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Richmond recognizes its star volunteers at Pacific Gateway Hotel

Don Fennell   Apr-15-2019

John Watson was recognized for his volunteer work, which began in 1981.

Photo courtesy Richmond Cares, Richmond Gives


The stars came out in Richmond on Tuesday night last week.

Real stars. As in volunteers.

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“Everyone knows volunteers makes our community a great place to live, work and play,” says Ed Gavsie, president and chief executive officer of Richmond Cares, Richmond Gives, which presented the annual Volunteers are Stars gala at the Pacific Gateway Hotel.

“Without their contributions, we (simply) wouldn’t be able to get as much accomplished.”

Whether it’s volunteering for two hours a week, two hours a month or 1,000 hours a year, every volunteer is equally important, says Gavsie. Whatever the passion, their gift of time has infinite value.

“Whether it’s for the cancer society, (youth) sports, or your church, we (as a society) need and appreciate you,” he says. “And in National Volunteer Week, it’s so important to recognize this.”

Richmond Cares, Richmond Gives brought back the Volunteers Are Stars Awards in 2018 to recognize and celebrate the community’s many amazing and inspiring individuals. Words can’t illustrate enough the dedication and passion they bring to their roles in making a positive difference.

It’s particularly encouraging to see the many local youth who are stepping forward.

“The earlier we can instill these values, and for these youth to pass these values to others, the better,” says Gavsie. “When I speak to youth groups or classes on volunteerism, I always get people coming at the end and asking ‘How can I get involved?’”

Recognized with the Shooting Star Award, this year’s honoured youth were Jason Pang and Amy Ho.

Presented his award by Larry Thompson, president of the Richmond Sunrise Rotary Club, and honouring youth volunteers under the age of 25, Pang was lauded for being at the forefront of green initiatives in Richmond and beyond. In 2016, Pang co-founded the Plastic Connection, a youth-led project that aims to educate not only British Columbians but people across the planet about using and disposing of sustainable plastic.

Since 2015, Pang has been a team leader with the city’s Green Ambassadors, made up of local high school students who organize a variety of environmental initiatives including the annual Earth Day Youth (REaDY) Summit.

Beyond his work as an environmental advocate, Pang also volunteers with St. John Ambulance’s Cadet Program, and as a director of administration for Youth Achieving Success, a non-profit organization that helps high school students better understand their career options and develop professional contacts.

Ho is a crisis line volunteer at Chimo Community Services, responding to calls from people in distress. Over hundreds of calls, she’s managed to create a safe space for clients to talk freely while listening without judgment while demonstrating empathy to all.

In 2017, because of her strong character and exceptional communication skills, she was chosen by Chimo to become a group leader and coach.

Ho also volunteers with St. John Ambulance where she is the division superintendent.

Richmond Better at Home Volunteer Drivers, Richmond RCMP Community Police Office Volunteers and Thompson Community Association Children’s Committee shared this year’s Constellation Award. Presented by Yolanda Chao (Chao’s Generation) and McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada, the award honours volunteer groups for their community contributions.

Presented by Rebecca Swaim, a director at Trinity Western University, the Nova Star Award honours individual volunteers for their service and contributions to the community. There were two recipients this year: Howard Smythe and Steward Siy.

Smythe has been a mainstay in helping Richmond gain a reputation for hosting world-class events over the past year—from the 2010 Olympics to Ships to Shore and the Richmond World Festival. Despite moving to Surrey last year, he remains a committed Richmond volunteer.

A volunteer basketball coach at A.R. MacNeill Secondary, Siy’s commitment to the school, his players and fellow coaches is legendary. He spends countless hours at the gym going over game film, planning drills and doing anything he can to support his players. Siy also co-founded MacHoops, a club team where students can continue playing in the off-season.

Despina Williams, vice-president at the Dupuis Langen Group, presented the Star of Richmond Award to longtime volunteer John Watson.

On the lookout for new volunteer opportunities—his term on the Gateway Theatre board ends this year—Watson has lived in Greater Vancouver for 80 years and spent the last 50 of those in Richmond, where he’s amassed a monumental list of accomplishments.

He began volunteering in 1981 as a board member at Richmond Public Library and in 1982 helped spearhead construction of a performing arts and theatre venue (Gateway Theatre). In 1987 he turned his attention to another new project, chairing the expansion of the library and cultural centre at Minoru Pavilion. From 1990 to 2011, he was appointed a founding director of the new, non-profit Vancouver Airport Authority and upon “retiring” from that position joined the YVR Green Coat (airport greeters) team. He’s been there ever since.

Richmond is fortunate to be a community that embraces, and recognizes the importance of volunteerism. City council in 2018 endorsed the Volunteer Management Strategy that focuses on supporting volunteers in their development and achievement of their personal goals, as well as further supporting city, partner and affiliate staff who work closely with volunteers.

“We need leaders, volunteers,” says Gavsie. “This is not going to disappear any time soon. Therefore, we need to make sure we constantly recognize people giving back.”


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