Here's to volunteers - making life better for all

'I really don't think that the average person understands the scope of how much volunteering impacts the community and of course individuals'

They're unpaid, often under-appreciated and the backbone of a healthy community. Without volunteers, life would be less joyful for everyone - poor and wealthy alike.

Their work can be arduous, emotionally taxing and time consuming, but just about every one of them says it's more rewarding for them than for those they help.

Today is the beginning of National Volunteer Week, a time to recognize and celebrate invaluable charitable efforts across Canada. Kamloops is blessed to have a whole lot of people to thank.

"I really don't think that the average person understands the scope of how much volunteering impacts the community and of course individuals," said Robert McKinnon, Volunteer Kamloops co-ordinator.

"I certainly didn't when I started here. Now that I'm into it, I'm like 'Oh my goodness!' It's just incredible."

The City of Kamloops is celebrating local volunteers with an appreciation barbecue at Interior Savings Centre Plaza at 11:30 a.m. on Friday.

And from the thousands giving of their time and compassion, the City has once again compiled a list of individuals deserving accolades with Distinguished Service Awards.

This year's award recipients include an inspiring and inspired breast cancer fundraiser, a 90-year-old helper of senior citizens, a passionate girl's basketball coach, a Juniper Ridge children's literacy champion, an enduring soccer association leader, a tireless city social planning visionary and a prolific volunteer who's worked for more than a dozen organizations.

This year Kamloops is also bestowing an exceptional honour: the Freeman of the City award, which has been handed out only 30 times since it was founded 64 years ago - only five times in the last 20 years.

Ambo Dhaliwal receives the rare tribute during the City's 2013 Distinguished Service Award Ceremony on Wednesday night at the Hotel 540 Rivers Room.

In her professional life, Dhaliwal is the administrator at Burris Medical Clinic, where she's worked for more than 40 years.

She's also made time to help innumerable newcomers to Canada through immigrant support services and initiatives, most recently as a director Kamloops Cariboo Regional Immigrant Services board.

She's been the YMCA Woman of the Year, received a City of Kamloops Distinguished Service Award in 1995 and more recently, a BC Community Achievement Award and the Queen's Jubilee Medal.

Yet she's still humbled by her latest award.

"I don't know what to say," said Dhaliwal. "There's a lot more people that will be more deserving than I am but really appreciate."

Born in Vancouver, Dhaliwal was a child of pioneer immigrants from India - the first wave of South Asians to make the move to Canada.

The passion she brings to easing immigrant transition comes from stories her parents told her about their move to Canada.

"When my parents came over there was nothing," she said. "And that's one of the reasons why I feel that strongly that they do need help, newcomers to our city and country."

Dhaliwal moved to Kamloops in 1952 when she married her husband Saba and remembers the warm welcome she received.

Although Saba died 10 years ago, his legacy lives on through his own acts of selflessness and through the "core family value" of volunteerism that was passed down to his children and grandchildren.

Dhaliwal echoes nearly every volunteer by saying her efforts are not entirely altruistic - the reward is an intangible feeling that can't be quantified.

"When you're helping it's like when you walk down the street and you smile at somebody and they smile back," she said. "That's the reward for me."

Seven other Kamloops residents are also being recognized for their exceptional achievements this week.

A few common themes are apparent among the Distinguish Service Award recipients - they all have a sense of fulfillment that goes beyond dollars and cents, and they have a desire to give back.

"When I was going through university I played basketball, soccer (at Thompson Rivers University) and I was the recipient of an annual scholarship from them," said the TRU sports task force director. "I just think sports is important as well so I was giving back to the organization that helped me through university."

Blair's passion for sports drew her to coach at the BC Summer Games U14 girls basketball team for the BC Interior division and for Sahali secondary school's junior boys basketball teams.

Her efforts the Kamloops Daybreak Rotary Club was also instrumental in bringing Ribfest to Riverside Park last summer.

Anthony Salituro receives the award for his fight against breast cancer, which he began after his aunt survived the disease 16 years ago with the launch of the annual Pink Ribbon Charity Ball.

"I've met and the women that I've met that were survivor and going through breast cancer and the people that have come to me and said 'You've made such a difference in my family.' For them to do that and (convey) the impact that I've made is extremely rewarding."

At 90 years old, Jessie Ann Fleming is the oldest award recipient this year. She has been a volunteer shopper in the Seniors Outreach Society's Safeway seniors shopping program for 18 years. She's also a fixture at Thrupp Manor, where she organizes bingo and other activities. She says her volunteer activity is the secret to her longevity.

Niki Remesz, a marketing consultant by profession, has volunteered with too many organizations to list. Operation Red Nose, BC Games for People with Disabilities, Relay For Life, Mainstage Theatre Competition and a variety of Thompson University initiatives have benefited from her time and energy just to name a few.

For the past nine years, Pat Decker has been a dedicated volunteer for the One to One Children's Literacy Program at Juniper Ridge elementary school. In a caring, supportive environment, she shares her enthusiasm for reading, which has helped innumerable children rediscover the magic of books.

Graham Cope has been the president of the Kamloops Youth Soccer Association, the largest amateur sport organization in Kamloops, for the past six years. His time has resulted in dramatic improvements in the strength of the association, which now has a paid staff of six professionals and a budget exceeding $1 million.

Trevor Jensen is always focused on improving the community through his work with various neighbourhood associations and his longtime service to the City's social planning committee.

In his varied roles, Jensen's become known for being unafraid to ask hard questions, being always fair and interested in the views of others and always tried to build consensus through open dialogue and partnerships.

Every one of these individuals shares a compassion for people that compels them to help.

"That's the number one thing," said McKinnon. "If you don't care about anybody else you wouldn't even think about volunteering. I don't like using the word too much but it's actually love. They love their fellow man."

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Perspectives on what make volunteers special: