Michelle Mallette

Making a difference and getting paid in laughs

There is a wealth of opportunity in Grand Forks to make a difference by volunteering

By Michelle Mallette

As the sun shines brightly, I strap on my bike helmet, load my notebook, pencil, and SLR camera into the bike bag, and set off for a short cycle to interview a quilter, Emilie Belak, here in Grand Forks. I am meeting her to talk about her quilts, and about all the amazing quilts that will be displayed at the Grand Forks Fall Fair in early September.

Riding down Central, it strikes me that I was doing exactly the same thing some 39 years ago. It was 1983, and I was a new reporter with The Chilliwack Progress. Thanks to an accelerated high school program, I was a college graduate but still a teenager, so I rode my bike to assignments since I didn’t yet have a car. I loved my work, informing readers of the week’s news and telling people’s stories. I still remember visiting the quilter – I can’t recall her name – and being astonished by the beauty and complexity of the work she planned to enter in the Chilliwack Fair. “I’d like to learn how to make a quilt one day,” I thought to myself. It’s a dream I would keep tucked away, along with learning to play piano, knot-tying, and the night skies.

Decades later, I’m in Grand Forks, no longer a journalist. I went back to school and switched careers several times, working as a magazine editor, a children’s librarian, and in student advising at UBC before stepping into semi-retirement here. And thanks to the guidance and encouragement of the Sunshine Quilters Guild, I’m now a quilter! I’m also an avid stargazer, though I still haven’t learned to tie knots or play the piano beyond a simple set of scales. Well, one thing at a time, I suppose.

As I cycle to meet Emilie at her home, I mull the circle of life that sees me doing the very same thing almost exactly 39 years apart. Many things have changed – we’ve seen the rise of technology, the collapse of governments, increasing homelessness, an embracing of a more inclusive and diverse Canada, the climate crisis, and oh yes, that pandemic. But once again I’m living in a small community where my work (now unpaid) makes a difference in people’s lives. I still work for pay at times, but most of my energy is directed to volunteer work, as part of teams that are committed to making Grand Forks the best place we can, within our mandates, while having a blast doing it.

Our Grand Forks Fall Fair board is now meeting every week to make the Fair a success with exhibits, entertainment, children’s activities, and the awesomely named Borscht-Off. The Grand Forks Community Trails Society maintains dozens of kilometres of people-powered trails that take residents and visitors into our hills and mountains to find inspiration and joy, exercise, and even active transportation to work or play. With the Friends of the Library, we raise money to fund purchases that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. That gorgeous fireplace wall? We are one of three funders for it. You’re welcome.

I’m telling you this not to boast, but rather to illustrate the wealth of opportunity we have here to make a difference by volunteering our energy and time. The Boundary Community Food Bank, Phoenix Ski Club, Parent Advisory Committees, Boundary Museum, the Royal Canadian Legion, the GFI, the Christmas Dinner, the Skate Park Revitalization Committee – these are just a few of the Grand Forks area organizations that rely on volunteers. Whatever your interests, there’s a group that can benefit from your time and skill. And in truth, we all benefit. That’s the guilty truth about volunteering. You do get paid – not in cash, but in satisfaction. And lots of laughs. It’s so much fun to “work” with friends. Volunteering has given me so much more than I have given. And knowing that my energy is making Grand Forks a tiny bit better, if not right away, then for the future – that’s a powerful motivation. And while I’m mindful that not everyone has time to volunteer as much as I do, even the littlest bit of time with a special skill can be just the catalyst a group needs to succeed in its goals.

You could start with the Fall Fair; they’ve put out a call for volunteers. Just sayin’.