Photo by Chung Chow
Julie Halfnights supposedly ‘retired’ four years ago.
But that’s clearly a misnomer.
The longtime Richmond community activist is as busy as ever volunteering, and generally trying to make the world a better place.
Halfnights’ reputation is both well-earned and deeply-rooted.
Her parents, both immigrants to Canada in 1955, faithfully gave of their time upon settling in Chilliwack. It was a lifelong commitment until their health failed. Working in the service of others was one of Halfnights’ first and most vivid memories of her parents.
“The earliest memory I have is of serving tea from a silver tea service with my other at some sort of social,” she says. “It might have been for our church, the Chilliwack Arts Council or the Chilliwack Hospital Auxiliary, all of which my mother was involved in when I was four or five.”
Rob Howard, himself a well-known and respected community activist, has known Halfnights for close to 20 years—since he served as a Richmond city councillor in the 2000s and later as an MLA in the provincial government.
“I happened to be the council liaison to the Thompson Community Centre and got to see her in action there,” he says. “She did a fantastic job keeping the board energized, coming up with new ideas, and bringing people along—often young people. Every good organization and leader has a succession plan.”
Howard also appreciates Halfnights’ unwavering dedication to whatever task she’s taken on.
“She’s done a remarkable job over many, many years at being actively involved in the community,” he says. “And she’s not one to just dabble. She’s always been fully-committed and passionate, someone who inspires others with the same desire to get things done. She’s results-oriented.”
Both Halfnights’ parents were members of numerous community groups. Her mom volunteered with the Chilliwack Community Services, Cheam Figure Skating Club and the city’s centennial celebrations, while her dad was an auxiliary police officer for decades and active in local politics volunteering on behalf of several MLAs and MPs.
“He was also the guy who would go help anyone who needed it,” Halfnights remembers with fondness. “We shouldn’t discount informal volunteers who give their time and talents outside of formal experiences. I was taught—and it was modelled for me—that those who are able, should dedicate at least some of their time to helping those who cannot help themselves.”
An active child, Halfnights became very involved in her high school serving on student council, athletic council, as a basketball coach, a tutor for local Indigenous children and as a high school rep to the local Miles for Millions Walk, a sponsor-based fundraiser for safe water supply in developing countries. She later volunteered while at BCIT, a practice that continued after her children were born and now that they are grown.
While there are of course many reasons people choose to volunteer, Halfnights says there are many services that directly depend upon volunteers. Meals on Wheels, sports coaches, RAPS pet services and drivers for cancer patients immediately come to mind, as to those who visit invalids. There are also causes and issues, she says, that need people to speak up in order that changes are made.
“Environmental issues are at the forefront now, but civil rights, free speech, voting rights for women and minorities and equality for women are causes that only saw movement via volunteers,” she says. “I supported those who proposed the temporary modular housing in my neighbourhood because I see people without housing most days.”
As part of the modular housinggroup’s community advisory committee, Halfnights sees services like grants and scholarships, and how they make huge differences in the lives of Richmond citizens.
At Thompson Community Centre, where Halfnights is a longtime member and has served in many capacities including at present as a director, she and colleagues saw—and responded—to the need for English-as-a-Second-Language pre-school 30 years ago. Through their efforts, adapted fitness for people with disabilities was started 15 years ago, and for the Mother Goose parent-child bonding programs more recently.
She likens Thompson Community Centre to a second home, pleased that her work there benefits people daily. She feels “incredibly fortunate” to have physical reminders of her involvement in the new Thompson Community Centre, Blair Elementary and Burnett Secondary, having sat on building committees for all three in the 1990s.
Apart from what she can do for others through volunteering, Halfnights says it allows her to meet and get to know people from a broad range of backgrounds and cultures. And it keeps her mind nimble.
“I enjoy it. I get satisfaction out of most of what I do and I constantly learn new things,” she says. “I’ve built a toolkit of skills as a result of volunteering and met many incredible leaders from whom I’ve learned so much.”
Halfnights encourages everyone to volunteer.
“Pursue a heartfelt objective, or challenge yourself with something you’d like to learn,” she says. “And know that you can make a difference in just an hour or two.”
Just like Julie Halfnights.