volunteering important to you? What motivates you to stay involved?
It has allowed me to give of myself to my community in a very creative way.

What have you learned about yourself and/or about others through volunteering?
It takes a team to make a difference. We are all connected to each other, for the good of all in reaching a collective goal.

If you could encourage someone else to volunteer, what would you say?
This is an easy way to look past yourself and feel good in the giving, without expecting anything in return, except, “thank you!”

What is one of your favourite volunteering stories?
My first theatre show with Viva Musica, acting and singing on the show @Showboat” at the Community theatre. Also, singing for the Kelowna Rockets at Prospera Place!

What does volunteering mean to you?
Volunteering is satisfying, honouring, gratifying and fulfilling 🙂

Dwight Foster

Tell us about yourself.
I was born in Shilo, Manitoba and grew up in Edmonton, AB. I have been in the Okanagan since Spring 2015 having previously vacationed here when I was a child. Most people don’t know that I am a voice actor and that I lived in Costa Rica four years full time prior to arriving in the Okanagan.

How long have you been a volunteer?
Many years throughout the past 25+

Where do you volunteer?
Presently, with KCR in the Mentorship Program with Kathy Crocker. Prior to this I have volunteered with Habitat for Humanity (Edmonton), the Boys & Girls Club (Edmonton), and United Way (Calgary)

Tell us about your volunteer experience over the past year during COVID 19.
Primarily with KCR in the Mentorship Program. My mentee is a fellow from Brazil who immigrated to Canada with his wife. We enjoy weekly Zoom meetings and have conversations about his work and experiences living in Canada, all of which is to provide an opportunity for him to practice his English and secondary for me to practice Portugese.

Why is volunteering important to you? What motivates you to stay involved?
Helping others achieve goals, develop new habits, relay my own experiences to someone else so they can become informed or benefit in some way.

What have you learned about yourself and/or about others through volunteering?
I have learned to have patience and empathy. I have learned to look at the global perspective of existing on the planet while experiencing life. People in general want to learn about life from someone who may have had experiences that they can relate to and learn from.

If you could encourage someone else to volunteer, what would you say?
Get out of the house and associate with others, relate your knowledge and experiences to others with the chance they may learn or, if nothing else, you will learn from others and the experience.

What is one of your favourite volunteering stories?
Nothing specific, just general experiences. Working with others in different scenarios including Habitat for Humanity, mentorship of immigrants or people within organizations, working with people through Dale Carnegie and helping overcoming fears while building confidence.

What does volunteering mean to you?
Volunteering is a learning experience for you and others. You will learn from the experience by being open minded and participatory. The benefits to yourself include self awareness, boost to well being, and knowing that you are helping someone else.

Cleo Ruffle

Tell us about yourself.
I was born in Trinidad and moved to the UK to pursue my Nursing Career. I immigrated to Canada in 1984 and have lived in the Okanagan since 1990. A resident of Lake Country since 1992

How long have you been a volunteer?
Over the years, since 2012 I have volunteered in different areas in the community.

Where do you volunteer?
Currently, I volunteer with Lake Country Health Planning Society (LCHPS) making phone calls to seniors at home and wherever needed. I am also a volunteer with the LCSHS on the Board of Directors.

Tell us about your volunteer experience over the past year during COVID 19.
Although it has been challenging, keeping in contact with seniors at home, checking on their wellbeing and giving emotional support has been very much appreciated by the people involved. With the LCSHS we meet via Zoom and have regular contact with the facility involved.

Why is volunteering important to you? What motivates you to stay involved?
Volunteering is very important to me, it is a way for me to give back to my community. It’s motivating and rewarding to know I make a difference in someone’s lonely life. My passion has always been helping others. Those contacts are important to the seniors and they look forward to hearing a friendly voice and to laugh.

What have you learned about yourself and/or about others through volunteering?
Although I am a very compassionate person, it taught me more understanding and empathy. Listening to what people have to say is a skill and I know there are more volunteers who feel the same.

If you could encourage someone else to volunteer, what would you say?
If you have the time to volunteer, or set aside some time, there are so many different areas where you can make a difference in someone’s life. A friendly voice, a warm smile goes a long way in a lonely person’s life. There are many ways to volunteer, choose one that is suitable for you, one which brings joy to your heart and fills a void for someone else.

