Al French disembarked. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance)

COLUMN: Longtime volunteers reveal why they give their time

From Girl Guides to plane pilots, volunteers make the world a better place

by Ursula Maxwell-Lewis

Cloverdale Reporter

When I canvassed friends for volunteer stories, their wealth of experiences delighted me. This is the second column on the topic. I hope they inspire you to find your community volunteering niche, too.

Okanagan resident Florida Ann Town first began volunteering as Girl Guide leader. She went on to volunteer in schools as a reader, to help stimulate an interest in reading in elementary school children, and now volunteers at her local hospital.

“Why do I volunteer? It’s a very selfish reason,” confessed Town. “It’s a great way to meet people who are interested in the same things that interest me. All my volunteer activities reflect, in one way or another, one of my interests. I volunteer for sporting events, literary events, community events — and of course, for anything family members are involved in.”

Salmon Arm writer and teacher Shawn Bird was introduced to Rotary International as young Rotary exchange student.

Now a 13-year Rotary member in her second round as Shuswap Rotary Club President, Bird said, “I was attracted to the purpose of building bridges between people and big service opportunities — such as eradicating polio from the planet — as well as the fun and fellowship of people in different professions.”

“Good deed training starts early,” said Bird, who, during her teenage years, amassed a whopping 700 hours as a hospital volunteer.

Toronto-based writer Doug O’Neill wrote to tell me that currently his main volunteer commitment is to Canada’s largest land trust and largest hiking club, the Bruce Trail Conservancy.

Volunteering for the Bruce Trail, which protects hiking land from developers, is O’Neill’s opportunity to connect with, and indulge in, his passionate commitment to the environment.

“When I’m immersed in nature I connect with another important part of myself that I don’t get to engage in with my day-to-day life,” he explained. “I get all that by volunteering with the Bruce Trail, whether it’s trail maintenance on a Saturday, initiating new hikers into the outdoors, or leading hikes through nature.”

Retired Langley Air Canada Captain Al French became involved with the Canadian Museum of Flight as a volunteer during the Vimy Flight project. The goal was to build vintage biplanes — two Sopwith Pups and an SE5A – for the 2017 Vimy Ridge Centennial Commemoration Ceremonies in France.

The goal was accomplished and is recorded for posterity on CMOF webpage at

“The intensity and dedication of my fellow Canadian Museum of Flight workers to that project was inspiring, and my commitment to the museum soon became much more,” said French. “We are a collection of mostly retired guys and gals who have a passion for aviation and the preservation of heritage. Our backgrounds are varied — pilots, aviation maintenance specialists, mechanics, jacks of all trades. We enjoy learning from each other, trading stories, and keeping history alive. It’s interesting fulfilling, and fun.”

These are just samples of the wealth of stories my contacts shared. Please join me in thanking all those who make our communities better places by volunteering.

Ursula Maxwell-Lewis is the founder of the Cloverdale Reporter. She can be reached at

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