New board rededicates its focus to volunteering

Ken Kellar

A new board has come together to rededicate themselves to volunteerism in Fort Frances.

Following a number of departures from the board of the Fort Frances Volunteer Bureau, a new board has been sworn in and begun working on organizing themselves and their volunteers, as well as brainstorming ideas for ways to increase their fundraising efforts and how they can help others in the community.

The Volunteer Bureau Board is composed of Joel Morris, Laura Bruyere, Gabby Hanzuk, Carrie Atatise-Norwegian and John Sus.

Morris is the chair of the board, and while he’s not sure of the exact date he began, he remembered how it began.

I started between 20 and 25 years ago,” Morris said. 

I was lured in as I was offered a space to form a Model Railroad Club, free of rent, so long as I took over and knocked somebody else out as the chair.”

Morris said there have been ups and downs for the Volunteer Bureau since he’s been board chair, but his aim has always been to help, which the new board has rededicated itself to doing.

From the beginning, our whole mandate has been helping people, having volunteers and for many years we actually lost all our volunteers,” Morris said.

There are still struggles and stuff we have to figure out. But it’s worth it. It will be definitely a good thing. Save lives, feed people, give them a helping hand to start out on a new path eventually.”

Bruyere is the newly appointed secretary and has only been with the board for about a month.

I found out about the board and joined because I know John on a professional level,” Bruyere explained.

I was talking to him one day about how I was looking for a way to give back to the community, some way that I could help with the limited extra hours that I had. He said he had a great opportunity to try out and see if I would maybe be interested in joining the board and I thought it was exactly what I was looking for.”

Bruyere noted that she was excited by the challenge that joining the board presented.

I’m just looking forward to the opportunity to help get these programs up and running,” she said. 

Kind of rebuild these volunteer opportunities and bring the community together and provide those services that are needed.”

Hanzuk is an experienced volunteer – someone Sus called a professional volunteer, having started with the Volunteer Bureau years before even Morris had gotten involved with it. Though she left for a number of years, she remained committed to volunteering, stopping in to help out with the community Christmas dinners when they were held at the Volunteer Bureau. Roughly six years ago she returned to the board.

My goal was always to get back the volunteer base that we had, get back some of the programs that we had,” she said.

All the changes we’ve made in the last six months have been dedicated to helping people, and this is what our mandate has always been: help people who need helping. You need help, we want to be there. That’s it.

Atatise-Norwegian brings a wealth of legal knowledge with her to the Volunteer Bureau board, as well as a personal connection both to the programs that are offered through the Volunteer Bureau as well as some of the people who make use of them.

My involvement with the Volunteer Bureau was a very unconventional way in comparison to the others at the table,” said Atatise-Norwegian, who is also an elected official for Lac la Croix First Nation.

“I started becoming very interested in homelessness because a lot of my own family, a lot of people that I know are are struggling with addictions, are homeless, are dealing with some poverty here in Fort Frances, including those for my own First Nation and I know the family centre provides valuable services to a lot of our people that are homeless, that are struggling that have mental health issues, that have addictions or just need resources.”

Atatise-Norwegian said she began stopping by the building more and more frequently, donating items and her time by volunteering, and when she eventually learned of an opening on the board, she leapt at the chance to take part.

“I was prepared to join and support the the vision and the original spirit and intent of the Volunteer Bureau which is helping people who need help, getting volunteers in to do so,” she said.

“Since I’ve started within the last two months, there’s been a lot of revamping, I’d say improvements, made to the Volunteer Bureau. We’ve done a lot of updates. We’ve done a lot of work here to the infrastructure of the building and I think when we talk about visioning, our vision is to continue helping people who need help, seeking volunteers that can provide us with the support and resources that we need to do with the the work that we do out of the Family Centre.”

Sus, the final board member, summed up his drive as a member by stressing that he wants to work for the betterment of the whole town.

“I would say a primary objective for me, I really believe in community,” he said.

“I want to see the community support this thing, and the community has up until now. I got involved because my wife Monica is very into this, this is what she’s always wanted to do. She has to have a physical location do it. I saw Joel working to keep this place going and they needed help, so that’s how I got on the board, because I believe in putting your money where your mouth is. If you’re going to want to have a facility to run a program like Monica is running, I should be involved to help.”

With the new board formed and working towards reestablishing a volunteer base and connections with other community groups, there are fundraising efforts underway to help to cover costs that pop up when operating out of a building with as much history as the old CN Station has. In addition to improving infrastructure, the Volunteer Bureau has also recently made the Fort Frances Family Centre an official program, which means that donations to the Family Centre can now be made to the Volunteer Bureau, tax receipts for donations can be given, and grants for support and funding can be made by way of the Volunteer Bureau’s charitable status. The absorption also helps to add a handful of volunteers to the Bureau’s roster, though board members said that members of the public who are interested in helping out by volunteering in any capacity are encouraged to come down.

We need more volunteers and we would welcome anyone to come and meet, to come and see the Family Centre,” Atatise-Norwegian said.

Pop in, check it out, see what we’re about.”

If people have questions or concerns, they need to see it for themselves,” Bruyere agreed.