What is one of your favourite volunteering stories?
Oh my! So many. As a volunteer with the Tourism Info office, someone came and asked me for the ferry schedule. I thought they meant Vancouver until it was clear they meant to cross from Kelowna to the Westside.
I love to hear the laughter of the senior I call on a weekly basis, we tell each other nice jokes to hear each other laugh. Laughter is the best medicine. When there is anything sad happening, listening is precious. I was volunteering with a person with Dementia recently, while her spouse participated in an exercise program. Everything I asked her, her answer was “I don’t remember” with a big grin on her face. I came home and wrote a poem about her. Very heart-warming.

What does volunteering mean to you?
Volunteering lights my passion knowing that I can make a difference in someone’s life.

Irene Draper

Tell us about yourself.
My home town is Chatsworth Ontario. I have lived in Kelowna for 24 years. (1979–1989 2007–2021)

How long have you been a volunteer?
Most of my life.

Where do you volunteer?

  • Care team at Mission Creek Alliance Church
  • Spiritual Care team KGH
  • International Students
  • Resettlement of families that are new to Canada

Tell us about your volunteer experience over the past year during COVID 19.
This year has been different because I have not been allowed to visit in the hospital or care homes. However, I have made phone calls and visited in outside areas where and when COVID restrictions allow this. During the summer months we took children to the beach. During the winter we took them sliding when we had snow and skating when there was ice. I was on the schedule to drive them to soccer. We also celebrated all of the birthdays—outside and distancing. I am on a Zoom call each week with some international students.

Why is volunteering important to you? What motivates you to stay involved?
When I was in grade 9 our high school in Chatsworth closed. I had attended that beautiful two-story brick school for 9 years! One teacher taught Grades 1-4, another grade 5-8, then upstairs we had grades 9 and 10 in one room and 11 and 12 in another. We also had a small lab. My Uncle was the high school principal. Suddenly my whole world changed. I rode the bus 15 kilometres to Owen Sound. There was only one person in my homeroom that I knew and we were not always in the same class. After my first day, I arrived home to inform my parents that I was not going back to school. Fortunately, my older sister had not returned to college. She took me to school, arranged for me to switch a couple of my classes, and I survived. For some reason I had a noon-hour class so did not go to the cafeteria at the same time as my friends. I felt so alone eating my sandwiches by myself. I soon began to make new friends but I never forgot the horrible feeling of being an outsider in a world that was unfamiliar to me. I had asked God to help me. I also began to notice anyone who didn’t seem to be fitting in. I would invite newcomers to sit with me and my friends and hang out with us during our break. That experience became a part of who I am. I also believe that God has given me the gift of compassion. I have had the privilege of visiting many countries in our world. Not as a tourist but with an invitation from the people who live there to minister with them.

What have you learned about yourself and/or about others through volunteering?
I have learned that all people from every country of the world need to know that they are appreciated for who they are. Just as I felt frightened and alone when I was out of my comfort zone so does everyone else. When someone reaches out to you as an individual you feel valued. That is the motivation for me to reach out when someone is hurting and let them know that I care and God cares.

If you could encourage someone else to volunteer, what would you say?
The truth is that every time I respond to someone in need of encouragement I end up being encouraged and filled with joy. When I treat others the way I would like to be treated I am blessed beyond measure.

What is one of your favourite volunteering stories?
The trip to the Kangaroo Farm with one family last summer provided many laughs. We also celebrated an October birthday before the second lockdown. It was great fun to be at the Corn Maze with 7 children and their parents. We all wore masks and tried to distance ourselves. The wagon ride behind the tractor was a highlight. Our group was big enough that we were the only ones on that ride. It was heartwarming to find things we could do outside before the second lockdown.

What does volunteering mean to you?
Volunteering is fun. My own grandchildren are all young adults now. Doing things with the children gives me the opportunity to enjoy life through their actions and reactions. Volunteering definitely improves my well-being as the children provide good reasons to tramp around in the snow, go for a swim and laugh at their antics. Also when I take some of my friends who no longer have a car to sit by the lake or pick up a coffee I enjoy the experience as much as they do. Volunteering makes me get going in the mornings when I could be quite content to read or just relax in my nice comfortable condo.

*Interview edited for clarity*

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