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Fort Macleod volunteers give a little, receive a lot

Esther Bond and her sister Olivia pick up garbage near the Town of Fort Macleod billboard. The girls joined other volunteers for the annual community clean-up.

Esther Bond and her sister Olivia pick up garbage near the Town of Fort Macleod billboard. The girls joined other volunteers for the annual community clean-up.

Fort Macleod volunteers have a dirty little secret.
They get as much or more out of volunteering than the community receives from their good work.
“It just makes me feel good,” Linda Ripley, Fort Macleod’s 2015 Citizen of the Year, said with a laugh. “I enjoy it. It makes my life better — I feel happy. You feel like you’ve accomplished something made the community a better place.”
Fort Macleod paid tribute to its volunteers during National Volunteer Week with an event at the Empress Theatre.
Today’s volunteers had role models when they were young and are involved in causes about which they are passionate.
Ripley cited as role models her parents, who were always willing to help a neighbour, and her husband Bob.
“They were always active in their community,” Ripley said. “It was the right thing to do.”
Ripley first started volunteering as a canvasser for the Canadian Cancer Society at the age of 27 after her mother died of cancer.
“That just sort of started the ball rolling,” Ripley said. “And then, of course, when you’ve got kids in school you volunteer for school activities. It goes along with life.”
For people who would like to volunteer, Ripley said a good start is with an organization in which they are already involved or interested, such as church, school, sports or the arts.
“It gets you out and you meet people and you find other ways to participate in the community,” Ripley said. “Then you feel a part of the place. Sometimes you hear people say there’s nothing to do in a little town. Well there’s a ton of stuff to do, you’ve just got to get out there.”
At present, Ripley volunteers with the Fort Macleod Handibus Society, the community garden and Meals On Wheels.
“It’s a big reward,” Ripley said of volunteering. “Anything that you give comes back to you tenfold.”
Conrad Van Hierden, who was named Citizen of the Year in 2014, started volunteering with school groups when he was a student.
“It was always something, you wanted to help others and reach out,” Van Hierden said. “Being outgoing like I am, you just get involved in things.”
“It’s not like you can’t say no, but you see the good people are doing and if you can give a little bit it makes their workload easier.”
Helping others will always result in getting the help you need for a volunteer project.
“It always comes back to you,” Van Hierden said. “It’s a reciprocal thing — people will help you with some volunteering.”
Van Hierden, his wife Rhonda and their family organize the A-T Walk for a Cure, which has raised well over $1-million to fund research into treatment or a cure for a rare genetic disease that attacks children.
The A-T Walk requires lots of volunteer support, so Conrad Van Hierden is quick to get involved in other volunteer work in the community.
Van Hierden started Rural Crime Watch, volunteers with the Fort Macleod Crime Prevention Action Committee, the Duke of Edinburgh Award program and other causes.
“Volunteering does something to a person too. It gives them a feeling of self worth and helps them to be able to reach out and communicate with others and expand their horizons.”
Through volunteering, people build lasting friendships and relationships
Like Ripley, Van Hierden encourages people to serve the community in a volunteer capacity.
People should find a cause they believe in, and provide support best suited to their individual skills. For Van Hierden, that means getting involved in local causes.
“At the end of the day, you feel that you have accomplished something.”
Ronda Reach, who was the 2016 Citizen of the Year in Fort Macleod, learned the importance of volunteering at a young age.
She saw her parents Frank and Louella Ducharme serve in volunteer capacities and had that philosophy reinforced in youth groups she was involved in, such as Brownies and Job’s Daughters.
Later, Reach held volunteer roles in connection to baseball or hockey or whatever activity her children were doing.
“I think mostly I can’t help myself,” Reach said with a laugh, about volunteering. “I think it is something that was instilled from a very young age.”
Reach said anyone can volunteer by using their own skills and experience to make a difference in Fort Macleod.
“It sounds so cliche, but it’s about giving back to your community. You take care of the people and the place you live in”
Reach is drawn to personal causes — such as the environment and food security — for some of her volunteer work. A new interest is as a board member with the Community Foundation of Lethbridge and Southwest Alberta.
In addition to knowing she has helped the community by volunteering, Reach counts friendships and personal development among her rewards.
“As much as you think you have to offer, there is always more to learn,” Reach said.
Sharon Monical was Citizen of the Year in Fort Macleod in 2012, but her volunteer work started much earlier.
Monical learned of the importance of serving the community as a youthful member of groups such as Explorers and Canadian girls In Training (CGIT).
“Part of our thing through CGIT was to volunteer and show appreciation for what other people did for you,” Monical said.
Monical’s father was also an active volunteer through the Elks, Granum Fire Department and other groups.
Later, as a parent, Monical was conscripted as a volunteer for groups in which sons Beau and Dusty were involved, such as hockey, baseball and Cubs.
“That’s just part of what you do,” Monical said. “Your children are involved in things so you become part of them.”
In addition to those youth programs, over the years Monical has volunteered for many organizations including the Santa Claus Parade committee, the Chamber of Commerce and the Empress Theatre Society, the playground committee and served four terms on town council.
“It’s being part of the community, You feel like you’re helping the town grow and prosper, and it makes you feel good to get out and help.”
All volunteerism is important, Monical said, no matter how small a part a person plays.
Like the other former Citizens of the Year, Monical has realized personal rewards from volunteering.
“I find that I have met so many new people,” Monical said. “It’s a social thing. I find it a way of getting involved in things.”

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