Ponoka’s volunteers given spirited ceremony

There are 13.3 million volunteers world-wide, donating the hours of 1.1 million full time jobs, but April 24 shone the spotlight on those

Bernie Martin (left) received this year’s Rita Scott Volunteer Award and Jimmy Rawji was given the Morna Chorney Heart and Soul Award.

Bernie Martin (left) received this year’s Rita Scott Volunteer Award and Jimmy Rawji was given the Morna Chorney Heart and Soul Award.

There are 13.3 million volunteers world-wide, donating the hours of 1.1 million full time jobs, but April 24 shone the spotlight on those a little closer to home; the volunteers that give Ponoka its charm and strength.

The annual National Volunteers’ Week celebration, held at the Kinsmen Centre, honoured Ponoka’s volunteers and awarded the Rita Scott and Morna Chorney Heart and Soul volunteer awards.

“Your contributions in so many areas of our community add greatly to the quality of our town,” said Mayor Larry Henkelman.

MLA Rod Fox gave his praise to the audience and hundreds of volunteers who couldn’t make the ceremony. “Volunteers are true givers. Everyone here tonight can be proud of being volunteers.”

Although he wasn’t able to make the ceremony Wetaskiwin MP Blaine Calkins sent his regards in a letter. “I would like to say thank you to all the volunteers in the audience. I want to say thank you to each and every one of you for enriching the lives of others.”

Ponoka County Reeve Gordon Svenningsen asked the question what it really means to be a volunteer. And the answer is embodied by this year’s two prestigious recipients.

The Morna Chorney Heart and Soul Award was given to Jimmy Rawji. The award for Rawji was a planned surprise and he was shocked after the Chorney family announced his name.

Rawji says people kept making a “fuss”, asking if he was attending the ceremony. His son, Jamil, even went as far to ask if he was changing his clothes but he never realized what the fuss was about.

Rawji, who was a beloved teacher for many years and continues to substitute in his retired years, moved to the Bluffton area from East Africa.

He says it was there he learned about volunteering and the fire was lit within him. “I couldn’t have done it alone . . . I learned it from all of you.”

Rawji told many stories of his time in Bluffton and the people there who made it their goal to welcome him into the community. “They took me Christmas shopping. They taught me how to wear long johns,” he said with a laugh.

There was also a woman who Rawji made special efforts to comfort. She had cancer in her leg and was hospitalized.

She wouldn’t eat for the staff and it was Rawji who convinced her to keep fighting.

The woman would eat only if he made her Campbell’s soup. “What a simple request,” he said, astounded that something so effortless could brighten her day.

This story of kindness won’t come as a surprise to those who know Rawji. Attendees of the ceremony and others in the community have only kind words about his selfless character.

“He volunteers as much as anyone can. He doesn’t even realize the good he does,” said Janice Mackie, coordinator of volunteer services at the Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury. “He’s an amazing, amazing man.”

Although the award was given to him, Rawji humbly denied it was solely his, it was the result of an entire community’s kindness. He said volunteering is his way of repaying that kindness.

Rita Scott Volunteer Award granted to Bernie Martin.

Martin volunteers her time in many areas of the community, including, for the last 52 years, the Order of the Royal Purple. The order addresses the needs of children and seniors.

However, Mackie, a lifetime friend of Martin, loves to tell another story.

Martin volunteers at the Centennial Centre’s patient boutique, which is stocked mainly through donations.

“She goes out and shops for all the little things we need in our shop. If it weren’t for her the boutique probably still wouldn’t be open,” said Mackie.

The boutique is run for the patients who aren’t able to get out regularly to by clothing and life’s other small necessities.

“Bernie is the most giving, and expects absolutely nothing,” she added.

The Rita Scott Volunteer Award was started in memoriam of Rita Scott by her children.

“It started as just a small little thing . . . It became mainstream during National Volunteer Week,” said Ray Scott. “It feels really special to share an evening with the volunteers that make this community so special.”

Another special element of the evening was a small concert given by Randi Boulton, singer/songwriter from Lacombe.

Boulton told the audience how her life had been touched by the special kindness of volunteers after her parents lost everything in a house fire. “It’s a really beautiful thing.”

Boulton was asked by a friend to perform at the celebration and she jumped on the chance. “I love doing things like this. I love giving back to people.”

“It’s what makes a community. Without community support, without people who volunteer their time it would be like a city,” she added.

Although the evening was an event to celebrate the volunteers of Ponoka, it was run by volunteers from Family and Community Support Services, Victim Services, the Ponoka Gymnastics Club and Alberta Health Services.

“I am very proud to work with the committee on this event,” said Mackie. “I am very proud of the awards that get presented at this.”

The front door and door prizes were also run be two student volunteers, Regan and Taryn Corkery. Taryn was also one of this year’s Leaders of Tomorrow elementary recipients; an award given to young volunteers.